Thursday, August 17, 2023

NEW, AZ Supreme Court: Doctors Can't Use "Boilerplate" To Justify Court-Ordered Mental Health Treatment of 70-Year Old Woman, But Order In This Tucson Case UPHELD (READ Opinion)

Physicians must do a thorough job explaining why a court should order compelled mental health treatment, the Arizona Supreme Court decided yesterday. However, even though they did not "completely comply" with the statutory requirements, the court-ordered treatment of a 70-year old Tucson woman was valid because the issue had not been raised at the expedited hearing.

The woman went to the hospital for gastrointestinal problems, but was kept there because she weighed only 83 pounds and was diagnosed with "delusional disorder, malnutrition, and cachexia." (Cachexia is "general weight loss and wasting occurring in the course of a chronic disease or emotional disturbance.”)

She was not discharged, instead undergoing a court-ordered evaluation at Banner UMC South. The two doctors signed the required affidavit - which was only boilerplate - and their patient notes were stapled to it. The unidentified woman believed the doctors were not going to help her and wanted to be able to return home to her business. After a hearing, the judge ordered treatment, which included anti-psychotics.

By the time the Court of Appeals reversed the order because the reports did not meet the statutory requirements, the order had expired and the woman was released.

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, the Supreme Court yesterday found:

1) Although this case was moot, it should be considered because it would likely arise again.

2) That the doctors' affidavits did not comply with the statutes, noting that they had not even sworn that the stapled notes were part of their affidavit. (Best practice tip: cut and paste the notes into the affidavit, or at least say they are incorporated by reference.)

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals had analogized the requirements to the "strict compliance" the Legislature has imposed on citizens' initiative and referenda petitions. The Supreme Court declined to "import" that term, instead "we now clarify that the requirement is simply complete compliance with each statute’s requirements, even when that compliance is technically different from what the statute requires." (emphasis added)

3) Since the objection to the non-compliant evaluations was late, the Justices reviewed it to see if allowing then had caused "fundamental error". They decided that she had had a fair hearing even with the reports.

The (involuntary) patient's attorney, Molly Pettry, told Arizona's Law that she was "disappointed" in the decision even though it will not impact her client in this case. She points out that evaluating physicians must better follow the requirements because people's liberty is at stake.

She notes that G.B., the 70-year old woman in this case, was back in her home after the court-ordered treatments she received had not been successful and the order expired.

Pettry is part of the Pima County Mental Health Defender's Office, representing people with mental illness who face involuntary commitment, guardianship proceedings and dependency actions.

This article was reported by AZ Law founder Paul Weich. 

"AZ Law" includes articles, commentaries and updates about opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, as well as trial and appellate courts, etc. AZ Law is founded by Phoenix attorney Paul Weich, and joins Arizona's Politics on the internet. 

AZ Law airs on non-profit Sun Sounds of Arizona, a statewide reading service that provides audio access to printed material for people who cannot hold or read print material due to a disability. If you know someone who could benefit from this 24/7 service, please let them know about member-supported Sun Sounds. And, YOU can donate or listen here. 

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