Selected Mental Health Cases: CIVIL (Still under construction.)

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The cases on this list are linked to external cites. Please click on the case name to access the link for that case. Please email mhweb@publiccounsel.net if you find that a link does not work.

This material is arrange by date of decision.

Selected Civil Cases (Chronological)

Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I., 471 Mass. 150 (2015)

At G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8, hearing District Court did not err in permitting the respondent’s treating psychotherapist to testify concerning statements the respondent made and his opinion of the respondent’s mental or emotional condition based on those statements, where the imminent harm exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege set forth in G. L. c. 233, § 20B, applied. The statements indicated that the respondent posed a threat of imminently dangerous activity against himself and the psychiatrist disclosed the statements in order to place or retain the respondent at the facility. No statutory language suggested that the Legislature had intended to preclude a psychotherapist from disclosing a patient’s statements in such circumstances unless the psychotherapist has first warned the patient that a disclosure might be made [154-158]. The court-ordered examination exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege did not apply, in that the examination had not been conducted in anticipation of a future proceeding in which the respondent’s mental capacity would be at issue [158-160].

In re J.B., 2014 Mass. App. Div. 233 (2014)

Trial judge does not have the discretion to reject an otherwise -proper waiver, pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 6(b), of a person’s right to a commitment hearing under §§ 7, 8, and 18.

Guardianship of L.H., 84 Mass. App. Ct. 711 (2014)

The court declined to reach the issue whether trial counsel was ineffective in assisting the ward at a proceeding on a petition seeking appointment of a guardian and a substituted judgment treatment order for administration of antipsychotic drugs, as well as at a proceeding seeking reinstatement of the substituted judgment treatment order with a modification for administration of antipsychotic drugs by injection, where the issues were not fully developed on the trial record, and where nothing in the extant record suggested that the standard of prejudice would be met in the case. [717-721] AGNES, J., dissenting

In re E.C., 2014 Mass. App. Div. 230 (2014)
In re P.I., 2014 Mass. App. Div. 116 (2014)
In re C.B., 2013 Mass. App. Div. 42 (2013)

To be subject of a petition under Ch. 123, sec. 7 & 8 a person must be a patient at a facility.

Kirk v. Commonwealth, 459 Mass. 67, 944 N.E.2d 135 (2011)

The SJC held that civil recommitment proceedings, pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16(c) are presumptively open to the public. The closure of a portion or the entire proceeding may only occur where the party seeking closure demonstrates an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced and the closure is no broader than to protect that interest. The trial court must consider all reasonable alternatives to closing the proceedings and make adequate findings of fact adequate to support the closure.

Melrose-Wakefield Hospital v. H.S., 2010 Mass. App. Div. 247 (2010)

The mere calling of a case, absent the swearing of a witness or some evidence being taken, does not constitute “commencement” of a commitment hearing under G.L. c. 123, § 7(c).

Newton-Wellesley Hospital v. Magrini, 451 Mass. 777 (2008)

The SJC interprets the language of G.L. c. 123, § 12(b) broadly, to provide a statutory right to an emergency hearing for persons temporarily involuntary committed, if there is reason to believe that the admission resulted from “an abuse or misuse” of not only the enumerated provisions of subsection 12(b) but any other circumstances that may have resulted in a wrongful admission. The Court also held that unless the request for an emergency hearing is “patently frivolous,” the holding of a hearing where the patient is present and may be heard is mandatory. Whether the hearing is evidentiary is within the judge’s discretion.

Petition of Andrews, 449 Mass. 587 (2007)

Burden of Proof in 9(b) hearings: The SJC established that civilly committed patients applying for discharge or transfer to different facility under G.L. c. 123, § 9(b) must prove by a “fair preponderance of the evidence” that his or her situation has significantly changed since last commitment was reviewed judicially, either on the basis of new evidence or new factual developments, in order to justify discharge or transfer.

Guardianship of Zaltman, 65 Mass. App. Ct. 678, 843 N.E.2d 663 (2006)

A person under guardianship who has been previously adjudged incapable of making his or her own medical decisions is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to demonstrate that he or she is competent to select counsel of his or her own choosing to represent her in a challenge to guardianship under G.L. c. 201, §§ 13 and 13(a) (seeking discharge on grounds of changed medical circumstances and failure of guardian to meet fiduciary responsibilities), where evidence exists that the interests of the ward and guardian are adverse and that the ward may have recovered competency. If it is found that she does have capacity she may retain counsel of her own choosing or if she is found not have such capacity, new, independent counsel must be assigned to zealous advocate for her in those proceedings

Care & Protection of Erin, 443 Mass. 567 (2005)

Moot Question. Practice, Civil, Due Process of Law Standard of proof. Evidence, Presumptions and burden of proof.

The court concluded that where a petition is filed seeking review and redetermination of an initial determination pursuant to G. L. c. 119, s 26, that a child is in need of care and protection, the filing party bears an initial burden of producing some credible evidence that circumstances have changed since the initial determination such that the child may no longer be in need of care and protection, after which the Department of Social Services bears the ultimate burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child is still in need of care and protection. [570-572] Would same apply to G.L. c. 123, § 9(b) proceedings?

Commonwealth v. Carrara, 58 Mass. App. Ct. 86, 787 N.E.2d 1128 (2003)

G.L. c. 123, § 16(e) authorizes a court to impose certain restrictions on the movements of a person committed to a Department of Mental Health facility pursuant to § 16. However, DMH must be permitted to exercise its own discretion in how such restrictions on a patient’s movements within the buildings and grounds are implemented, unless the court makes a finding that there is but one way to do so or DMH is unable or unwilling to provide the required security.

Foss v. Commonwealth, 437 Mass. 584 (2002)

The SJC held that the plain meaning of G.L. c. 123, § 16(f) requires the Department of Correction, when computing parole eligibility for a defendant found incompetent to stand trial, to base its calculation on the maximum sentence for the single most serious crime charged, not the maximum consecutive sentences of all crimes charged.

In the Matter of Laura L., 54 Mass. App. Ct. 853, 768 N.E.2d 605 (2002)

A Lamb warning is required to be given to an individual during a court-ordered examination pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 12(e) for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility. Privileged statements made to a psychotherapist during this examination may only be disclosed at the commitment hearing if the individual has made a knowing and voluntary waiver. Where the issue of whether an individual is capable of making such a waiver is raised, it is the duty of the judge to make an inquiry in order to avoid a miscarriage of justice.

Cohen v. Bolduc, 435 Mass. 608 (Mass. 2002)

Absent an express limitation by a principal in the health proxy itself, G.L. c. 201D does not prevent an agent from making the treatment decision to commit a principal to a mental health facility, unless the principal objects to the commitment. The SJC interpreted treatment under the health care proxy statute broadly to include treatment of any physical or mental conditions. If the principal objects or revokes the health proxy, the proxy statute divests the agent of all treatment making authority, including the commitment or retention of the principal at a mental health facility. The principal may then only be committed or retained at a mental health facility if a court determines that he or she is incapacitated.

Canavan’s Case, 432 Mass. 304, 733 N.E.2d 1042 (2002)

Expert medical testimony based on personal observations or clinical experience is subject to the Lanigan analysis for determination of its admissibility into evidence. Such expert testimony or evidence is only admissible if the theory and methodology by which the witness arrives at his or her opinion is reliable. Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 419 Mass. 15, 641 N.E.2d 1342 (1994); see also Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Where an expert opinion is challenged, the proponent of the evidence must lay an adequate foundation “either by establishing general acceptance in the [relevant] scientific community or by showing that the evidence is reliable or valid through an alternate means.” Commonwealth v. Sands, 424 Mass. 184, 185-86 (1997). The abuse of discretion standard is to be applied during appellate review of the admissibility of scientific evidence.

Adoption of Sherry, 435 Mass. 331 (2001)

Does analysis of this case apply to DA’s “right to be heard” under G.L. c. 123, § 16(d)? In a proceeding to dispense with parental consent to adoption, a District Court judge erred in excluding from evidence, on the basis of work-product privilege, portions of an expert’s report, and erred in admitting in evidence, under G. L. c. 119, s. 29D, an unsworn, written statement by the foster mother; however, neither error affected the judge’s findings, supported by the record, constituting the clear and convincing evidence required to dispense with the father’s consent to the adoption of his child. [335-339]

Bournewood Hospital v. Baker, 431 Mass. 101, 725 N.E.2d 552 (2000)

The superintendent of a mental health facility or hospital is without authority to petition for the commitment of a conditional voluntary patient under G.L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8, where the patient has not given written notice of intent to leave or withdraw from the facility pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 11. Absent an order for involuntary commitment, an order under G.L. c. 123, § 8B authorizing treatment with antipsychotic medication is invalid.

Myers v. Saccone, 1999 Mass. App. Div. 305 (1999)

Absent a client’s consent to a continuance, a court must dismiss a petition for involuntary commitment where a hearing is not commenced within the statutorily prescribed 14-day period (G.L. c., 123 § 7(c)). Hashimi v. Kalil, 388 Mass. 607, 446 N.E.2d 1387 (1983).

Shine v. Vega, 429 Mass. 456 (1999)

Right to Refuse/Consent to Emergency Treatment

Discussion of cases considering the circumstances in which a competent individual may refuse medical treatment necessary to save that individual’s life [463-4641 and discussion of the emergency exception to the informed consent doctrine [464-466].

Gorod v. Tabachnick, 428 Mass. 1001 (1998)

Superintendence of lower courts

“With the hope that it will eliminate confusion in the future, we take this opportunity to reiterate what we have said in other cases concerning clerks of court or registers (or a member of their staff) who refuse to accept for filing a notice of appeal tendered by a litigant. HN2 Clerks and registers, whether elected or appointed, are ministerial officers of the court when it comes to receiving and filing papers. (Citations omitted.) In the absence of an order from a judge, they may not refuse to accept a notice of appeal, even if they believe that no appeal is available or that the notice is untimely or otherwise defective. (Citations omitted.)”