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In re J.P.S.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 19, 2019


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 January 2019.

          Appeal by respondent from order entered 15 September 2017 by Judge Tyyawdi M. Hands in Mecklenburg County No. 17 SPC 7825 District Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General John Tillery, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Jillian C. Katz, for respondent-appellant.

          ZACHARY, JUDGE.

         J.P.S.[1] ("Respondent") appeals from an Involuntary Commitment Order entered against him. Respondent argues that the trial court made insufficient findings of fact to support its conclusion that Respondent was dangerous to himself and others. We agree. As a result, the order is vacated and remanded to the trial court for additional findings of fact.

         I. Background

         After examining Respondent on 6 September 2017, Dr. Kelly Hobgood of Carolinas Medical Center-Randolph ("CMC-Randolph") in Charlotte executed an Affidavit and Petition for Involuntary Commitment alleging that Respondent was "a substance abuser" who was "mentally ill and dangerous to self or others." The magistrate ordered that Respondent be taken into custody on 7 September 2017. Later that day, Dr. W. Carlton Gay of the Behavioral Health Center at CMC-Randolph examined Respondent and completed an "Examination and Recommendation to Determine Necessity for Involuntary Commitment" form. On the form, Dr. Gay marked boxes indicating that Respondent was "mentally ill," "dangerous to self," "dangerous to others," and "a substance abuser." To support his conclusions, Dr. Gay included in the "Description of Findings" that Respondent

[m]aintains that he has 5 military staff members stationed around the area giving his [sic] intelligence information to help in his lawsuit against York County Court system/jail. Has made threatening statements toward the judicial staff there in general for the way that he was treated (threat made while here). Feels the Constitution provides him justification. Prior to coming to ED, he took a large # of Valium and Ativan in a suicide attempt.

         A commitment hearing was held on 15 September 2017 before the Honorable Tyyawdi M. Hands. After hearing testimony, Judge Hands stated that "[b]ased on the evidence, the Court concludes that Respondent is mentally ill and is . . . dangerous to either himself and/or others. For those reasons, I enter the order that he be committed for up to 30 additional days here and for a 90-day outpatient order." In the trial court's written Involuntary Commitment Order, the trial court marked boxes indicating that Respondent was mentally ill and dangerous to himself or others. To support those conclusions, the trial court marked another box that stated: "Based on the evidence presented, the Court . . . by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, finds as facts all matters set out in [Dr. Gay's 7 September 2017 report], and the report is incorporated by reference as findings." In addition, the trial court found the following additional facts in support of involuntary commitment:

Resp[ondent] followed by [outpatient psychiatrist] where he has high dose of Adderall [and] Valium meds. Brought by mom-agitated [and] required multiple forced meds [and] restraints. Sent texts that he was going to start a war [and] had 400 rounds. Has grandiose thoughts. He says he is a commander [and] if judge makes wrong decision in his court case he will extract the judge [and] have his own hearing [and] same [at] Rock Hill PD. Refuses to consider reasonable meds for mania [and] psychosis. Remains on forced meds [and] is calmer today because [of] multiple doses. Resp[ondent] admits he has PTSD from Iraq and retired early. Resp[ondent] is unhappy about the side effects of the medication including feeling very groggy. Resp[ondent] denies mak[ing] the comments about the rounds.

         The trial court ordered a thirty-day inpatient commitment for Respondent, followed by a ninety-day period of outpatient commitment. Respondent timely appealed.

         II. Discussion

         Respondent argues on appeal that the trial court erred in concluding that he was a danger to himself or others, without making sufficient findings of fact to support that conclusion. For the reasons explained below, we agree.

         Although Respondent's Commitment Order has already expired, we note that the argument before us is not moot because "the challenged judgment may cause collateral legal consequences for the appellant." In re Booker, 193 N.C.App. 433, 436, 667 S.E.2d 302, 304 (2008). Such collateral legal consequences might include use of the judgment to attack the capacity of a trial witness, for impeachment purposes, to attack the character of a defendant if he has put character in issue, or to form the basis for a future commitment. In re Hatley, 291 N.C. 693, 695, 231 S.E.2d 633, 635 (1977).

         When deciding whether to involuntarily commit an individual for inpatient treatment, the trial court must make two specific findings "by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 122C-268(j) (2017). First, the trial court must find "that the respondent is mentally ill." Id. Second, the trial court must find that the respondent is "dangerous to self, . . . or dangerous to others." Id. In its ...

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