Majority justices won’t hear more commitment appeals lacking judge’s signature

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Indiana Supreme Court justices split over whether to grant transfer in two civil commitment order cases last week but granted transfer in two similar cases in a per curiam opinion that disapproved of a Marion County judge’s practice of permitting a presiding commissioner to sign the orders in his place.

Before the high court were several civil commitment orders that lacked an individual signature from Marion Superior Judge Steven Eichholtz, who had summarily approved such orders that were individually reviewed and signed by Marion Superior Commissioner Kelly M. Scanlan.

Instead of signing the orders himself, Eichholtz has approved the commitments by signing an order designated as a “non-case matter.” Numerous orders stemming from Eichholtz’s court have been resolved in this fashion. Although the Indiana Court of Appeals has noted the inconsistency, the issue has been generally been waived or dismissed as moot.

But Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter split from the majority’s decision to deny transfer in In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: D.H., v. Eskenazi Health/Midtown Mental Health CMHC, 18A-MH-00635 and in the consolidated appeal of In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: L.C., v. Community Health Network, Inc., 18A-MH-638, believing that Scanlan lacked the authority to enter judgment and that the commitment orders in those cases were void.

D.H. was ordered to a temporary commitment to be treated for schizophrenia. She appealed that the order was defective because it had only been signed by the commissioner who presided over the commitment hearings and not by the probate judge. Although the COA agreed the order was defective, it concluded D.H. waived the issue because she failed to timely object.

Likewise, the COA acknowledged that while the commitment orders for L.C., D.P. and C.H. were invalid due to a lack of signature from the judge, the appeals were waived because the issue had not been raised previously.

But Supreme Court justices last week issued a per curiam opinion admonishing those practices in a consolidated appeal of In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of T.W. v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., et al.; In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of A.M. v. Community Health Network, Inc., 19S-MH-264. 

In both cases, T.W. and A.M. were ordered to commitment for schizophrenia-related reasons and appealed that their commitment orders were invalid because they lacked Eichholtz’s signature. Justices agreed with the COA’s ruling that the issue was moot because the appeals were untimely, however, the high court addressed what it considered to be “an issue of great importance” regarding the approval of the orders.

Justices noted that the “approval orders” signed by Eichholtz to approve the civil commitments provided inadequate assurance that he “was presented with (in writing), reviewed, and approved the temporary commitment orders in the cases of T.W. and A.M.”

But despite their disproval, Justices concluded the cases were moot and did not remand them.

The full list of transfers may be found here.

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