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In re B.A.F.

Supreme Court of Montana

March 12, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: B.A.F., Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 16, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Tenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Fergus, Cause No. DI-2017-07 Honorable Jon A. Oldenburg, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Kristen L. Peterson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Kent M. Sipe, Fergus County Attorney, Craig R. Buehler, Deputy County Attorney, Lewistown, Montana

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice.

         ¶1 B.A.F. appeals from a June 6, 2017 Tenth Judicial District Court order extending his commitment to the Montana Mental Health Nursing Care Center (Care Center). We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether the requirements of § 53-21-119(1), MCA, applied when B.A.F. requested a hearing to stipulate to the extension of his involuntary commitment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 B.A.F. is a sixty-six-year-old man with a long-standing history of mental illness. B.A.F. suffers from schizophrenia, paranoid type, and antisocial personality disorder. In 2015, B.A.F. was committed to the Montana State Hospital (MSH) for the thirteenth time. On April 27, 2016, after several months at MSH, B.A.F. stabilized and transitioned to a community setting in Helena, Montana. However, B.A.F.'s condition quickly deteriorated when he quit taking his medication and, on May 10, 2016, B.A.F. returned to MSH. On March 11, 2016, B.A.F.'s commitment to MSH was extended for a period of one year. In September 2016, B.A.F. was transferred to Care Center in Lewistown, Montana.

         ¶4 On February 21, 2017, Susan Stevens (Stevens), a mental health professional at Care Center, petitioned the Tenth Judicial District Court to extend B.A.F.'s commitment. The District Court appointed B.A.F. counsel and appointed Stephen Cummings as B.A.F.'s friend. The Court appointed Stevens to examine B.A.F. and submit a mental health assessment.

         ¶5 In March 2017, B.A.F. requested a hearing through counsel. In the request, his counsel asserted: "[B.A.F.] wishes to stipulate to the petition for commitment, but requests a hearing to put on the record that he is capable of making an intelligent and knowing decision." The State did not object and the District Court set a hearing to approve the stipulation for two and a half months later, ordering the commitment extended in the meantime. On June 6, 2017, the District Court heard testimony from B.A.F. and Mr. Cummings. Below is B.A.F.'s testimony in its entirety:

B.A.F.'s Counsel: And just for the record Your Honor I have met with [B.A.F.] a couple times and he has indicated that he is willing to stipulate and continue his care here as long as his social worker is working with him to explore other options . . . . [B.A.F.] will you state your name please for the record?
B.A.F.: [B.A.F.]
Counsel: And how are you doing right now?
B.A.F.: Fine. I can't think or comprehend very well though because of this certain (unintelligible) of the needle ...

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