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In re Peterson

December 3, 2009


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (MH854-06) (Hon. Linda K. Davis, Trial Judge).

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

Argued February 6, 2009

Before RUIZ, KRAMER, and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges.

Appellant Elijah Peterson admitted himself as a voluntary inpatient at the Washington Hospital Center ("WHC"). After he requested a discharge, he was transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital as an emergency, involuntary patient. Judge Linda Davis denied Peterson's motion to dismiss an application for an emergency seven-day hospitalization. In this appeal, Peterson argues that the transfer to St. Elizabeths as an involuntary inpatient violated his rights under The Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act, known as the Ervin Act, D.C. Code §§ 21-501 to -592 (2001). We affirm.

I. Factual Background

Elijah Peterson requested admission to WHC on September 2, 2006, to seek treatment for his bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as certain physical injuries. He was admitted to WHC's psychiatric unit as a voluntary inpatient after his physical injuries were treated in the emergency room. Peterson requested that he not be placed on medication while at WHC, but he was medicated anyway. At WHC, Peterson attended group therapy sessions and participated in anger management groups.

Peterson requested to be discharged from WHC on September 3, 2006,*fn1 and again on September 12, 2006. WHC staff began to process Peterson's September 12 request for release, but were concerned about releasing him because of his aggressive behavior at WHC, which included hitting his head against the wall, yelling at a doctor, and assaulting staff. Dr. Martin Chin, Peterson's attending physician at WHC, completed an emergency hospitalization form (an FD-12) seeking Peterson's involuntary hospitalization pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-521. On September 14, WHC staff told Peterson that he would be discharged and going home, but an ambulance crew picked him up at WHC and transported him on a stretcher directly to St. Elizabeths. Peterson was then admitted as an involuntary inpatient to St. Elizabeths.

On September 15 the District government petitioned the Superior Court for an order authorizing the continued detention of Peterson for emergency observation and diagnosis pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-523. The trial court issued the order and counsel was appointed for Peterson.

Peterson requested a probable cause hearing pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-525. At the hearing, he moved to dismiss the government's petition on the ground that his transfer to St. Elizabeths had been illegal. Dr. Abayomi Jaji, Peterson's treating physician at St. Elizabeths, testified that he understood Peterson had been transferred from WHC to St. Elizabeths because "he was getting very aggressive, they couldn't manage him, and he was becoming very violent against the staff." More specifically, Peterson was "throwing things at staff . . ., ripping things off the wall like a picture, and he was boisterous, getting in the face of [WHC] staff as if he was going to attack them."*fn2 Dr. Jaji further testified that Peterson was described as demonstrating "aggressive impulsive urges to the point of violence, attacking people for no clear reasons, very irritable to the point [that] almost anything you say to him can provoke him . . . to be aggressive."

Peterson argued that he was a voluntary inpatient at WHC and thus was entitled to be released upon his request pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-512 (a). The trial court disagreed and denied Peterson's motion to dismiss in an oral ruling from the bench, stating that "there was nothing wrong in the decision to convert him from voluntary to involuntary even while he was still in a hospital setting." In its ruling, the court stated that "what the Court finds from the facts presented to it regarding Mr. Peterson is that . . . while he initially went [into WHC] voluntarily to seek treatment, he became unamenable to treatment." On October 2, 2006, the trial court was notified that Peterson's status at St. Elizabeths had been changed to voluntary on September 25, 2006, and the case was dismissed.

II. Discussion

Peterson argues that his admission to St. Elizabeths as an emergency involuntary patient violated his rights under the Ervin Act, D.C. Code §§ 21-501 to -592 (Supp. 2009), because he had voluntarily sought admission to WHC. On the facts of this case, we cannot agree.

Under the Ervin Act, "[a] person may apply to a public or private hospital in the District of Columbia for admission to the hospital as a voluntary patient for the purposes of observation, diagnosis, and care and treatment of a mental illness." Id. § 21-511. The statute also provides:

A person accepted for voluntary treatment by a hospital . . . may, at any time, if the person is 18 years of age or over, obtain his or her release from the hospital or other treatment by filing a written request with the chief of service . . . . Within a period of 48 hours after the receipt of the request, the chief of service . . . shall ...

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