IN THE MATTER OF: P.S. IN THE MATTER OF: L.T. IN THE MATTER OF: N.J. IN THE MATTER OF: R.J.
in the Court of Appeals 22 August 2017.
by respondents from orders entered 16 June 2016 by Judge
Louis A. Trosch, Jr., in Mecklenburg County Nos. 16 SPC 4047,
16 SPC 4126, 16 SPC 4081, 16 SPC 4080 District Court.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney
General Josephine N. Tetteh and Milind Kumar Dongre, for the
Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP, by Ariel E. Harris and
Fred M. Wood, Jr., for Strategic Behavioral Health.
Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate
Defender Jillian C. Katz and Assistant Appellate Defender
David W. Andrews, for respondents-appellants.
("Paul"),  L.T. ("Luke"), N.J.
("Natalie"), and R.J. ("Robert")
(collectively, "Respondents") appeal from the trial
court's 16 June 2016 orders concurring in their voluntary
readmissions to Strategic Behavioral Center for inpatient
mental health treatment. The primary issue in these four
consolidated appeals is whether Respondents' readmissions
to the facility were rendered unlawful due to the illegality
of their initial admissions. In addition, we address
various other arguments regarding the minors'
readmissions, including (1) whether a trial court is required
to conduct an initial jurisdictional inquiry at voluntary
admission hearings to ensure the minor's admission
authorization form was signed by a legally responsible
person; (2) whether an admission authorization form may be
based on verbal - rather than written - consent of the
minor's parent or guardian; and (3) whether a specific
procedure must be followed before a trial court can accept a
minor's consent to the recommendation that he be admitted
to a 24-hour inpatient facility. After a thorough review of
the facts and applicable principles of law, we affirm in part
and vacate in part.
and Procedural Background
are four minor children who either suffer from mental illness
or from substance abuse. At various times during the spring
of 2016, they were admitted to a mental health facility in
Charlotte operated by Strategic Behavioral Health
("Strategic"). In May 2016, Strategic conducted a
self-audit during which it discovered that Respondents and
five other minors had been improperly admitted to the
facility without having received a hearing within fifteen
days of their admissions as required by North Carolina law.
After becoming aware of its error, Strategic discharged,
reevaluated, and then readmitted Respondents beginning on 30
grew up in a home where he was "neglected and abused[,
]" his mother used drugs, and she once "burn[ed]
him with a cigarette." He got into "trouble in
school" and was "suspended many times for his
was thirteen years old when he was first admitted to
Strategic on or about 3 April 2016. After approximately two
months without judicial review of his admission, he was
discharged and readmitted to the facility on 3 June 2016.
reported being raped by his uncle when he was 4 or 5 years
old. He has a history of suicide attempts and has reported
"being born addicted to cocaine." He was suspended
from school "for fighting, lying, stealing, and touching
females inappropriately." Robert's biological father
died when he was young, and he has had no contact with his
biological mother. After multiple unsuccessful placements in
foster care, Robert's 18-year-old brother adopted him.
was fourteen years old when he was first admitted to
Strategic on or about 28 April 2016. After more than a month
without judicial review of his admission, he was discharged
and readmitted to the facility on 2 June 2016.
displayed aggressive behavior in school, including multiple
incidents during which he stabbed other students with pens
and pencils. He also had "a history of suicidal ideation
behavior such as cutting himself and hitting himself
was fifteen years old when he was first admitted to an
inpatient facility in another city on or about 10 February
2016 and arrived at Strategic sometime in the spring of 2016.
He was discharged and readmitted to Strategic on 30 May 2016.
has a history of angry outbursts and blackout spells, and her
mother was concerned about her tendency to become violent
toward other individuals in her home. Natalie was fourteen
years old when she was first admitted to Strategic on or
about 10 March 2016. After nearly three months without
judicial review of her voluntary admission, she was
discharged and readmitted to the facility on 31 May 2016.
* * *
June 2016, hearings were held in connection with the
readmissions of each Respondent before the Honorable Louis A.
Trosch, Jr. in Mecklenburg County District Court. The Council
for Children's Rights ("CCR") was appointed to
represent Respondents at their respective hearings.
Strategics attorneys, CCR attorneys, and the applicable
clerks of court were all present at the hearings.
same morning, CCR filed motions to dismiss in each of the
four cases, asserting that Respondents' readmissions to
Strategic violated both their procedural due process rights
and applicable statutory provisions set out in Chapter 122C
of the North Carolina General Statutes. The trial court
consolidated the four motions for hearing. At the close of
the arguments, the court denied Respondents' motions to
trial court then held separate hearings regarding the
readmission of each Respondent. The court informed each minor
that Strategic recommended he or she be readmitted to the
facility "for up to 45 more days." The court then
asked each of the Respondents whether they consented to the
recommendation and informed them that if they disagreed with
the recommendation, the court would hold a hearing on the
Natalie, and Robert each stated that they disagreed with
Strategic's recommendation. The court then proceeded to
conduct hearings in which the minors and their respective
therapists testified. Following each hearing, the court
concurred in the recommendation for readmission of the minor
based on the testimony that had been presented.
conversely, consented to Strategic's recommendation for
readmission. Therefore, the court adopted the recommendation
as to him without conducting a full hearing.
filed notices of appeal on 24 June 2016. The four appeals