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In re C.B.

Supreme Court of Montana

April 11, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: C.B., Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 8, 2017

          For Appellant: Chad Wright Danny Tenenbaum

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Tammy K Plubell, Scott D. Twito

          Michael E Wheat Justice

         ¶1 C.B. suffers from bipolar affective disorder, manic severe with psychotic features. She has received treatment from the Billings Clinic Psychiatric Center ("Clinic") periodically for several years. She appeals the Thirteenth Judicial District Court's order of involuntary commitment dated October 19, 2015. She claims that the District Court erroneously held that the State had satisfied its burden of proof authorizing commitment. She further asserts that the District Court improperly authorized the administration of involuntary medications by misconstruing the applicable statute, § 53-21-127(6), MCA. Lastly, C.B. claims her counsel was ineffective. We affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 C.B. is a single twenty-eight-year-old female with a lengthy history of mental illness. Her medical records reveal that she is frequently noncompliant with prescribed medications, is aggressive, combative and abusive to family members, and is repeatedly, if not chronically, homeless and unemployed. Additionally, she has periodic encounters with law enforcement usually precipitated by reports that she is walking in vehicle traffic and creating a danger to herself and others. While interacting with the officers, she generally displays volatile, bizarre behavior and is, at times, incoherent.

         ¶3 Between April 2015 and October 2015, officers transported C.B. to the Billings Clinic four times. As a result, the Yellowstone County Attorney filed four petitions for commitment: April 23, August 13, October 1, and October 13, 2015. The first three petitions were dismissed following four to seven days of Clinic inpatient treatment during which C.B. received her medications and stabilized sufficiently to be discharged. The October 13, 2015 petition was not dismissed and following appointment of counsel and a professional person/evaluator, Dr. Amy Schuett, the District Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on October 19 at which C.B. and Dr. Schuett testified.

         ¶4 In the court's post-hearing October 19, 2015 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, the District Court made the following factual findings: (1) on October 9, 2015, the Billings Police Department responded to a report of a woman wandering in traffic; (2) when the officers arrived they found a disoriented and incoherent C.B. and transported her to the Billings Clinic; (3) the Clinic staff, who knew C.B., conducted an evaluation and administered necessary medication; (4) the Clinic requested the County Attorney to file a petition for commitment to the Montana State Hospital (MSH); and (5) the Petition was filed on October 13, 2015. The court further found that while C.B. was hospitalized at the Clinic between October 9 and the October 19 evidentiary hearing, she became compliant with her medication but had not improved sufficiently to be safely discharged. The court also found that C.B.'s multiple short-term hospitalizations were ineffective and unable to stabilize her for a term longer than a few days or weeks.

         ¶5 The District Court's legal conclusions included: (1) the State had proven to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that C.B. suffered from a mental disorder; (2) C.B. is unable to care for herself; (3) MSH is the least restrictive treatment option available; and (4) involuntary administration of medications is authorized as it "may be necessary" to facilitate treatment.

         ¶6 C.B. appeals.

         ISSUES

         ¶7 A restatement of the issues on appeal is:

         ¶8 Did the District Court err in concluding that the State had satisfied its burden of proof authorizing commitment?

(A) Did the District Court erroneously rely upon inadmissible hearsay in Dr. Schuett's report and testimony to support its finding that C.B. required commitment?
(B) If Dr. Schuett's hearsay testimony was properly admitted, did the District Court correctly determine that the State presented substantial evidence that C.B. was unable to provide for her own basic needs?

         ¶9 Did the District Court err by authorizing the administration of involuntary medication when it "may be necessary"?

         ¶10 Did C.B. receive effective assistance of counsel?

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶11 We review a district court's civil commitment order to determine whether the court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous and its conclusions of law correct. In re ...


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