Alaska Supreme Court Opinions made Available byTouch N' Go Systems and Bright Solutions

Touch N' Go
®, the DeskTop In-and-Out Board makes your office run smoother.


You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. In Re Hospitalization of Paige M. (12/21/2018) sp-7324

In Re Hospitalization of Paige M. (12/21/2018) sp-7324

           Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the P                       ACIFIC  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, email  



                       THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA                                          

In  the  Matter  of  the  Necessity  for  the                      )  

Hospitalization  of                                                )     Supreme  Court  No.  S-16834  



PAIGE M.                                                                                                                            

                                                                   )     Superior Court No.  1SI-16-00074 PR  



                                                                   )     O P I N I O N  



                                                                   )     No. 7324 - December 21, 2018  



                      Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, First  


                      Judicial District, Sitka, Leonard Devaney, Judge pro tem.  


                      Appearances:                Michael  Jude  Pate  and  Rachel  E.  Cella,  


                      Assistant  Public  Defenders,  and  Quinlan  Steiner,  Public  


                      Defender,  Anchorage,  for  Paige  M.                             Anna  Jay,  Assistant  


                      Attorney   General,   Anchorage,   and   Jahna   Lindemuth,  


                      Attorney           General,         Juneau,         for      State      of     Alaska         and  


                      Department of Health and Social Services.  


                      Before:  Bolger, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen,  


                      and Carney, Justices.  


                      BOLGER, Chief Justice.  



                      A  psychologist  at  a  mental  health  clinic  petitioned  to  have  a  patient  


involuntarily hospitalized.  The superior court held a hearing on the petition at which  


only the psychologist gave substantive testimony. The court granted the petition, and the  


patient was hospitalized.  The patient now appeals the court's denial of her motion to  

----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

vacatetheinvoluntary                                  hospitalization order. Because                                            the superior court failed to conduct  

a screening investigation that met statutory requirements, and because this failure was                                                                                       

not harmless error, we reverse the superior court's denial of the patient's motion to                                                                                                                        


II.             FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS                

                                 In November 2016 a psychologist at Neurobehavioral Consultants, LLC                                                                                                   


filed a "Petition for Order Authorizing Hospitalization" of Paige M.,                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                                                          an individual the  



clinic had been treating for approximately one year.                                                                             The psychologist indicated on the  


petition form that she had interviewed Paige one week prior.  The psychologist also  


indicated that she believed Paige was mentally ill and "gravely disabled or likely to cause  



                                                                                                                                                                         The psychologist  

serious harm to []herself or others" as a result of her mental illness. 


explained that "[t]he risk(s) of self-neglect and self-harmare discussed in detail" in clinic  


notes she had attached to the petition and alleged that "[m]ost recently, [Paige] admitted  


needing 'safety checks' by S[itka] P[olice] D[epartment], due to medical and suicidal  


concerns, then hung a note on her door, refusing to answer the door for [the police]."  


                                 The Sitka superior court held a hearing on the petition that evening.  The  


only people in attendance were the psychologist and a representative ofSitka Counseling  


andPreventionServices(SCPS), which arrangesfor transportation and coordination with  

                1               We use a pseudonym to protect Paige's privacy.                                                     

                2               Alaska Statute 47.30.700 provides that "any adult" may file a petition for                                                                                                  


a person's involuntary hospitalization and articulates procedures to be followed after  

such a petition is filed.                  

                3               See AS 47.30.700(b) ("The petition . . . must allege that the respondent is  


reasonably believed to present a likelihood of serious harm to self or others or is gravely  


disabled as a result of mental illness and must specify the factual information on which  


that belief is based.").  


                                                                                                      -2-                                                                                             7324

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

hospitals after a hospitalization petition is granted.                                                                                          The court confirmed that the SCPS                                                   

representative had no additional information related to the petition and conducted a voir                                                                                                                                             

dire examination of the psychologist, who testified to Paige's behavior over the last                                                                                                                                                     

month.  The court observed that although it was "clear that [Paige] has many mental                                                                                                                                             

health diagnoses," the court "wasn't getting the information [it] felt like [it] needed" to                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                4   The court accordingly requested "a little  

make a finding necessary to grant the petition.                                                                                                                                                                                         

bit more information about whether . . . in [the psychologist's] opinion [Paige was] likely  


to cause serious harm to herself right now."  


                                      The psychologist replied that there were multiple reasons for believing  


Paige was likely to cause serious harm to herself; one was Paige's "very recent lack of  


compliance in her own treatment plan and self-care," which the psychologist stated was  


particularly significant in light of Paige's ailments, including her propensity to suddenly  


lose consciousness.  The psychologist added that Paige's conduct four days prior, when  


she arrived at the clinic and then abruptly left, was especially concerning "knowing that  


she's been suicidal, that she's been actively entertaining the thought of suicide, [and] that  


she has a history of doing this with several different means available to her."  The court  


questioned the psychologist whether Paige would have persisted in this "state of mind"  


if the psychologist had seen her over the weekend, but the psychologist was unable to  


answer the question. The court also asked if Paige had a legal guardian who could check  


in on her, but the psychologist said that she did not and that she was also "estranged from  


her nuclear family" and "[v]ery isolated."  Ultimately the court asked the psychologist:  


"Based on your education, training, and experience, . . . [and] given all these warning  


                   4                  Cf.  AS 47.30.700(a) (stating that if certain conditions are met, "a judge may                                                                                                                     

issue an ex parte order orally or in writing, stating that there is probable cause to believe                                                                                                                                   

the respondent is mentally ill and that condition causes the respondent to be gravely                                                                                                                                         

disabled or to present a likelihood of serious harm to self or others").                                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                      -3-                                                                                                             7324

----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

signs and the decompensation that you're seeing, do you believe that [Paige is] likely to                                                                                                         

cause serious harm to herself?"                                           When the psychologist replied in the affirmative, the                                                                

court stated that it would grant the order.                                                    

                               That evening the court issued an order authorizing Paige's hospitalization                                                            

under AS 47.30.700. The court found that there was probable cause to believe that Paige                                                                                                   

was mentally ill, that she was likely to cause serious harm to herself, and that she was                                                                                                     

                                        5     The court also indicated that Paige had been interviewed by the  

gravely disabled.                                                                                                                                                                             

psychologist "in regard to the petition" one week earlier. The same evening Sitka police  


removed Paige from her home and placed her in a jail cell overnight. The following day  


she was transported from Sitka to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage, where  


she was hospitalized from November 2 to November 7.6  


                               On November 30 Paige filed a motion to vacate the order authorizing her  


hospitalization. She argued that the superior court had violated AS 47.30.700 by failing  


to interview her after the petition was filed, that her due process rights had been violated,  


and that the evidence presented to the court could not support the findings needed to  


order involuntary hospitalization.  After two hearings in April and June 2017, the court  


issued an order denying Paige's motion to vacate in July 2017.   In rejecting Paige's  


arguments, thecourtacknowledged AS47.30.700's screening investigation requirement  


but asserted that petitions filed by mental health professionals "are usually complete and  


               5              See  AS 47.30.700(a).   



                               It is not clear why Paige was hospitalized for longer than 72 hours without  


a second commitment hearing.  See AS 47.30.715 ("When a facility receives a proper  


order for evaluation, it shall accept the order and the respondent for an evaluation period  


not to exceed 72 hours. . . .   The court shall set a date, time, and place for a 30-day  


commitment  hearing,  to  be  held  if  needed  within  72  hours  after  the  respondent's  


arrival."); AS 47.30.725 (describing respondents' rights and respondent-notification  


requirements for involuntary detention under, among other statutes, AS 47.30.700).  

                                                                                                -4-                                                                                       7324

----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

contain the essence of the screening investigation."                                                                                                                                              The court concluded that neither                                                                   

AS 47.30.700 nor due process principles had been violated, and that testimony from the                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

psychologist provided sufficient evidence to support the court's probable cause finding.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Paige moved for reconsideration and for an opportunity to supplement the record; this                                                                                                                                     

motion was also denied.                                                                    Paige appeals the denial of both her motion to vacate and her                                                                                                                                                           

motion to supplement the record.                                                                                             

III.                     DISCUSSION  

                                                 Paige's central arguments for reversal on appeal are:                                                                                                                                              (1) that the superior                        

court   violated   AS   47.30.700   and   (2)   that   the   court   erred   by   concluding   there   was  


probable cause to order temporary hospitalization.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                                                                 In the alternative Paige argues that  


the  case  should  be  remanded  with  instructions  that  the  trial  court  permit  her  to  


supplement the record.   We reverse the superior court's denial of Paige's motion to  

vacate and thus do not address Paige's alternative argument.  And because we reverse  


on statutory grounds, we also do not address her probable cause arguments.  


                                                 Paige argues that the trial court violated AS 47.30.700 by not ensuring that  


a full screening investigation was conducted before it issued the order for her involuntary  


hospitalization.  We agree.  Alaska law provides two avenues for initiating involuntary  


hospitalization for a mental health evaluation - one for emergency situations and one  


for non-emergency circumstances.   The emergency detention statute, AS 47.30.705,  

                         7                       In her reply brief and at oral argument, Paige argued that the procedures                                                                                                                                                            

followed in her case violated her right to due process.                                                                                                                                                     Because our decision rests on                                                        

statutory grounds, it is not necessary to consider either the merits of this argument or                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

whether it was waived for insufficient briefing.                                                                                                                              See In re Hospitalization of Heather R.                                                                                                        ,  

366 P.3d 530, 533 n.17 (Alaska 2016) (vacating an evaluation order on statutory basis                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

and therefore declining to address appellant's due process argument). We also note that                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

although  we   have   stated   that   "[a]ppeals   from evaluation                                                                                                                                                          orders   are   moot   after   the  

commitment period has expired," the parties did not raise the issue in their briefs, and                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

thus we do not address it here.                                                                                   Id.  at 532.   

                                                                                                                                                           -5-                                                                                                                                               7324

----------------------- Page 6-----------------------

authorizes a peace officer or a mental health professional granted authority by the statute                                                                                                 

to "cause [a respondent] to be taken into custody" without first petitioning a court.                                                                                                            But  

the person who initiates this emergency procedure must have "probable cause to believe                                                                                                    

that [the respondent] is gravely disabled or is suffering from mental illness and is likely                                                                                                  

to cause serious harm to self or others of such immediate nature that considerations of     

                                                                                                                                                               8  In this case Paige  

safety do not allowinitiationofinvoluntary commitment procedures."                                                                                                                            

was not in custody when the petition for her involuntary hospitalization was filed, so the  


emergency detention statute did not apply.  


                               Alaska Statute 47.30.700 provides the second, non-emergency, avenue to  


initiate involuntary hospitalization for a mental health evaluation. It allows any adult to  


petition for involuntary hospitalization:  


                               Upon petition of any adult, a judge shall immediately conduct  


                               a  screening  investigation  or  direct  a  local  mental  health  


                               professional . . . to conduct a screening investigation of the  


                               person  alleged  to  be  mentally  ill  and,  as  a  result  of  that  


                               condition,  alleged  to  be  gravely  disabled  or  to  present  a  


                               likelihood of serious harm to self or others. Within 48 hours  


                               after the completion of the screening investigation, a judge  


                               may issue an ex parte order orally or in writing, stating that  


                               there is probable cause to believe the respondent is mentally  


                               ill and that condition causes the respondent to be gravely  


                               disabled or to present a likelihood of serious harm to self or  


                                               [  ]  

                               others. 9 

The statute identifies three key events that must occur before an individual may be  


involuntarily  hospitalized.                                         First  an  adult  must  petition  a  superior  court  for  the  


respondent's involuntary hospitalization.  Second a judge or mental health professional  


must conduct a screening investigation to evaluate the allegations in the petition.  Third  


                8              AS 47.30.705.   



                               AS 47.30.700(a).  

                                                                                                  -6-                                                                                          7324  

----------------------- Page 7-----------------------

the court must find probable cause that the respondent is mentally ill and that this mental                                                                                                                                                          

illness causes the respondent to be gravely disabled or to present a likelihood of serious                                                                                                                                                          

harm   to   self   or   others.     Only   then   may   a   judge   issue   an   ex   parte   order  for   the  

respondent's involuntary hospitalization.                                                                                        

                                         Applying AS 47.30.700, the non-emergency statute, to this case, the court                                                                                                                                        

conducted an inadequate screening investigation in violation of that statute when, absent                                                                                                                                                             

a finding that a post-petition interview was not reasonably possible, it did not require                                                                                                                                                           

Paige to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Because this was not harmless error,                                                                                                                                                               

we  reverse.  

                    A.                   The                Screening    Investigation                                                            Statute    Required    A    Post-Petition  

                                         Interview  With  Paige  If  Reasonably  Possible.  

                                         We  first  interpreted  the  "screening  investigation"  language  of AS  47.30.700  

in  In  re  Hospitalization  of  Heather  R.10  

                                                                                                                      In  that  case  a  patient  appealed  her  hospitalization  

order,  arguing  that  the  court  had  violated  AS  47.30.700  by  failing  to  conduct  a  complete  

screening investigation before  issuing the order.11  The  court's screening  investigation  

had  included  neither  an  interview  with  the  patient  nor  any  attempt  to  ensure  an  interview  

was  conducted.12  

                                                      Relying  on  the  language  of  AS  47.30.700  and  AS  47.30.915,  we  held  

that  "a  screening  investigation  should  omit  an  interview  with  the  respondent  only  if  such  

an  interview  would  not  be  reasonably  possible"  and  vacated  the  order  authorizing  the  


hospitalization.                                      In   re  Heather  R.   confirms  that   a   screening   investigation   should,   if  

reasonably  possible,  include  an  interview  with  the  respondent.    

                     10                  366 P.3d 530 (Alaska 2016).                                          

                     11                  Id. at 533.  


                     12                  Id.  

                     13                  Id.  

                                                                                                                                 -7-                                                                                                                      7324

----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

                                             Paige contends that the superior court's hearing did not comply with the                                                                                                                                                                

 screening investigation requirement of AS 47.30.700 because it included neither an                                                                                                                                                                                                   

interview with her nor a finding that such an interview was not reasonably possible. The                                                                                                                                                                                          

 State contends that the superior court satisfied the statutory requirements by relying on                                                                                                                                                                                             

the psychologist's petition, which it argues contained the equivalent of a screening                                                                                                                                                                          

investigation  conducted   by   a   mental   health   professional,   including   a   respondent  

interview - the psychologist's earlier conversation with Paige. The State further argues                                                                                                                                                                                  

that the superior court was not required to conduct or direct a second investigation after                                                                                                                                                                                      

 establishing that the psychologist's petition constituted the functional equivalent of a                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 screening investigation.                                                        

                                            Ultimately   at   issue   is   whether,   absent   a   finding   that   a   post-petition  

respondent interview is not reasonably possible, AS 47.30.700's screening investigation                                                                                                                                                              

requirement can be satisfied with a                                                                            pre -petition respondent interview. This is a question                                                                                           

 of   statutory   construction   -   a   question   of   law   to   which   "[t]his  court   applies   its  

                                                                                14  "When reviewing questions of law, this court adopts 'the rule  

independent judgment."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 of law most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy.' "15  


                                             "Interpretation of a statute begins with its text,"16  and the plain text of the  


two implicated statutes - AS 47.30.700 and AS 47.30.915(19) - indicates that a  


 screening investigation must include, if possible, a post-petition interview with the  


respondent.                                      The  most  natural  reading  of  the  phrase  "[u]pon  the  petition"  in  


                       14                   Id.  at531-32 (citing                                            AlaskaConservation                                                    Found. v. PebbleLtd.                                                  P'ship ,350   

P.3d 273, 279 (Alaska 2015)).                                                

                       15                   Id. at 532 (quoting Nunamta Aulukestai v. State, Dep't of Nat. Res., 351  


P.3d 1041, 1052 (Alaska 2015)).  


                       16                    City of Valdez v. State, 372 P.3d 240, 249 (Alaska 2016) (citing City of  


Kenai v. Friends of the Recreation Ctr., Inc., 129 P.3d 452, 458-59 (Alaska 2006)).  


                                                                                                                                           -8-                                                                                                                                 7324

----------------------- Page 9-----------------------

AS 47.30.700 suggests that the filing of a petition triggers the judge's initiation of the                                           

screening    investigation;   thus   the    filing    of    a    petition    necessarily    precedes    an  



investigation.            Furthermore AS 47.30.915 defines a "screening investigation" as "the  


investigation  and  review  of  facts  that  have  been  alleged  to  warrant  emergency  



examination  or  treatment."                        This  wording  further  indicates  that  the  screening  


investigation should occur after the petition has been filed.  


                     Alaska Statute 47.30.915 lists the components of a screening investigation,  



one of which is an "interview[] with . . . , if possible, the respondent."                                        This language  


indicates that a screening investigation should include an interview in all instances in  



which it is possible to conduct one. 


                     Taken together the two statutes indicate that:  (1) the required screening  


investigation should take place after a petition has been filed, and (2) the screening  


investigation should, if possible, include an interview with the respondent. Accordingly  


thestatutory languagesupportsPaige'sassertionthat acourt violates AS47.30.700 when  


it neither ensures that a post-petition interview with the respondent is conducted nor  


attempts  to  determine  whether  conducting  such  an  interview  would  be  reasonably  


           17        See  Gov't  Emps.  Ins.  Co.  v.  Graham-Gonzalez,  107  P.3d  279,  284  (Alaska  

2005)  ("In  assessing statutory language,  'unless words have acquired a peculiar  meaning,  

by   virtue   of   statutory   definition   or  judicial   construction,   they   are   to be   construed   in  

accordance  with  their  common  usage.'  "  (quoting  Muller  v.  BP  Expl.  (Alaska)  Inc.,  923  

P.2d  783,  788  (Alaska   1996))).   

           18        AS 47.30.915(19) (emphasis added).  


           19        Id.  

           20        See In re Heather R., 366 P.3d at 533.  


                                                                  -9-                                                            7324

----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

                           The State characterizes Paige's textual interpretation as "overly formalistic                                                  

and . . . not necessary to ensure fidelity to the statute's purpose."                                                                  It is true that when         

interpreting statutes, we seek "to give effect to the legislature's intent, with due regard                                                                       

                                                                                                                             21     We have "rejected  a  

for   the meaning                   the statutory               language conveys to                          others."                                                        

mechanical application of the plain meaning rule in matters of statutory interpretation,"22  


instead " 'adopt[ing] a sliding scale approach,' under which '[t]he plainer the statutory  


language is, the more convincing the evidence of contrary legislative purpose or intent  


must be.' "23   But the statutory language is clear in this case, and we see no indication of  


legislative purpose or intent compelling enough to depart from it.  


                           The  overall  statutory  scheme  supports  our  reading.24                                                         It  provides  two  


avenues  to  initiate  involuntary  hospitalization  for  a  mental  health  evaluation.                                                                                   In  


AS 47.30.705, the emergency detention avenue, the legislature provided a method for  


circumventing  the  screening  investigation  when  necessary.                                                                       This  supports  strict  


adherence to the screening investigation requirement set forth in AS 47.30.700, the non­ 


emergency detention avenue; we need not read emergency procedures into the text of  


AS 47.30.700 when the legislature has already accounted for them elsewhere.  


              21           Graham-Gonzalez,   107  P.3d  at  284  (quoting  Muller,  923  P.2d  at  787).  

              22           Id.  (quoting  Muller,  923  P.3d  at  787).  

              23           City  of  Kenai  v.  Friends  of   the  Recreation   Ctr.,  Inc.,   129  P.3d  452,  459  

(Alaska  2006)  (second  alteration  in  original)  (quoting   Graham-Gonzalez,   107  P.3d  at  


              24           We  sometimes consider the  overall  statutory scheme when  interpreting  


specific language.  See City of  Valdez v. State, 372 P.3d 240, 249-51, 252-53 (Alaska  



                                                                                    -10-                                                                             7324

----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

                        Policy considerations also do not counsel a more permissive reading of                                                         


AS   47.30.700.                                                                                                                                

                                   The  State  argues  that  requiring  post-petition  interviews  where  


reasonably possible "place[s] unwarranted demands on judicial resources."  But we are  


not convinced.  The cost associated with post-petition interviews is minimal - in this  


case the court could have conducted a satisfactory interview simply by inviting Paige to  

                                                           26    And the efforts a court must make to conduct an  


attend and testify at the hearing. 

interview are not so extensive as to place a serious demand on judicial resources.27  


Moreover  requiring  post-petition  interviews  can  reduce  needless  waste  when  the  


interview reveals that involuntary hospitalization is not necessary.  And while it may  


seem wasteful or unnecessary to conduct a post-petition interview in some instances (for  


example where a pre-petition interview takes place the same day that a petition is filed),  


this downside is outweighed by the benefits of a bright-line rule requiring a post-petition  


interview where reasonably possible.   Such a bright-line rule eliminates uncertainty  


about how recent a satisfactory interview must be, provides a check to ensure that the  


information  from  the  interview  is  recent  enough  to  be  relevant,  and  preserves  the  


screening investigation as a tool for evaluating the allegations of a petition at the time of  


its filing.  


                        Accordingly  we  hold  that  after  a  court  is  petitioned  to  involuntarily  


            25          We have also looked to policy considerations to assist our interpretation of                                                    

statutory language.                 See id.      at 252-53.   

            26          See In re Hospitalization of Heather R., 366 P.3d 530, 533 n.20 (Alaska  


2016) ("In this case, the master could have satisfied the statute by providing notice of the  


hearing to Heather and allowing her to appear and testify.").  


            27          We observed in In re Heather R. for example, that it may not be reasonably  


possible to obtain an interview if the respondent is incapacitated or unwilling to be  


interviewed - situations where the burden on the court to obtain an interview could  


indeed prove significant.  See id. at 533.  


                                                                          -11-                                                                    7324

----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

hospitalize a respondent under AS 47.30.700, the court must either itself conduct a                                                                                      

 screening investigation or appoint a local mental health professional to do so.                                                                                  This   

 screening investigation must include post-petition interviews with the person(s) making                                                                     

the   allegations,   any   other   significant   witnesses,   and   if   reasonably   possible,   the  

                       28  In Paige's case the court did not appoint a mental health professional to  


 conduct an investigation.  And no one from the court tried to contact Paige to conduct  


 a post-petition respondent interview.  Without a finding that such an interview was not  


reasonably  possible,  Paige's  brief  contact  with  the  clinic  several  days  before  her  


 involuntary  hospitalization  was  not  adequate  to  satisfy  the  screening  investigation  



              B.	          The Failure To Conduct An Adequate Screening Investigation Was  


                           Not Harmless Error.  


                           If a trial court errs, we then determine whether the error was harmless.29  



When there is minimal evidence for a ruling and the court's error involves exclusion of  



pertinent evidence, we have held that the error was likely prejudicial and not harmless. 

              28	          AS 47.30.915(19);                     In re Heather R.                 , 366 P.3d at 533.         



                           Alaska R. Civ. P. 61 ("[N]o error or defect in any ruling or order or in  

 anything done or omitted by the court . . . is ground for granting a new trial or for setting                                                                 


 aside a verdict or for vacating, modifying or otherwise disturbing a judgment or order,  


unless refusal to take such action appears  to the court inconsistent with substantial  


justice."); see also, e.g., Solomon v. Solomon, 420 P.3d 1234, 1242-43 (Alaska 2018)  


 (conducting  harmless  error  analysis  before  vacating  the  superior  court's  domestic  


violence determination for failure to make adequate findings).  

              30           See, e.g., In re Heather R., 366 P.3d at 533-34; Klawock Heenya Corp. v.  


Dawson Constr./Hank's Excavation, 778 P.2d 219, 220-21 (Alaska 1989) (holding that  


 superior court's exclusion of evidence was not harmless error because the other evidence  


was "flimsy at best").  


                                                                                  -12-	                                                                          7324

----------------------- Page 13-----------------------

In this case the evidence supporting the court's findings was weak; the court's failure to                                                                                                                            

require a current interview of Paige therefore was not harmless error.                                                                                                           

                                  First there was little support for the superior court's finding that Paige was                                                                                                 

"gravely disabled."                                Alaska Statute 47.30.915(9) defines a gravely disabled person as a                                                                                                   

person who is either (a) "in danger of physical harm arising from such complete neglect                                                                                                                  

of . . . personal safety as to render serious accident, illness, or death highly probable"                                                                                                                            31  

or (b) in danger of "severe and abnormal mental, emotional, or physical distress."32   But  


the court made no factual finding that Paige's noncompliance with her treatment plan  


made it highly probable that serious harm would result from her alleged "history of  


passing out" - the only condition with which she was diagnosed that could plausibly  


support a conclusion she was in danger of "physical harm."  Moreover Paige in no way  


exhibited the level of "distress" we have associated with the definition of "gravely  


disabled" in AS 47.30.915(9)(B)33   - Paige previously had stated that she avoided  


treatment because of a toothache and she had made affirmative efforts to address her  


personal safety, scheduling medical and dental appointments for the week following the  


petition.  At the November 1 hearing, the court acknowledged that Paige might be fine,  


expressing "concern [that] she's at home, she has a toothache, she just doesn't want to  


answer the door, but she's feeling great."  Had Paige been interviewed after the petition  


was filed, this concern could have been addressed.  


                 31               AS  47.30.915(9)(A).  

                 32               AS  47.30.915(9)(B).  

                 33               See   Wetherhorn   v.  Alaska  Psychiatric  Inst.,   156   P.3d   371,   378   (Alaska  

2007)  (construing  "distress"  as  "a  level  of  incapacity  that  prevents  the  person  in  question  

from  being  able  to  live  safely  outside  of  a  controlled  environment").  

                                                                                                        -13-                                                                                                  7324

----------------------- Page 14-----------------------

                              There was also little support for the superior court's finding that Paige was                                                                             


likely to cause serious harm to herself within the statutory definition.                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                 There was no  


evidence indicating that she had recently "caused" or "attempted" such harm, and the  


evidence the State relies on to show that she had "threatened" such harm is ambiguous.  


The State contends that Paige's alleged "chronic and recent" suicidal ideation in the  


preceding days leading up to November 1, along with her self-acknowledged tendency  


to isolateherselfwhen experiencing mental health crises, meantthat her withdrawal from  


treatment on November 1 "signaled an increased threat of suicidal behavior." While this  


evidence may support a finding that Paige experienced suicidal ideation, it does not  


clearly establish that she threatened self-harm, as the statute required.  


                              The marginal evidence supporting the superior  court's probable cause  


findings thus establishes that the failure to conduct a post-petition interview with Paige  



"had a prejudicial effect on the outcome of the hearing." 

IV.            CONCLUSION  

                              We therefore REVERSE the superior court's decision denying Paige's  


motion to vacate her hospitalization order.  


               34             See  AS 47.30.915(12)(A) (defining one who is "likely to cause serious                                                                            

harm" as a person who "poses a substantial risk of bodily harm to that person's self, as                                                                                                    

manifested by recent behavior causing, attempting, or threatening that harm").                                                                               

               35            In re Heather R., 366 P.3d at 534.  


                                                                                            -14-                                                                                     7324

Case Law
Statutes, Regs & Rules

IT Advice, Support, Data Recovery & Computer Forensics.
(907) 338-8188

Please help us support these and other worthy organizations:
Law Project for Psychiatraic Rights