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In re Wolfe

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 18, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 3 May 2017.

         Appeal by respondent from order entered 9 June 2016 by Judge Andrea Dray in Buncombe County No. 16 SPC 898 District Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Andrew L. Hayes, for petitioner-appellee.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Amanda S. Zimmer, for respondent-appellant.

          ELMORE, Judge.

         Respondent Stephen Wolfe, an adult incompetent, appeals from an order concurring in his voluntary admission to a twenty-four hour (inpatient) psychiatric facility and ordering he remain admitted for further inpatient treatment. Wolfe contends the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter its order because it never received his written and signed application for voluntary admission to the facility as statutorily required to initiate the postadmission review hearing from which its order arose. Because we hold the lack of a written and signed application for voluntary admission fails to vest a district court's subject-matter jurisdiction to concur in a patient's voluntary admission and order continued admission for further treatment, we vacate the court's order.

         I. Background

         On 25 May 2016, Wolfe presented to the emergency department at Mission Hospital in Buncombe County "suffering from self-reported dehydration, and apparent psychiatric decompensation due to treatment noncompliance." Three days later Wolfe was admitted to Mission Hospital's inpatient psychiatric unit (Copestone) and evaluated that same day by a staff psychiatrist, Dr. Suzanne Collier.

         On 31 May, Dr. Collier filed with the Buncombe County District Court an evaluation for admission, in which she noted that Wolfe had a history of bipolar disorder and psychiatric hospitalizations; that he had recently stopped taking his psychiatric medication and was exhibiting signs of paranoia, delusions, and sleeplessness; and opined that Wolfe was mentally ill, needed further evaluation, and should be admitted to Copestone for inpatient psychiatric treatment. Upon receipt of Dr. Collier's evaluation, the district court scheduled an "Involuntary Commitment or Voluntary Admission hearing" to review Wolfe's admission and determine if further inpatient psychiatric treatment was necessary. The district court never received a written and signed application for Wolfe's voluntary admission to Mission Hospital or to its psychiatric unit at Copestone.

         On 3 June, Wolfe was appointed counsel. After interviewing Wolfe, his appointed counsel filed a notice with the district court requesting a hearing because Wolfe "does not agree with [Dr. Collier's] recommendations."

         At the 9 June hearing on Wolfe's admission, Dr. Collier testified that Wolfe "did not present [to the emergency room] for psychiatric reasons per his report" and stated when she first evaluated Wolfe on 28 May, "he told me he came in for some other medical problem, and that he didn't need to be at Copestone." Dr. Collier stated that Wolfe was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric unit because he had stopped taking his bipolar disorder medications; was currently in a manic episode; and was decompensating, experiencing symptoms of agitation, paranoia, delusions, and sleeplessness. After about a week of observation, Dr. Collier explained that Wolfe "generally remained calm, but argumentative about the fact that he [did not] believe he need[ed] to be on medication." Wolfe initially refused to take the oral psychiatric medication prescribed at Copestone because he believed it was unnecessary and was "poisoning him." After a few forced antipsychotic injections to which Wolfe's guardian apparently consented, Wolfe started voluntarily taking his oral medication a few days before the hearing. Dr. Collier opined that Wolfe needed further inpatient treatment to stabilize him on his current medication and expressed concern that if he were released, Wolfe might stop taking his medication, decompensate, and become manic. She opined further that it would currently be medically inappropriate to discharge Wolfe to an independent living situation and requested that the court authorize his continued inpatient psychiatric treatment at Copestone for thirty more days.

         Wolfe testified that he presented to Mission Hospital's emergency department complaining of severe dehydration and malnourishment because he was unable to pay for groceries, since his payee, who receives government benefits on his behalf, failed to provide him funds timely for basic living expenses. Wolfe conceded that he did not believe he has bipolar disorder and stated he initially refused medication at Copestone because each of the seven or eight psychiatric medications he has been prescribed over the past several years have "poison[ed the] emotional state of being in [his] state of mind" and have "made [him] angry, irritable, and stupid." Wolfe testified that he was currently receiving outpatient treatment at Family Preservation Services and taking psychiatric medication as needed, as prescribed by a general psychiatrist there. Wolfe indicated he would continue taking the medicine prescribed at Copestone if discharged and was currently able to return to living independently. Wolfe requested that if the court found it necessary he receive further inpatient treatment, it send him to another facility for an independent assessment, since Copestone "seem[ed] to be intent on making [him] take [bipolar] medicine and stay there." Wolfe's guardian was not present at the hearing.

         After the hearing, the court entered an order on 9 June 2016 concurring in Wolfe's voluntary admission and authorizing his continued inpatient admission at Copestone for no more than thirty days. In its order, the court found by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that Wolfe was mentally ill, in need of further treatment at Copestone, and that lesser measures would be insufficient. Wolfe was discharged from Copestone on 22 June 2016. Wolfe appeals.

         II. ...

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