Justices reverse Marine veteran's involuntary commitment

March 20, 2015

A Marine veteran was wrongly committed for mental health treatment, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday. Justices reversed a trial court involuntary commitment order affirmed in a memorandum Court of Appeals opinion and swept away precedent in similar cases.

“Clear and convincing evidence was not presented at T.K.’s civil commitment hearing to establish that he was either dangerous or gravely disabled, and thus we hold that the civil commitment of T.K. was improper and is hereby reversed,” Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the unanimous court in In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of T.K. v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 49S02-1503-MH-138.

T.K. was ordered involuntarily committed after the Department of Veterans Affairs presented the testimony of a resident in psychiatry who examined him after he was admitted on emergency detention with chronic paranoid schizophrenia and paranoid personality disorder, conditions which T.K. does not challenge.

The doctor, though, concluded that he didn’t believe T.K. was a danger to himself or others, despite T.K.’s son’s concerns that T.K.’s behavior was erratic and aggressive and that T.K. had mentioned use of violence in emails and on Facebook.

The record also shows that T.K. had been boisterous, behaved rudely in public, refused treatment, and had left flyers on car windshields about the criminal record of a man who molested his daughter and is married to his ex-wife.

Other than the doctor, “only T.K. testified at the commitment hearing. He testified that he was employed, had been working in his current job for five months, had started as a day laborer but earned permanent employee status, had been renting a home for going on 6 months, owned two vehicles and had a third vehicle on which he makes payments, received disability payments for injuries sustained while in military service, and had not taken medication for his mental illnesses since the last time he was committed (February to April 2013),” Dickson wrote. “T.K. further testified that when not committed, he goes to the gym every morning, does his own laundry, maintains a clean home, and maintains his own vehicles.

“In light of the statutory prerequisite requirement that the necessary elements for a civil commitment be established by clear and convincing evidence, we hold that the evidence presented was insufficient to establish that T.K. was ‘either dangerous or gravely disabled,’” as defined under I.C. 12-26-2-5(e)(1).

“Several recent decisions of the Court of Appeals, however, while perhaps reciting the phrase 'clear and convincing,' have not applied this standard of proof in their analysis but rather have affirmed civil commitment orders merely if such an order 'represents a conclusion that a reasonable person could have drawn, even if other reasonable conclusions are possible,'" the panel noted. … “We disapprove of this line of cases.”

Those cases include M.L. v. Meridian Servs., Inc., 956 N.E.2d 752, 755 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), trans. not sought; S.T. v. Cmty. Hosp. N., 930 N.E.2d 684, 688 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), trans. not sought; K.F. v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., 909 N.E.2d 1063, 1066 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. not sought; and J.S. v. Ctr. for Behavioral Health, 846 N.E.2d 1106, 1111 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied.

Without condoning T.K.’s behavior and expressing a desire for more cooperation between T.K. and doctors, Dickson wrote that the evidence didn’t clearly and convincingly support a finding that T.K. is gravely disabled.

“Instead, at best, the evidence suggests that T.K.’s loud, boisterous, and rude public behavior harmed his reputation and made others not want to be around him. That is not sufficient evidence to support a civil commitment on grounds of a grave disability,” the court concluded.





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