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March 16, 1990


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. John D. Fauntleroy, Trial Judge

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Steadman and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman

STEADMAN, Associate Judge: In the case before us, the government filed a petition for judicial hospitalization beyond the time period prescribed by the District of Columbia Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act, D.C. Code §§ 21-501 to -592 (1989) (the "Act" or the "Ervin Act"). The issue before us is whether the government may rely on the late-filed petition to authorize continued involuntary confinement of an assertedly mentally ill patient during the pendency of the petition proceedings. We hold that it may not.


Appellant Michelle Reed was involuntarily taken into custody and admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital ("the Hospital") *fn1 on February 22, 1989 "for purposes of emergency observation and diagnosis," as permitted by D.C. Code § 21-521 (1989). The next day, the Hospital filed, pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-523 (1989), a petition with the District of Columbia Superior Court requesting permission to continue appellant's hospitalization for a period of up to seven additional days. The Superior Court granted the petition, permitting the Hospital to continue appellant's hospitalization until 12:20 p.m. on March 2, 1989. Although her period of confinement was due to expire at 12:20 p.m. on March 2, appellant for unexplained reasons requested, pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-525, a hearing before the Superior Court on her hospitalization sometime on the day of March 2 and remained in the Hospital beyond 12:20 p.m. on that day. *fn2 At 2:00 p.m. on March 3, the Hospital filed a petition for judicial hospitalization, pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-541, and at 2:40 p.m. on that day appellant received the hearing she had requested. At the hearing, the Superior Court found "probable cause to believe that is mentally ill and, because of that illness, is likely to injure herself or others unless immediately hospitalized" and ordered that appellant be "remanded to Saint Elizabeth's Hospital for emergency observation and diagnosis in accordance with the Court's prior order pursuant to D.C. Code 21-524 (a) (1)." On March 6, appellant filed a motion with the Superior Court seeking dismissal of the judicial hospitalization petition and her release from the Hospital. *fn3 She argued then and reasserts on appeal that the failure of the government to file its judicial hospitalization petition within the seven-day period of her initial confinement prevented the government from taking advantage of a statutory provision permitting continued detention of mentally ill persons pending judicial proceedings. She maintains, consequently, that the government is without authority to continue her detention *fn4 and that she must be released. The Superior Court denied her motion on March 10.


The District of Columbia Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act provides "an explicit and expedited timetable" for involuntary hospitalization procedures, In re Lomax, 386 A.2d 1185, 1188 (D.C. 1978) (en banc), "evincing the intention of Congress to permit emergency confinement for only short and precisely circumscribed durations." In re DeLoatch, 532 A.2d 1343, 1345 (D.C. 1987) (per curiam). While the Act permits "the often necessary emergency hospitalization of the mentally ill or those believed to be mentally ill," id., it also reflects a "'profound congressional concern for the liberties of the mentally ill.'" Id. (quoting Covington v. Harris, 136 U.S. App. D.C. 35, 41, 419 F.2d 617, 623 (1969)). We therefore construe the Act narrowly where its application results in the curtailment of an individual's liberty. Lomax, supra, 386 A.2d at 1187-88.

Resolution of this case rests on the interpretation of D.C. Code § 21-528, *fn5 which states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, the administrator of a hospital in which a person is hospitalized under this subchapter may, if judicial proceedings for his hospitalization have been commenced under subchapter IV of this chapter, detain the person in the hospital during the course of the judicial proceedings.

This section permits a hospital to continue to detain a patient pending the outcome of proceedings for judicial hospitalization if the hospital has commenced the proceedings while the patient is "hospitalized under this subchapter," that is, in accordance with its provisions. "his subchapter" refers to subchapter III, entitled "Emergency Hospitalization." The subchapter contains the provisions for initial involuntary custody and transport to a hospital, D.C. Code § 21-521, and detention in the hospital for forty-eight hours or, on the granting of the hospital's petition, an additional period "not to exceed" seven days, id. § 21-523.

The Hospital concedes that it failed to file its judicial hospitalization petition within the seven-day period prescribed by section 523. Because appellant was not therefore "hospitalized under this subchapter," the Hospital may not strictly rely on section 528 as a source of authority for its continuing control over appellant. *fn6 The Hospital argues, however, that several of our cases should be read to permit a continuing exercise of control because appellant was not denied the opportunity to receive timely judicial review of her confinement and such review serves to cure "minimal procedural deficiencies," DeLoatch, supra, 532 A.2d at 1345, such as the day-long delay that occurred in this case.

In three cases we have permitted "an independent judicial determination of the need for further involuntary hospitalization remedy the legal imperfection of original detention." Williams v. Meredith, 407 A.2d 569, 574 (D.C. 1979). See In re Morris, supra note 3, 482 A.2d at 373; In re Rosell, 547 A.2d 180, 182 (D.C. 1988). *fn7 In each of these cases, however, the defect in the initial detention related to the fact that the doctors submitting detention applications failed to meet the requirements of the Act. In Williams and Rosell, the patients claimed that the doctors who submitted applications for the patients' initial emergency hospitalizations were not the "physicians . . . of the person in question," as required by D.C. Code § 21-521. Williams, supra, 407 A.2d at 573; Rosell, supra, 547 A.2d at 182. In Morris, the claimed defect was that the doctor who submitted the patient's application had not based his application on a timely "personal observation and examination" of the patient, as required by D.C. Code § 21-582(b). Morris, supra, 482 A.2d at 370-71. These cases did not involve a failure by the hospital to meet statutorily prescribed procedural time deadlines.

In our two cases that have dealt with failure to meet such a statutorily prescribed time deadline, In re Feenster, 561 A.2d 997 (D.C. 1989); DeLoatch, supra, we found that subsequent judicial review did not cure the noncompliance. In DeLoatch, a patient was hospitalized under the emergency hospitalization provisions of sections 521 and 523. During her hospitalization, she requested a hearing pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-525 (1989), which provides that "the court shall grant a hearing to a person whose continued hospitalization is ordered under section 21-524, if he requests the hearing. The hearing shall be held within 24 hours after receipt of the request." The court failed to grant the hearing within twenty-four hours of the patient's request. DeLoatch, supra, 532 A.2d at 1344. We vacated the seven-day hospitalization order, finding that "the language of § 21-525 is plain and clear; upon request, a hearing shall be held within 24 hours," id. (emphasis in original), and that "interpretation of § 21-525 to allow rather than require a hearing within 24 hours would do serious damage to the statutory scheme." Id. at 1345. Moreover, we refused to apply the Williams-Morris approach to conclude that the court's eventual holding of a hearing cured the noncompliance, stating:

Unlike the instant case, however, neither Morris nor Williams involved the failure to meet a statutory deadline. Both involved minimal procedural deficiencies which did not significantly infringe upon the due process interests of the patients. Indeed, the court in Morris recognized this distinction, pointing out that "appellant does not claim that after his initial detention ...

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