IN THE MATTER OF: C.K., Respondent and Appellant.
Submitted on Briefs: February 8, 2017
FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and
For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. CDI 15-73
Honorable Kathy Seeley, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Helena,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison
L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Leo
John Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County Attorney, Luke Berger,
Deputy County Attorney, Helena, Montana.
M. Sandefur Justice.
C.K. appeals from an order of the Montana First Judicial
District Court committing him to the Montana State Hospital
(MSH) for involuntary mental health treatment pursuant to
§ 53-21-127, MCA. C.K. asserts that the District Court
erroneously admitted and considered inadmissible hearsay
referenced in the expert testimony of the examining mental
health professional, Kim Waples. C.K. timely appealed. We
affirm, addressing the following issue:
the District Court abuse its discretion in admitting and
considering hearsay statements referenced in the examining
professional's hearing testimony?
C.K. was previously diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder,
bipolar type. Prior to the circumstances that led to the
State's most recent petition, C.K. was taking prescribed
medication and participating in the Program for Assertive
Community Treatment (PACT), a treatment and support program
for persons suffering from serious and disabling mental
illnesses. At some point, C.K. quit PACT and stopped taking
his prescribed medication.
Three witnesses testified at C.K.'s commitment hearing:
his father, Sgt. Jeff Wilson of the Helena Police Department,
and Waples. According to his father, C.K. slipped into a
familiar pattern of aggressive and unsociable behavior when
he quit PACT and stopped taking his medication. The weekend
before the commitment hearing, C.K. woke his parents in the
early hours of the morning while searching for his cellphone.
C.K. thought he heard it ringing, but could not find it. He
was so agitated that his mother felt it necessary to get out
her pepper spray for protection. Worried that C.K. posed a
danger to himself and others, his father took him to St.
Peter's Hospital for an evaluation under his medical
power of attorney.
C.K. was uncooperative and disruptive at the hospital. The
St. Peters staff requested assistance from the Helena Police
Department. Upon arrival, Sgt. Wilson and two other officers
found C.K. in the E.R. waiting room talking nonsensically in
the company of his parents and hospital staff. Sgt. Wilson
knew C.K. from prior interactions and later testified that
his behavior that night was out of character. Due to
C.K.'s aggressive behavior and desire to leave the E.R.,
Sgt. Wilson was preparing to place him in protective custody
until an E.R. doctor eventually convinced him to stay. As the
officers escorted C.K. to an E.R. room, he asked Sgt. Wilson
if his gun was loaded and also asked one of the other
officers to give C.K. his gun.
Sgt. Wilson testified that C.K. acted aggressively toward the
officers over the next four to five hours, staring them down
and making lunging movements toward them. At one point while
staring down an officer, C.K. spit into the palm of his hand
and threateningly punched his other fist into the palm. Sgt.
Wilson was present outside C.K.'s room until he was
transferred to the Hays-Morris House, a therapeutic group
home in Butte. As the officers prepared C.K. for transfer,
Sgt. Wilson observed him raise his arm in a threatening
manner towards one of the other officers.
Waples had previously worked with C.K. and was involved in
his prior involuntary commitments. Upon notification from the
hospital staff, she responded to the E.R. to evaluate him.
Waples testified that he appeared agitated, paced around the
room, and occasionally tried to leave until thwarted by the
officers. Waples observed C.K.'s aggressive conduct
toward the officers at the E.R. After answering a few
questions, C.K. became uncooperative with Waples and refused
to speak to her further. Waples ultimately arranged for
C.K.'s transfer to the Hays-Morris therapeutic group
Pursuant to §§ 53-21-123 and -126(3), MCA, Waples
prepared a preliminary mental health evaluation report for
attachment to the State's initial involuntary commitment
petition. The report summarized the night's events based
on her own observations and information related to her by
C.K.'s father, Sgt. Wilson, and an attending E.R. doctor.
The report also included a verbatim passage from another
mental health professional's prior report detailing
C.K.'s mental health history.
At the commitment hearing, Waples testified about C.K.'s
behavior based on her initial evaluation report and
Hays-Morris House counseling and staff records. Over
objection, Waples testified that C.K.'s irritable and
threatening behavior continued after transfer to the
Hays-Morris House. Waples specifically testified that C.K.
had threatened to kill people and would violently bang on a
protective plexiglass window so hard that the Hays-Morris
staff were worried it might break. C.K. acknowledged that
Waples could properly rely on the Hays-Morris records as a
basis for her expert opinion but asserted that she could not
properly reference or repeat the actual substance of the
otherwise inadmissible hearsay. The District Court overruled
the objection and allowed Waples to reference the substance
of the third-party accounts of C.K.'s behavior as one of
the bases for her opinion testimony. Based on C.K.'s
diagnosed mental disorder, her personal observations of his
behavior, the Hays-Morris records, and other third-party
accounts referenced in her evaluation report, Waples
recommended that the Court commit C.K. to the MSH for
At the close of the hearing, based on the testimony of
Waples, C.K.'s father, and Sgt. Wilson, the District
Court granted the State's petition and committed C.K. to
the MSH for 90 days pursuant to § 53-21-127, MCA. In its
findings of fact, the District Court generally referenced the
personal observations of each witness as well as Waples'
professional opinions and commitment recommendation. C.K.
timely appealed, asserting ...