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In re Verdelle G.

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

August 24, 2015




Before the court is Petitioner Verdelle G.'s appeal from an order by the District Court (Powers, J.) of involuntary commitment and involuntary treatment dated November 12, 2014. Petitioner contends that the court failed adhere to the "clear and convincing evidence" standard required by Maine law and that there was insufficient evidence to support his involuntary commitment and treatment. The State responds that Petitioner's behavior and the severity of his mental illness support the order.

B. Facts

Petitioner was admitted to Spring Harbor Hospital on October 16, 2014.[1](Tr. 6.) Petitioner's treating psychiatrist, Dr. William Brennan, testified that that upon admission to the Hospital, Petitioner was "unwilling to talk" and had an "extremely disorganized thought process." Petitioner was unable to have a conversation and could not provide a history regarding his behaviors in the community. (Tr. 7-8.) He further testified that Petitioner refused to accept psychotropic medication. (Tr. 8.) As a result, on October 20, 2014, the Hospital filed an application in the District Court for the involuntary hospitalization of the Petitioner pursuant to 34-B M.R.S. § 3864(4) (A). (Tr. 7.) The application resulted in a 120-day commitment. Id.

Petitioner was transferred during his commitment period to Riverview Psychiatric Hospital ("Riverview") in Augusta. Id. He remained at Riverview for approximately five months. Id. Dr. Brennan further testified that it took the staff approximately four months to stabilize Petitioner after he began taking medication. Id. He was ultimately discharged from Riverview in April of 2014. Id. Upon discharge, Petitioner ceased taking his prescribed medications. (Tr. 7.)

Judson D. Smith, Ed.D., was appointed by the court pursuant to 34-B M.R.S. § 3864(4) to determine whether the Petitioner was mentally ill, whether Petition posed a threat to himself or others, and whether there were adequate community resources available to treat Petitioner's illness. (Tr. 24.) Dr. Smith classified the Petitioner as "somewhat eccentric." (Tr. 25.) He anticipated that in a social setting, Petitioner may attract attention and any decompensation would affect his daily life. Id. Dr. Smith concurred with Dr. Brennan that Petitioner is affected by paranoid schizophrenia. (Tr. 26.) He further testified that if released, Petitioner would "probably not" take his medication. Id.

Petitioner was also examined by Constance Jordan, MSN, ANP, PMHNP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Jordan testified that most of the conversations she had with Petitioner were "not reality based." (Tr. 28.) She further testified that Petitioner minimized an incident that occurred while he was carrying a large wooden stick. He allegedly described the incident as a "scuffle in the park, " however; Jordan described the incident as a "pretty significant assault." Id. Jordan reiterated that the longer an individual goes untreated, the longer it takes to treat the individual's mental illness. (Tr. 29.) When asked about the course of treatment recommended for someone like the Petitioner, Jordan described a combination of oral and injectable medications. She indicated that she concurred with the treatment plan set forth by Dr. Brennan. (Tr. 30.)

Finally, Petitioner's mother testified that her son has been mentally ill since he was 23 years old. (Tr. 42.) She testified that when he is off his medication she is fearful of the Petitioner and uncomfortable with his instability. Id. However, she indicated that if her son received adequate treatment and continues to take his medication, he will be welcome in her home. (Tr. 43.)

Dr. Brennan, Dr. Smith, and Constance Jordan are in agreement that Petitioner suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. (Tr. 8, 26). A commitment period not to exceed 120-days was recommended. (T. 31.)

The District Court concluded that Petitioner was mentally ill, he posed a likelihood of harm, adequate support in the community was unavailable, and inpatient hospitalization was the best available means for treatment. (Tr. 45-47.) The court further found that Petitioner lacked capacity to make informed decisions regarding treatment, that he was unable or unwilling to comply with recommended treatment, and that his need for treatment outweighs the risks and side effects. (Id.) The court ordered involuntary commitment and treatment. Petitioner timely appealed the order pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 76D.

II. Discussion

This appeal presents two issues. The first is whether the District Court committed clear error in ruling that the Hospital met its burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that the Petitioner is mentally ill and poses a likelihood of serious harm. The second issue is whether the District Court committed clear error in ordering involuntary treatment, including whether Petitioner lacks capacity to make an informed decision and whether failure to treat the illness is likely to produce lasting or irreparable harm to the Petitioner. The court addresses each in turn.

A. Standard of Review

The involuntary commitment statute in Maine requires proof of mental illness and likelihood of harm by "clear and convincing evidence." 34-B M.R.S. § 3864(6)(A)(1). If "rational or competent support in the record" exists for the District Court's findings, a reviewing court must sustain them. In re Charles G., 2001 ME 3, ¶ 5, 763 A.2d 1163 (citing In re David G., 659 A.2d 859, 861 (Me. 1995)). "[T]he District Court's findings of ...

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