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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. E.P. v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute (04/24/2009) sp-6367

E.P. v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute (04/24/2009) sp-6367

     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

E.P., )
) Supreme Court Nos.
Appellant, ) S- 12853/12934/13004
)
) Superior Court No.
v. ) 3AN-07-951 PR
)
ALASKA PSYCHIATRIC )
INSTITUTE, ) O P I N I O N
)
Appellee. ) No. 6367 - April 24, 2009
)
          Appeal  from the Superior Court of the  State
          of    Alaska,   Third   Judicial    District,
          Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge.

          Appearances: Douglas Moody, Assistant  Public
          Defender,   and   Quinlan   Steiner,   Public
          Defender, Anchorage, for Appellant.  David T.
          Jones, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage,
          and   Talis  J.  Colberg,  Attorney  General,
          Juneau, for Appellee.

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

          CARPENETI, Justice.

I.   INTRODUCTION
          I.    A  person  addicted to various substances,  whose
substance  abuse  has  caused organic brain damage,  appeals  his
three  consecutive involuntary commitments to Alaska  Psychiatric
Institute.   We  uphold  his  commitments,  because:  (1)  Alaska
statutes  permit involuntary commitment of a person found  likely
to  harm  himself even if there is no reasonable belief treatment
will  improve his condition; (2) an addict whose substance  abuse
has  caused  organic  damage to the frontal  lobe  of  his  brain
rendering  him unable to understand the dangers of his  substance
abuse,  and impeding his ability to communicate, is mentally  ill
under  Alaskas  involuntary commitment statutes;  (3)  where  the
addict  intends to return to the substance abuse that causes  his
organic brain damage if released from involuntary commitment, the
addict  is  likely  to cause harm to himself and  demonstrates  a
current  intent  to carry out plans of serious  harm  to  himself
under  Alaskas  involuntary  commitment  statutes;  and  (4)  the
superior courts decision to treat the addicts objections  to  the
masters reports as motions for reconsideration of superior  court
orders was harmless error.
II.  FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
     A.   Introduction
          A  brief  description of the statutory scheme governing
involuntary  commitment  in  Alaska  may  assist  the  reader  in
understanding  the  involved procedural  history  of  this  case.
Alaska  Statute 47.30.655 discusses principles of  modern  mental
health   care   guiding  the  statutory  scheme  for  involuntary
commitment, including the principle that persons who are mentally
ill  but not dangerous to others be committed only if there is  a
reasonable  expectation  of  improving  their  mental  condition.
Alaska  Statute  47.30.730  allows  the  state  to  petition   to
involuntarily commit for thirty days a person who is mentally ill
and  as a result is likely to cause harm to self or others or  is
gravely  disabled.  The petition must allege with  respect  to  a
gravely disabled respondent that there is reason to believe  that
the  respondents mental condition could be improved by the course
of  treatment sought.  Under AS 47.30.740 and AS 47.30. 770,  the
state may petition for an additional 90-day commitment after a 30-
day  commitment,  and an unlimited number of 180-day  commitments
after  a 90-day commitment.  The same procedures apply to  90-day
and  180-day commitments as to 30-day commitments, except  for  a
few additional requirements.
     B.   Facts
          E.P.  has  a  history  of alcohol  abuse  and  inhaling
gasoline fumes and other substances to get high (huffing).  These
actions  have  led  to several commitments,  both  voluntary  and
involuntary  to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API).   Huffing
has  damaged  the  frontal  lobe of  E.P.s  brain,  resulting  in
dementia,  personality  disorder,  and  not  otherwise  specified
psychosis.   He has poor judgment and insight, and  as  a  result
cannot grasp the severe health consequences of huffing.  E.P.  is
addicted to huffing.
          E.P.  stayed  at API voluntarily from March  until  May
2007.   In  May  2007 API discharged E.P. to an  assisted  living
facility  in Big Lake.  Within twenty-four hours, he  got  drunk,
huffed  gas,  and became assaultive or physical.  The  record  is
vague   about  this  event.  The  police  were  involved  in   an
unspecified  way,  but apparently E.P. was not charged  with  any
crime.   E.P.  returned  to  API the next  day.   Throughout  the
current proceedings, E.P. has maintained that, if discharged from
API,  he  will  likely go back to huffing.  The  parties  do  not
dispute that API does not have the capability to treat or improve
his  substance abuse problem: Commitment there can  only  prevent
him  from huffing by restricting his access to gasoline and other
inhalants.
     C.   Proceedings
          1.   The 30-day commitment
          In  August  2007 E.P. decided he wanted to  leave  API.
API  petitioned  to  commit him involuntarily  for  thirty  days.
Standing  Master  Andrew Brown heard the petition  on  August  3,
2007.   Dr.  Kahnaz  Khari of API testified  for  API,  and  E.P.
testified on his own behalf.
          Dr. Khari testified that huffing gas has damaged  E.P.s
frontal  lobe,  and  that  huffing has caused his  mental  health
problems.   She  testified that as a result of  this  damage,  he
lacks insight and judgment and cannot understand how huffing  gas
harms him.  She testified that she did not expect E.P.s condition
to  improve at API because API is not a substance abuse treatment
facility.  She testified that E.P. should stay at API because API
restricts  his  access  to  alcohol  and  inhalants.   She   also
testified that E.P. had a history of drinking, huffing  gas,  and
becom[ing] assaultive when not at API.  She testified  that  E.P.
has been a model patient during his stay at API.
          E.P. testified briefly that he wanted to go back to his
family.   When asked if he would go back to drinking and  huffing
gas  if discharged, he replied: If I relapse I will . . . . Yeah,
if  I  get  bored I will do like I did . . . the last time.   His
testimony was confused and garbled.
          The  standing master found E.P. mentally ill and  as  a
result  gravely disabled.  He declined to find E.P. a  danger  to
himself or others.  E.P.s lawyer told the master that she planned
to  object  to  his report.  The standing master  then  issued  a
written  report.  He found that E.Ps substance abuse  had  caused
organic  brain  damage and resulting dementia.  He wrote:  [E.P.]
cannot perceive and understand reality. His judgment is extremely
poor and he is unable to make rational decisions, as shown by his
continued  desire to inhale toxic substances.  If he  is  in  any
type  of  an  unsecured  setting he will  resume  inhaling  toxic
substances.   He  acknowledged that the only  benefit  API  could
provide  E.P.  was a secured setting.  The superior  court  judge
signed the recommendation the next day.
          The  day  after  that,  E.P. filed  objections  to  the
masters  report.   He   argued  that  the  statutes  only   allow
involuntary commitment of a gravely disabled person if  there  is
reason  to believe treatment will improve that persons condition,
and that treatment will not improve his condition.
          API responded, and agreed with E.P.s factual assertions
and  legal argument.  But API argued that, although involuntarily
committing  E.P.  for grave disability was not  appropriate,  the
record  supported involuntarily committing E.P.  on  the  grounds
that he was likely to harm himself or others.  API wrote:
          The evidence is clear that [E.P.] intends  to
          return  to  his home village and  resume  his
          drug  use.  If left untreated and allowed  to
          resume  his old habits, which is his  current
          plan,  he will die. His sister, with whom  he
          intends  to reside[,] has small children  who
          are  at  risk  of  being  influenced  by  his
          behaviors, and harmed as a result.
The  superior  court received the objections and  response  after
signing  the masters report, and therefore treated the objections
as  a motion for reconsideration of a superior court order.   The
superior court then denied the motion [f]or the reasons stated in
[API]s  Response  to  objections.  The  superior  court  did  not
elaborate.  E.P. appealed to this court.
          2.   The 90-day commitment
          When  E.P.s  30-day commitment ran out, API  petitioned
for  a  90-day  involuntary commitment on the on the  alternative
grounds  that (1) E.P. was gravely disabled or (2) he was  likely
to  harm himself or others.  Standing Master Andrew Brown held  a
hearing on the petition on September 5, 2007.  Dr. Khari was  the
only  witness.  The fact findings from the 30-day commitment were
admitted  as evidence.  Dr. Khari testified that E.P.s  condition
had  not  improved since the 30-day commitment hearing.  But  she
testified  that  he  was a model patient, and  had  exhibited  no
dangerous  behavior.   She testified that  he  still  planned  to
continue  huffing gas if discharged, which would  further  damage
his   brain.    Dr.  Khari  also  testified  that  E.P.s   verbal
communication is limited. [A]fter . . . a couple of sentences, he
usually  turns  around  and gives you a  smile,  thats  something
actually  not appropriate in the context of what we  are  talking
[about].    The  master  committed  E.P.  on  grounds  of   grave
disability.
          Again  E.P.s  lawyer told the master  she  intended  to
object  to  his  report.  But again the master  sent  his  report
immediately to the superior court, which signed it before the ten-
day  period for objections had run.  E.P. made similar objections
to  those  he  made in the thirty-day proceeding.  This  time  he
added  the  argument that AS 47.30.655(6) requires  a  reasonable
belief  that  treatment will improve a persons condition  if  the
person  is  gravely disabled or if the person is likely  to  harm
himself.   He argued that he can only be involuntarily  committed
without  reasonable  belief  that  treatment  will  improve   his
condition if he is found likely to harm others.
          API   responded,  again  agreeing  with   E.P.s   legal
conclusions.1   But API argued that the record  showed  E.P.  was
likely to harm others.  API reiterated its concerns that if  E.P.
returned to his sister and resumed huffing, he would likely  die.
API  also  worried he might influence her children, thus  harming
them.   API also expressed generalized concern that other  people
could  be  harmed  as a result of his choice to drink  and  abuse
substances.
          The  superior court, having already signed the  masters
report  before  the end of the ten-day period  to  object,  again
treated  E.P.s  objections as a motion for reconsideration.   The
superior  court denied the motion on the grounds  that  E.P.  was
likely  to  harm  himself because of his  plan  to  huff  gas  if
discharged.   The superior court held that the statute  does  not
require  a  reasonable  belief that treatment  will  improve  the
          condition of a person likely to harm himself.  E.P. again
appealed to this court.
          3.   The 180-day commitment
          When  E.P.s  90-day commitment ran out, API  petitioned
for a 180-day commitment on the alternative grounds that (1) E.P.
was  gravely  disabled, or (2) he was likely to harm  himself  or
others.   Standing  Master  Jonathon Lack  heard  the  matter  on
December 4, 2007.  Again, Dr. Khari was the only witness.   Again
Dr.  Khari  testified that E.P. intended to huff gas if released,
and   that  when  intoxicated  his  behavior  become  (sic)  very
assaultive,  very  unpredictable.  She  mentioned  the  May  2007
incident  in  which E.P. abused alcohol and huffing and  [became]
physical and police became involved.  But she also testified that
he  had  not  shown  any aggressive or self-destructive  behavior
other  than a continued desire to huff gas  since coming to  API.
She  again  testified  that  his  mental  condition  impairs  his
judgment  and  prevents  him  from appreciating  the  dangers  of
huffing.
          The  standing  master found E.P.  to  be  both  gravely
disabled  and  a danger to himself.  In his written  report,  the
master found:
          [E.P.]  suffers from psychotic  disorder  and
          persisting dementia caused by substance abuse
          and    manifesting   itself   in   additional
          substance  abuse.  He has  limited  cognitive
          function and has no insight or judgment  into
          his  condition  and by clear  and  convincing
          evidence the court finds that he is a risk to
          himself  due to his condition. He represented
          to  Dr.  Khari  that  if  released  he  would
          continue to seek out materials to huff  which
          represents  a serious irreparable  threat  to
          his   health   and  safety.  By   clear   and
          convincing evidence the court also finds that
          [E.P.] is gravely disabled.
          Again  E.P.s  lawyer told the master she would  object,
and  specifically requested that he hold his report for the  full
ten-day  period  before sending it to the  superior  court.   The
clerk  assured  her the report would be held,  but  in  fact  the
superior court signed it just three days later.
          Again  E.P.  objected  to  the  masters  report.   E.P.
reiterated  his  arguments made in the hearing and  his  previous
objections.   API  filed  a  response  similar  to  its  previous
responses.
          Again  the superior court treated the objections  as  a
motion  for reconsideration.  The superior court found clear  and
convincing  evidence that E.P. was likely to harm  himself.   The
evidence  demonstrates his condition is far more than a substance
abuse  addiction.  He is mentally ill and suffers  [from]  mental
disorders  described by Dr. Khari that manifest in his desire  to
huff.    The  court  found insufficient evidence  that  E.P.  was
likely to harm others.  The court also held that committing  E.P.
on  the basis of grave disability was inappropriate because there
was  no  reasonable  belief  E.P.s condition would  improve  with
treatment.
          E.P.s  lawyer  then  filed a motion to  clarify  courts
decision  to  treat [E.P.]s objections as a motion to reconsider.
She  pointed out that, according to Alaska Probate Rule 2(f), she
should  have  ten days to file objections to the masters  report,
and  asked how she was supposed to do that if the master sent the
report  directly  to  the  superior court  to  sign.   The  court
responded that, because masters orders are immediately effective,
it  makes  far  more  sense to sign them  immediately  and  treat
objections as a motion to reconsider.  The court noted  that  the
time for filing a motion to reconsider is also ten days.
          E.P.  appealed. E.P.s appeals from his 30-day,  90-day,
and 180-day commitments have been consolidated before this court.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
          We  review  fact findings in an involuntary  commitment
proceeding for clear error.2  We overturn those findings only  if
left with a firm conviction the standing master or superior court
made  a  mistake.3  We review questions of law de novo, including
whether  the  fact  findings  meet the  statutory  standards  for
involuntary commitment.4   We also review questions of  statutory
interpretation de novo.5
IV.  DISCUSSION
     A.   Although  This  Case Is Now Moot,  It  Falls  into  the
          Public Interest Exception to Mootness.
          All  three  commitments from which  E.P.  appeals  have
expired.6   Therefore, all the appeals are  moot.7   Although  we
generally decline to hear moot cases, we conclude that the public
interest  exception to mootness applies to the  questions  raised
here.  We consider three factors in evaluating whether the public
interest exception applies to moot claims:
          (1)  Whether the disputed issues are  capable
          of   repetition,  (2)  whether  the  mootness
          doctrine, if applied, may cause review of the
          issues to be repeatedly circumvented, and (3)
          whether the issues presented are so important
          to   the   public  interest  as  to   justify
          overriding the mootness doctrine.[8]
          All  three  factors  in this case  weigh  in  favor  of
review.  First, because the disputed issues in this case  do  not
depend  heavily  on  E.P.s  unique facts,  they  are  capable  of
repetition.   When disputed issues turn on unique facts  unlikely
to be repeated, we have refused to find an exception to mootness.9
But  the  questions  E.P. raises depend  on  facts  that  may  be
repeated  with  regard  to another in a similar  situation.   The
matter   of   statutory  interpretation   whether  a  court   may
involuntarily commit a person found dangerous to himself  without
also  finding  reasonable belief that his condition will  improve
with  treatment10   does  not depend on E.P.s  particular  facts.
E.P.s procedural questions11 also do not depend on his particular
facts.12
          The  disputed  issue  whether E.P. meets the  statutory
requirements for involuntary commitment  is capable of repetition
with  regard  to other people whose drug addictions have  damaged
their  brains.  Before E.P.s recent death,13 they were  not  only
          capable of repetition with regard to E.P. himself, but they were
repeated,  because  E.P. was committed three times  on  the  same
facts.14
          Also, E.P.s fact-based claims are capable of repetition
to  any addict whose substance abuse causes organic brain damage.
Huffing  gas and other inhalants, unfortunately, is  not  a  rare
addiction.15   Other addictions may cause organic  brain  damage.
For example, long-term use of methamphetamine may cause psychotic
behavior and hallucinations.16  Thus, this commitment process may
be  repeated with any drug addict whose addiction causes  organic
brain damage.
          The  second  and third factors also weigh in  favor  of
review.  It is quite unlikely that an appeal from a 30-day or 90-
day  commitment, or even a 180-day commitment, could be completed
before the commitment has expired.  Also, the questions raised in
this appeal are important to the public interest.  We have agreed
with   the  United  States  Supreme  Court  that  an  involuntary
commitment   is   a  massive  curtailment  of   liberty.17    The
interpretation  and  scope  of  involuntary  commitment  statutes
affect  the  power  of the state to curtail the  liberty  of  any
member of the public.
          Because  all  three factors used to decide whether  the
public interest exception to the mootness doctrine are satisfied,
we conclude that we should review E.P.s claims.
     B.   A  Person  Can  Be Committed for Grave Disability  Only
          upon  a Finding that Treatment Will Improve the Persons
          Condition.
          In   1981   Alaskas  involuntary  commitment   statutes
underwent a major revision.18  Alaska Statute 47.30.655 lays  out
the  purposes  behind the revisions.  The central purpose  is  to
more  adequately  protect the legal rights of  persons  suffering
from mental illness.19  In addition, the following principles  of
modern  mental health care have guided this revision: . .  .  (6)
that persons who are mentally ill but not dangerous to others  be
committed  only if there is a reasonable expectation of improving
their mental condition.20
          Relying on this statement of purpose, E.P. argues that,
unless  a  court  finds a person likely to harm  others,  it  may
involuntarily commit that person only if it finds that  treatment
will  improve the persons condition.  In other words,  the  court
could  not involuntarily commit E.P. on the grounds that he might
harm  himself unless it reasonably believed that treatment  would
improve his condition.
          However,  the substantive statutory scheme  as  opposed
to  the  statement  of purpose  governing involuntary  commitment
does  not require a reasonable belief that treatment will improve
the  persons condition when the person is likely to harm himself.
Alaska  Statute 47.30.730 establishes the procedure for a  30-day
commitment.21   Section (a) requires the petition to  allege  (1)
that the respondent is mentally ill and as a result is likely  to
cause harm to self or others or is gravely disabled, and (3) with
respect to a gravely disabled respondent that there is reason  to
believe  that the respondents mental condition could be  improved
by  the  course of treatment sought.22  Thus, in the  case  of  a
          mentally ill respondent, it is sufficient if the state shows that
as  a  result of mental illness the respondent is likely to cause
harm  to  self.   It  is only with respect to a gravely  disabled
respondent  that  the state must show that  there  is  reason  to
believe  that the respondents mental condition could be  improved
by  treatment   referred to in this opinion  with  the  shorthand
description, a likelihood that the respondents condition could be
improved by treatment.
          We  conclude that the statement of purpose found in  AS
47.30.655(6)  conflicts with the substantive statutes,  and  that
the  substantive  statutes control.23  The legislatures  specific
requirement that the state allege that a gravely disabled persons
condition will improve indicates that no such requirement  exists
in  the case of mentally ill persons likely to harm themselves or
others.   If the legislature intended to require that  the  state
allege that mentally ill persons likely to harm themselves  would
be  improved by treatment, it could have done so  as it  did  for
gravely  disabled  people.  We conclude that  the  state  is  not
required to show a likelihood that, in the case of a mentally ill
person who poses a danger to himself, treatment will improve  his
condition.24
          E.P. tries to draw a parallel between the mentally  ill
who  are  gravely  disabled and those  who  are  likely  to  harm
themselves.   Relying on language in Wetherhorn, he  argues  that
the   legislature  intended  involuntary  commitment  of  gravely
disabled  people to protect them from themselves, and  that  this
shows that the legislature intended to require a likelihood  that
treatment  will  improve the conditions of both gravely  disabled
people  and  people  likely to harm themselves.   But  Wetherhorn
distinguishes  between those who are gravely disabled  and  those
likely to harm themselves:
          The first finding, of danger to self or others, is
          concerned  with  active forms of harm,  where  the
          respondent   has   demonstrated  the   affirmative
          ability or inclination to inflict harm to self  or
          another  person.  The  second  finding  [of  grave
          disability]  is  concerned  with  a  more  passive
          condition, whereby the respondent is so unable  to
          function  that  he  or  she  cannot  exist  safely
          outside  an  institutional  framework  due  to  an
          inability  to respond to the essential demands  of
          daily life.[25]
          We  conclude  that the statutory  requirements26  of  a
showing  that  treatment will lead to improvement apply  only  to
gravely disabled persons.
          Because  the superior court repeatedly found no support
for  the  proposition that treatment at API would  improve  E.P.s
condition,  and the evidence strongly supports this finding,  the
court  could  not involuntarily commit E.P. on grounds  of  grave
disability.   And  in  fact, none of the  superior  courts  three
orders  affirmed  E.P.s commitments on grave disability  grounds.
Although  the  standing masters all found E.P. gravely  disabled,
the  superior  court  orders affirmed  E.P.s  commitment  on  the
grounds  he  was dangerous to himself or others.   Therefore,  we
          consider whether E.P. was mentally ill and as a result likely to
harm himself, or likely to harm others.
     C.   E.P. Is Mentally Ill as Defined by Statute.
          Alaska law permits involuntary commitment only of those
who  are gravely disabled or likely to harm themselves or  others
as   the  result  of  mental  illness.27   Thus,  the  state  may
involuntarily  commit E.P. only if he is mentally ill  under  the
statutes.   Alaska Statute 47.30.915(12) defines  mental  illness
as:
          [A]n organic, mental, or emotional impairment
          that  has substantive adverse effects  on  an
          individuals  ability  to  exercise  conscious
          control of the individuals actions or ability
          to   perceive   reality  or  to   reason   or
          understand;  mental  retardation,   epilepsy,
          drug addiction, and alcoholism do not per  se
          constitute  mental illness, although  persons
          suffering from these conditions may  also  be
          suffering from mental illness.
          E.P.s organic brain damage meets the first part of  the
statutory  definition:  as  found by the  superior  courts,  E.P.
suffers  from organic mental impairments affecting his  judgment,
perception of reality, and rational decision-making capabilities.
The  evidence supported those findings.  The question is  whether
the  statutes  specific  exception of  drug  addiction  from  the
definition of mental illness means that E.P. is not mentally ill.
We believe that it does not.
          E.P.s  organic brain damage is a condition apart  from,
and more than, his drug addiction.  While it is the result of his
addiction,  it  has led to greatly impaired ability  to  exercise
judgment, loss of perception of reality, and impaired ability  to
communicate.  E.P. is not simply a drug addict, he has  lost  the
capacity  to appreciate the dangers of his addiction.  Dr.  Khari
testified,  and  the  superior  court  found,  that  because   of
cognitive  damage, E.P. had little or no insight  into  the  fact
that  huffing gas hurts him.  His continued desire  to  huff  gas
stems  not  only  from  addiction, but also  from  his  cognitive
inability to understand his situation.
          Thus,  although drug addiction originally caused  E.P.s
mental deficiencies,  we conclude that the superior court did not
err  in  finding E.P. mentally ill within the definition  of  the
statute.
          D.   E.P. Is Likely To Cause Harm to Himself.
          Although  Alaska law allows commitment of mentally  ill
people  likely to cause harm to [self] or others,28 it  does  not
define  that term.  Alaska Statute  47.30.915(10) defines  likely
to  cause  serious  harm.  (Emphasis  added.)  Other  involuntary
commitment statutes use this language.  For example, AS 47.30.675
requires  that,  when a person voluntarily commits  himself,  the
treatment  facility  must  notify him  that  the  facility  could
initiate  involuntary commitment proceedings against him  if  the
facility determines he is mentally ill and as a result is  likely
to  cause  serious harm to self or others or is gravely disabled.
(Emphasis  added.)  Presumably this notice refers to  a  petition
          for 30-day commitment under AS 47.30.730, which does not use the
word  serious.  In the end, even though the definitional language
of  AS  47.30.915(10) (defining likely to cause serious harm)  is
not   identical  to  the  commitment  language  of  AS  47.30.735
(establishing  commitment standard of likely  to  cause  harm  to
[self] or others), we think the definitional language relevant to
interpretation of the commitment language.
          Alaska  Statute 47.30.915(10) defines likely  to  cause
serious harm as:
          A  person who (A) poses a substantial risk of
          bodily   harm  to  that  persons   self,   as
          manifested   by   recent  behavior   causing,
          attempting,  or  threatening that  harm;  (B)
          poses a substantial risk of harm to others as
          manifested   by   recent  behavior   causing,
          attempting,  or  threatening  harm,  and   is
          likely  in the near future to cause  physical
          injury,   physical  abuse,   or   substantial
          property  damage to another  person;  or  (C)
          manifests a current intent to carry out plans
          of  serious  harm  to that  persons  self  or
          another.
          Similarly,  the  commitment statutes require  petitions
for  90-day and 180-day involuntary commitments to allege that  a
person not gravely disabled:
          has  attempted  to inflict or  has  inflicted
          serious bodily harm upon [himself] or another
          since  [his]  acceptance for  evaluation,  or
          that [he] was committed initially as a result
          of   conduct  in  which  [he]  attempted   or
          inflicted  serious bodily harm upon [himself]
          or another . . . or that [he] demonstrates  a
          current  intent to carry out plans of serious
          harm to [himself] or another.[29]
          While we have not yet interpreted likely to cause harm,
we  have  distinguished it from gravely disabled.   As  discussed
above,  in  Wetherhorn  we distinguished between  those  who  are
gravely  disabled   risking harm from passive failure  to  secure
their  own  basic  needs   and  those  who  are  likely  to  harm
themselves or others  risking harm from affirmative action.30
          We conclude that E.P.s continued intent to huff gas, as
a  result  of his impaired judgment and understanding, meets  the
standards  of  AS  47.30.915(10)(A) and (C) and AS  47.30.740(a).
The  multiple masters reports and superior court orders below all
found  that  huffing gas damages E.P.s brain and that  E.P.  will
return  to  huffing  gas  if released  from  API.   The  evidence
supported  these findings.  They all found that  this  intent  to
huff  gas is something more than an addiction, and that it  stems
from  his  impaired  ability to comprehend  his  condition.   The
superior  court affirmed E.P.s commitment on this ground  at  all
three commitments.31
          We  conclude  that E.P.s intent to huff gas constitutes
intent to cause himself bodily harm, and that it results from his
mental  illness.32  The superior courts finding that huffing  gas
          damages the brain is supported by the evidence.  The finding that
E.P.s  intent  to  huff gas if released is the result  of  mental
illness, rather than just an addiction, because of the damage  to
his  brain  that  prevents  him from perceiving  the  dangers  of
huffing,  is  likewise supported by the evidence.  We distinguish
this  case from one in which an addicted person with full  mental
capacity  chooses  to  continue abusing  harmful  substances,  no
matter  how  unwise one might consider that choice.   In  such  a
case,  the  persons intent to harm himself by abusing  substances
results from drug addiction alone, which the legislature excluded
from  the  definition  of mental illness.  In  this  case,  E.P.s
decision  to harm himself by abusing substances results from  his
brain damage, and therefore meets the statutory standards.
          Because  we  find no error in involuntarily  committing
E.P.  on  the  grounds that he is mentally ill and  as  a  result
likely  to  harm himself, we do not address whether E.P.  may  be
committed on the grounds that he is likely to harm others.
     E.   It  Was  Error To Treat the Objections to  the  Masters
          Reports  as  Motions To Reconsider, but the  Error  Was
          Harmless.
            At  all three hearings, E.P. told the standing master
he  would object to the masters report, but at all three hearings
the  superior court signed the masters reports before  E.P.s  ten
days  to object had run.  The reports then became superior  court
orders.   When  E.P.  objected, the superior  court  treated  the
objections as motions for reconsideration of the superior  courts
order.   When E.P. asked the court to clarify the procedure,  the
superior  court  instead treated the objections  as  motions  for
reconsideration.  The superior court pointed out that per Probate
Rule  2(b)(3)(C),  masters orders are effective pending  superior
court review.  The court noted that the time frame  ten days   is
the   same   for   filing  both  objections   and   motions   for
reconsideration.   The  court also noted that  per  Probate  Rule
2(f)(2),  a  party  can request that the superior  court  stay  a
masters order of commitment pending superior court review.   E.P.
argues  that  the  superior  court  erred  when  it  treated  his
objections to the masters reports as motions for reconsideration,
but API counters that any error was harmless.  We agree with both
parties.
          Probate  Rule  2(f)  governs objections  to  a  masters
report.33  Rule 2(f)(1) reads:
          Objections   to   a   masters    report    or
          recommendation must be filed within  10  days
          of the date of notice of the report . . . . A
          reply  to the objections must be filed within
          three days of service of the objections.  The
          superior  court  may  permit  oral  argument,
          order  additional briefing or the  taking  of
          further evidence, or grant a hearing de novo.
Probate  Rule  2(b)(3)(C)  provides  that  a  masters  order   of
commitment to a treatment facility is effective pending  superior
court  review.  Rule 2(f)(2) allows a party to request a superior
court stay a masters order pending review of the order.
          Civil  Rule  77(k) governs motions for reconsideration.
          The time limit for filing is ten days after notice of the ruling.
Under Rule 77(k)(1), a party may only move for reconsideration on
the following grounds:
          (i)  The court has overlooked, misapplied  or
          failed  to  consider a statute,  decision  or
          principle directly controlling; or  (ii)  The
          court  has  overlooked or  misconceived  some
          material fact or proposition of law; or (iii)
          The  court  has overlooked or misconceived  a
          material  question in the case; or  (iv)  The
          law   applied   in   the  ruling   has   been
          subsequently  changed by  court  decision  or
          statute.
          A  party  moving for reconsideration must  specify  the
grounds for reconsideration.34  Also, the party must specifically
designate  that  portion of the ruling, the  memorandum,  or  the
record, or that particular authority that the moving party  wants
the court to consider.35  The motion and supporting memorandum are
limited  to  five pages.36  The non-moving party may not  respond
unless  asked  to  do  so by the court.37  No  oral  argument  is
allowed.38  If the superior court does not rule on the motion  in
thirty days, it is deemed denied.39
          It  was  error  here to treat E.P.s objections  to  the
masters reports as motions for reconsideration.  First, a  motion
for  reconsideration is more limited than objections  to  masters
reports:  A  motion  for reconsideration  is  limited  to  narrow
grounds  and cannot exceed five pages. Second, it is a  different
mechanism  for  a  party  to  bring  objections  to  the   courts
attention.   These  two  procedures  give  a  party  subject   to
commitment proceedings two opportunities to object: a  party  can
first  make a broad-based objection to the masters report on  any
grounds,  and  then  it  can  make a narrower  objection  to  the
superior  courts  order  on specified  grounds.   These  distinct
procedures are particularly important in a case like E.P.s  where
the  superior court reached its conclusions on grounds  different
from those relied on by the masters.  A party is entitled to both
object to the masters report and to move for reconsideration from
the  superior  courts order, especially when the superior  courts
order differs from the masters report.
          We agree with E.P. that a motion for reconsideration is
a  poor  substitute  for objections to a masters  report  because
motions  for reconsideration are so limited.  Treating objections
to  masters reports as motions to reconsider restricts the moving
party  to five pages and limited grounds to object when the party
should  have  had unlimited pages, a response from  the  opposing
party,  an opportunity for oral argument, and, where appropriate,
a de novo hearing.
          But  in  this  case  we also agree with  API  that  the
superior courts error was harmless.  The superior court  did  not
limit  E.P.  to five pages, it accepted APIs response,  and  even
allowed  E.P.  to  reply  to  APIs  response  after  the  180-day
commitment  hearing.  Furthermore, E.P. did not ask the  superior
court for a de novo hearing. E.P. also had multiple opportunities
to  make his arguments before the superior court because  of  the
          three consecutive hearings.  In fact, E.P. made substantially
similar  arguments  after each hearing.  Therefore  it  does  not
appear  that E.P. had additional arguments he was unable to  make
before  the  superior court.  Thus, any error  in  the  procedure
employed was harmless.
V.   CONCLUSION
          Because  E.P. is likely to harm himself as a result  of
his mental illness, the statutes do not require the court to find
that   treatment  will  improve  his  condition   in   order   to
involuntarily commit him. Any error in treating E.P.s  objections
to   the  masters  report  as  motions  for  reconsideration  was
harmless.  For these reasons, we AFFIRM E.P.s commitments.
_______________________________
     1     On appeal, API asserts it erred in agreeing with E.P.s
legal conclusion about AS 47.30.655(6).

     2     Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d  371,
375 (Alaska 2007).

     3    Id.

     4    Id.

     5    Id.

     6    The 30-day commitment expired in September 2007, the 90-
day   commitment  expired  in  December  2007,  and  the  180-day
commitment  expired in June 2008.  We were also recently  advised
by counsel that E.P. passed away following submission of the case
for decision.  On E.P.s behalf, counsel moved for decision on the
grounds  of the public interest exception to mootness.   API  did
not oppose the motion.

     7    See Wetherhorn, 156 P.3d at 380.

     8    Id. at 380-81 (quoting Apik v. State, Office of Mgmt. &
Budget, 115 P.3d 532, 536 (Alaska 2005)).

     9     See  id.  at  381  (finding no exception  to  mootness
doctrine  where issue disputed was whether evidence presented  at
committed  persons hearing met clear and convincing standard  for
involuntary  commitment: If it were to become necessary  to  seek
Wetherhorns  commitment again, the hearing would be  based  on  a
different  set of facts specific to different circumstances.   It
is  unclear  how two different hearings based on different  facts
and  circumstances  could  be  compared,  and  thus  the  factual
questions are not capable of repetition.).

     10    See infra Part IV.B.

     11    See infra Part IV.E.

     12    See Wayne B. v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 192 P.3d 989
(Alaska  2008)  (reviewing  procedural  issue  appealed  from  an
expired involuntary commitment).

     13    See supra note 6.

     14      See  AS  47.30.770,  Additional  180-day  commitment
(Successive  180-day  commitments are  permissible  on  the  same
ground  and  under  the same procedures as the  original  180-day
commitment.).

     15     See National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA InfoFacts:
Inhalants,      http://www.drugabuse.gov/Infofacts/Inhalants.html
(2008) (last visited December 16, 2008).

     16    See National Institute on Drug Abuse, Methamphetamine,
http://www.drugabuse.gov/DrugPages/Methamphetamine.html     (last
visited December 16, 2008).

     17     Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d 317,
375  (Alaska 2007) (quoting Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S.  504,  509
(1972)).

     18    AS 47.30.655.

     19    Id.

     20    AS 47.30.655(6).

     21    Petitions for 90-day and 180-day commitments must meet
all  the  requirements  of petitions for 30-day  commitments.  AS
47.30.740(a); AS 47.30.770(a).

     22    AS  47.30.730(1) and (3) (emphasis added).

     23    See  Commercial Fisheries Entry Commn v. Apokedak,  680
P.2d  486,  488  n.  3  (Alaska 1984) (noting  that  a  statutory
preamble  can  neither  restrain nor extend  the  meaning  of  an
unambiguous  statute;  nor can it be  used  to  create  doubt  or
uncertainty  which  does not otherwise exist (internal  citations
omitted)).

     24    See Rust v. State, 582 P.2d 134, 139 n.16 (Alaska 1978)
modified on other grounds, 584 P.2d 38 (Alaska 1978) (noting that
the  state  may commit a person likely to harm others  under  its
police  powers, commit a gravely disabled person under the states
parens  patriae power, and commit a person likely to harm himself
under a combination of both these state powers).

     25     Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d 371,
376 (Alaska 2007) (citing In Re LaBelle, 728 P.2d 138, 144 (Wash.
1986)).

     26      See  AS  47.30.730(a)(3)  (30-day  commitment);   AS
47.30.740(a)  (90-day  commitment);  AS  47.30.770(a)    (180-day
commitment).

     27    AS 47.30.735(c).

     28    AS 47.30.735(c).

     29    AS 47.30.740(a)(1); see also AS 47.30.770(a) (requiring
petitions  for  180-day commitments meet the requirements  of  AS
47.30.740(a)).

     30    Wetherhorn, 156 P.3d at 376 (citing In Re LaBelle, 728
P.2d at 144).

     31     The superior court affirmed the 30-day commitment for
the  reasons  in APIs brief, which included the claim  that  [i]f
left untreated and allowed to resume his old habits, which is his
current  plan, he will die.  The superior court affirmed the  90-
day  and 180-day commitments on the grounds that E.P. was  likely
to harm himself by continuing to huff gas if released.

     32    E.P. argues in his brief that API did not present clear
and   convincing   evidence   to  meet   the   standard   in   AS
47.30.915(10)(A),  which provides that  a  person  is  likely  to
seriously  harm himself if he poses a substantial risk of  bodily
harm  to  that  persons self, as manifested  by  recent  behavior
causing,  attempting, or threatening that harm.  E.P. argues  API
presented no evidence of such recent behavior.  But that standard
is  only one of three standards under which a person can be found
likely  to seriously harm himself.  The facts of E.P.s case  meet
the   alternative  standard  in  AS  47.30.915(10)(C),  that   he
manifests a current intent to carry out plans of serious harm  to
himself.   The focus of Dr. Kharis testimony, and of the superior
court findings, was what E.P. intended to do in the future.  E.P.
also  argues  that  API  did  not present  clear  and  convincing
evidence  E.P. intended to huff gas if released from API  because
E.P. testified that he might relapse.  E.P. argues this indicates
that  he intends to try not to huff gas, but recognizes he  might
fail  in that attempt.  We reject this argument because Dr. Khari
repeatedly testified that E.P. intended to huff gas if  released,
and the trial court determined that she was credible.

     33    According to Probate Rule 1, the probate rules apply to
involuntary commitments under AS 47.30.

     34    Alaska R. Civ. P. 77(k)(2).

     35    Id.

     36    Id.

     37    Alaska R. Civ. P. 77(k)(3).

     38    Alaska R. Civ. P. 77(k)(4).

     39    Id.

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