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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Wayne B. v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute (08/29/2008) sp-6300

Wayne B. v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute (08/29/2008) sp-6300, 192 P3d 989

     Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction  before
     publication  in  the  Pacific  Reporter.   Readers  are
     requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk
     of  the  Appellate  Courts, 303  K  Street,  Anchorage,
     Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878,
     e-mail corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us.


            THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA

WAYNE B., )
) Supreme Court No. S- 12677
Appellant,)
) Superior Court No. 3AN-07- 247 PR
v. )
) O P I N I O N
ALASKA PSYCHIATRIC INSTITUTE,)
) No. 6300 August 29, 2008
Appellee.)
)
          Appeal  from the Superior Court of the  State
          of    Alaska,   Third   Judicial    District,
          Anchorage, Peter A. Michalski, Judge.

          Appearances:  James B. Gottstein, Law Project
          for  Psychiatric Rights, Inc., Anchorage, for
          Appellant.    Elizabeth    Russo,   Assistant
          Attorney  General, Talis J. Colberg, Attorney
          General, Anchorage, for Appellee.

          Before:    Fabe,  Chief  Justice,   Matthews,
          Eastaugh, Carpeneti, and Winfree, Justices.

          MATTHEWS, Justice.

          In  early  2007 the State petitioned to have Wayne  B.1
involuntarily  committed for thirty days, alleging  that  he  was
psychotic  and unable to meet his basic needs.  At the same  time
the   State   petitioned   for  court  approval   to   administer
psychotropic drugs to Wayne B. during the term of his commitment.
A  hearing  on  both petitions was held before a  superior  court
standing  master.  On March 1, 2007, the master recommended  that
the  petitions be granted and filed proposed findings and orders.
On  March 2 the superior court signed the orders proposed by  the
master.
          Wayne  B.  presents two points on appeal.  He  contends
that   (1)  the  orders  were  erroneously  entered  because   no
          transcript of the masters hearing was filed with the superior
court  as  required by Civil Rule 53(d)(1), and  (2)  the  courts
finding that he was gravely disabled was clearly erroneous.
          Both  orders appealed from have expired and this appeal
is moot.2  But we believe that Wayne B.s point regarding the need
for a transcript should be decided because it is an important and
recurring  issue and application of the mootness  doctrine  would
shield it from appellate review.3
          Civil Rule 53(d)(1) provides that a master must prepare
a  report  upon  the matter submitted to him and  must  file  the
report  with  the clerk of court.  In non-jury cases  the  master
must  also  file  a  transcript of the  proceedings  and  of  the
evidence.4   This rule was not complied with in this  case.   The
question is whether this failure was reversible error.
          We  conclude that it was.  We take a strict view of the
transcript  filing requirement because, as we noted in Wetherhorn
v.  Alaska Psychiatric Institute,  involuntary commitment  for  a
mental disorder is a massive curtailment of liberty.5  Given  the
nature of the liberty interest at stake, it was critical that the
superior court have full knowledge of the evidence that was  said
to justify committing Wayne B. to a mental institution.
           Rule 53(d)(1) permits a judge in an order of reference
to  direct  that no transcript of masters proceedings  be  filed.
This  grant  of  discretion could suggest that a  more  forgiving
standard  should be applied where the transcript  requirement  is
not  followed.   To  be  sure, an order of  reference  waiving  a
transcript may be made where case-specific facts justify  such  a
waiver.  But in involuntary commitments, such as the present,  it
is  difficult to imagine circumstances that would justify such  a
waiver.   We  except from this observation cases  where  a  judge
intends to listen to a recording of the proceedings.
          Where  no  transcript is filed, but  a  judge  actually
listens  to a recording of  the full proceedings conducted  by  a
master,  the  error  in  failing to comply  with  the  transcript
requirement   should  be  considered  cured.   The   adjudicative
responsibilities  of a judge can be fulfilled at  least  as  well
based  on a recording of proceedings as from a transcript.6   But
there is no indication that this occurred in this case.
          For  the  reasons stated we VACATE the  March  2,  2007
orders  committing Wayne B. and requiring that he submit  to  the
administration  of  psychotropic drugs.  Since  the  orders  have
expired, there is no need to remand this case for reconsideration
of the underlying petitions.
_______________________________
     1    A pseudonym has been used to protect the privacy of the
appellant.

     2     Cf.  Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156  P.3d
371, 380-81 (Alaska 2007) (concluding that the substantive appeal
was  moot because the thirty-day period for which Wetherhorn  was
committed ha[d] long since passed).

     3    See Fairbanks Fire Fighters Assn, Local 1324 v. City of
Fairbanks,  48  P.3d 1165, 1168-69 (Alaska 2002)  (analyzing  the
public interest exception to mootness).

     4    Civil Rule 53(d) provides in relevant part:

               (1)  Contents  and Filing.   The  master
          shall  prepare  a  report  upon  the  matters
          submitted  to  the master  by  the  order  of
          reference  and, if required to make  findings
          of  fact  and conclusions of law, the  master
          shall  set  them  forth in the  report.   The
          master  shall file the report with the  clerk
          of  the  court and in an action to  be  tried
          without a jury, unless otherwise directed  by
          the order of reference, shall file with it  a
          transcript  of  the proceedings  and  of  the
          evidence  and  the  original  exhibits.   The
          clerk  shall  forthwith mail to  all  parties
          notice of the filing.
          
               (2)  In  Non-Jury Actions.  In an action
          to  be  tried without a jury the court  shall
          accept  the  masters findings unless  clearly
          erroneous.  Within 10 days after being served
          with  notice of the filing of the report  any
          party  may  serve written objections  thereto
          upon  the other parties.  Application to  the
          court for an action upon the report and  upon
          objections  thereto shall be  by  motion  and
          upon  notice as prescribed in Rule  77.   The
          court  may adopt the report or may modify  it
          or  may reject it in whole or in part or  may
          receive  further evidence or may recommit  it
          with instructions.
          
     5     156  P.3d at 375 (quoting Humphrey v. Cady,  405  U.S.
504, 509 (1972)).

     6     Listening to a recording of proceedings is  much  more
time  consuming than reading a transcript; this may  explain  the
rules preference for a transcript.

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