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In re E.D.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 20, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: E.D.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2017.

         Appeal by respondent from order entered 5 January 2017 by Judge Dan Nagle in Wake County, No. 16 SPC 8556 District Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Robert T. Broughton, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Wyatt Orsbon, for respondent-appellant.

          DAVIS, Judge.

         North Carolina law requires that a person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility be examined by a physician within 24 hours of arrival at such a facility. In this case, the respondent was examined by a psychologist - rather than a physician - following her arrival at an inpatient mental health facility. The issue before us in this appeal is whether this statutory violation automatically requires us to vacate the trial court's order authorizing her continued commitment without the need for her to show that she was actually prejudiced by the violation. Because we conclude that no showing of prejudice was required under these circumstances, we vacate the trial court's order.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On 26 December 2016, Yolanda Diaz filed an affidavit and petition for the involuntary commitment of her sister, E.D. ("Respondent") in which she alleged that Respondent was mentally ill and dangerous to herself or others. A Wake County magistrate found that reasonable grounds existed to believe the facts alleged in the petition were true and ordered Respondent to be held for examination.

         Respondent was transported to UNC Hospitals at 8:00 p.m. on 26 December 2016. The following day, she was examined by Dr. Katie Cheng. Dr. Cheng then completed a form labeled Examination and Recommendation to Determine Necessity for Involuntary Commitment. On this form, Dr. Cheng stated that in her opinion Respondent was mentally ill and dangerous to herself or others. Dr. Cheng recommended that she be committed to an inpatient treatment facility for a period of 15 days.

         As a result of Dr. Cheng's recommendation, Respondent was transferred to UNC Wakebrook Psychiatric Services ("UNC Wakebrook") later that same day. On 27 December 2016, a second examination of Respondent was conducted by Allison H. Williams, a psychologist. Williams formed the opinion that Respondent was mentally ill and a danger to herself or others and recommended inpatient commitment for a period of five to ten days. Respondent remained at UNC Wakebrook for the next nine days while awaiting an involuntary commitment hearing.

         A hearing was held on 5 January 2017 in Wake County District Court before the Honorable Dan Nagle. Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order concluding that Respondent was mentally ill and a danger to herself or others. The court ordered that she be committed to UNC Wakebrook for a period of inpatient treatment not to exceed 30 days. Respondent filed written notice of appeal on 27 January 2017.[1]

         Analysis

          N.C. Gen. Stat. § 122C-266 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (e), within 24 hours of arrival at a 24-hour facility described in G.S. 122C-252, the respondent shall be examined by a physician. This physician shall not be the same physician who completed the certificate or examination under the provisions of G.S. 122C-262 or G.S. 122C-263. The examination ...

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