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COA: filing of commitment report is a procedural requirement

June 24, 2011

In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals had to decide whether the timely filing of a doctor’s report in an involuntary commitment is a jurisdictional prerequisite or a procedural requirement.

In Involuntary Commitment of S.S., No. 49A02-1011-MH-1251, S.S. appealed the denial of her motion to correct error which she filed after the probate court found she was gravely disabled and ordered her to be temporarily committed. S.S. was admitted to Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis on Sept. 16, 2010. Wishard filed the application with the probate court to have her involuntarily committed at 11:30 a.m. that day. Dr. Michael DeMotte examined S.S. September 21 and concluded she needed to continue to be detained. Wishard submitted his report at 11:46 a.m. that day.

Although S.S.’s commitment has since expired, the Court of Appeals still addressed her appeal because this issue is likely to recur. S.S. argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to preside over her commitment proceedings because DeMotte’s report was filed after the period of her detention had ended, so her due process rights were violated. The report was filed 16 minutes late based on the time periods dictated by statute.

S.S. argued this tardy filing of the report stripped the probate court of its jurisdiction to preside over her preliminary hearing and that the timely filing of the report is a jurisdiction prerequisite. Wishard argued that the timely filing of the report is a procedural requirement, without statutorily imposed consequences for untimely filing.

The judges agreed with Wishard. Should the trial court lose jurisdiction over the case, the detained person would be deprived of a forum to seek an order of release, wrote Judge James Kirsch. Regarding S.S.’s due process concerns, Wishard’s failure to comply with the time frame was de minimis with no resulting harm to S.S., the judge continued. Had the report been filed just before the end of S.S.’s detention period, she likely would have had an extended period of detention during the statutorily created 24-hour time frame in which the trial court must consider the report and act.

“The probate court acted in a timely fashion upon receipt of the report, set the matter for hearing, and entered its order of temporary commitment within the time frame established by statute. Thus, there was no prejudice to S.S. As previously stated, we acknowledge the extreme importance and constitutional dimension of the liberty interests of detained persons, but also acknowledge that those interests must be balanced by consideration of the safety interests of the detained person and society,” he wrote.

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