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In re Lanier

September 13, 2006

IN RE EVELYN LANIER, APPELLANT,


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (MHE1332-03) Hon. Linda Davis, Trial Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, Associate Judge

AMENDED OPINION

Argued April 4, 2006

Decided August 17, 2006

Before GLICKMAN and FISHER, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Evelyn Lanier appeals from an order committing her to the Department of Mental Health Services following a jury trial in May of 2004. She contends that the trial court erred by committing her involuntarily while she was receiving voluntary treatment and by committing her as an inpatient although the District of Columbia Commission on Mental Health (Commission) recommended outpatient treatment. We reject both of appellant's arguments and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I.

Appellant has suffered from mental illness for many years and her long history of non- compliance with treatment has led to various voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations. Although she has often failed to comply with treatment, appellant remained fairly stable, receiving voluntary outpatient care for many years while living in a community residential facility where she had been placed by her guardian.*fn1 In 2003, however, she began to deteriorate and experienced problems in her living situation, mainly due to her refusal to take her medicine or to obey the rules of the residential facility.

On September 4, 2003, appellant's guardian, Stephanie Bradley, was summoned to the residential facility. Appellant, who reportedly had not taken her medication for three days, had locked herself in the bathroom and was screaming and yelling. Ms. Bradley eventually coaxed her out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, but appellant locked the door. To avoid damage to the property and further disruption to the other tenants, Ms. Bradley called the police. They broke down the door, handcuffed the appellant, and put her in a squad car. This led to the appellant being involuntarily committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital on an emergency basis. See D.C. Code §§ 21-521, -522 (2001) (allowing for the detention, transportation, and commitment on an emergency basis of those believed to be mentally ill and dangerous).

Appellant stayed at Saint Elizabeths until October 16, 2003.*fn2 After her release, appellant again failed to comply with her treatment regimen. As a result, Ms. Bradley filed a petition for judicial hospitalization on November 4, 2003. See D.C. Code § 21-541 (a) (2001) (allowing judicial commitment proceedings to be commenced by a legal guardian). The litigation started by this petition is the subject of this appeal.

While the petition for judicial hospitalization was pending, Ms. Lanier remained initially in the residential facility. However, on November 13, 2003, at a routine hearing in the courthouse, Ms. Lanier again behaved in a manner that required her hospitalization. After complaining that she had not been able to talk with her attorney, appellant approached the conservator of her estate in a "menacing" manner and also threatened to put her guardian's "head through the wall." This time, the appellant was taken to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW). Her guardian testified that, as a matter of internal policy, PIW does not "normally like to take patients who are going to be adjudicated for involuntary hospitalization." Thus, although Ms. Lanier's transportation to PIW was involuntary, she was persuaded to admit herself for voluntary inpatient treatment and remained there until December 3, 2003.

On December 16th, the Commission held a hearing to evaluate Ms. Lanier, triggered by the filing of the November 4 petition. See D.C. Code § 21-542 (a) (2004 Supp.) (requiring the Commission to "promptly examine a person alleged to be mentally ill" and "hold a hearing on the issue of [her] mental illness"). In the meantime, appellant had filed a motion to dismiss the petition because her earlier involuntary hospitalizations had been converted to "voluntary" and she had been discharged from the hospitals. The Commission denied the motion and reported to the Superior Court that it found Ms. Lanier to be mentally ill and likely to injure herself or others if she were not committed. See D.C. Code § 21-544 (2004 Supp.). Appellant demanded a jury trial, which was scheduled for May 17, 2004.

Although she returned to residential placement after her commitments, on March 1, 2004, appellant was given twenty-one days' notice to vacate the facility due to her disruptive behavior. To keep the court apprised of appellant's situation, her guardian arranged a status hearing for March 11th. Instead of attending the court hearing as she was required to do, appellant checked herself into PIW.

On May 17, 2004, while the appellant was still a voluntary patient at PIW, the court began a jury trial on the November 4th petition to hospitalize. Appellant renewed her motion to dismiss, arguing that she could not be involuntarily committed because, as of March 11th, she was a voluntary inpatient. Judge Davis denied appellant's motion.*fn3 On May 19th the jury found that Ms. Lanier was mentally ill and likely to injure herself or others if not committed. See D.C. Code ยง ...


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