On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.
Matthews, Furman and Cohen. The opinion of the court was delivered by Richard S. Cohen, J.A.D.
These consolidated appeals challenge orders committing three persons to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital ("TPH"). They assert that all of the applications for commitment should have been dismissed because the ensuing judicial hearings were held after expiration of the maximum times for hearings set forth in R. 4:74-4 and N.J.S.A. 30:4-38. We affirm the orders of commitment.
Involuntary commitment to a mental hospital is state action which deprives the subject of important liberty interests and, therefore, invokes significant due process requirements. Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 92 S. Ct. 1048, 31 L. Ed. 2d 394
(1972); Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S. Ct. 1845, 32 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1972); "Developments in the Law -- Civil Commitment of the Mentally Ill," 87 Harv.L.Rev. 1190 (1974). The patient is entitled to a prompt judicial hearing at which grounds for commitment must be established by at least clear and convincing evidence. Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 99 S. Ct. 1804, 60 L. Ed. 2d 323 (1979). Those grounds must be more than mere mental illness. O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S. Ct. 2486, 45 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1975). In New Jersey, the applicant must show by clear and convincing evidence that the patient is likely to pose a danger to self or others or property and that there is a substantial risk of dangerous conduct within the reasonably foreseeable future. In re S.L., 94 N.J. 128, 137-38 (1983).
Applications for involuntary commitment to mental hospitals are governed by N.J.S.A. 30:4-36 (Class "A" applications), N.J.S.A. 30:4-37 (Class "B" applications), N.J.S.A. 30:4-38 (Class "C" applications), and N.J.S.A. 30:4-46.1 (seven day commitments for observation).
Class "A" applications are made in cases where immediate confinement is not indicated. The patient is not hospitalized before a hearing is held on the application and unless the court decides after a hearing that commitment is warranted.
Class "B" applications are made in cases where two physicians (N.J.S.A. 30:4-29) certify in the application that immediate institutional restraint is necessary. If the court is so satisfied from the application, it orders temporary commitment and a hearing. The order may authorize admission and detention of the patient for no more than 20 days from the date of its entry. N.J.S.A. 30:4-37. In exceptional circumstances and for good cause the hearing may be adjourned for no more than 10 days. R. 4:74-7(c)(1).
Class "C" applications are made in cases where two physicians certify that immediate institutional restraint is necessary but find it impossible to obtain an order for temporary commitment
from a court. The application papers are presented to the institution and they themselves are "the warrant and justification for the temporary detention of the patient . . . ." N.J.S.A. 30:4-38. The papers are forwarded by the institution to the county adjuster and by the adjustor to the court, which then considers issuance of an order for temporary commitment. If issued, the order becomes the warrant and authority for temporary detention of the patient for not more than 20 days from the date of admission. N.J.S.A. 30:4-38; R. 4:74-7(c)(1).
Seven day admissions for observation are created by N.J.S.A. 30:4-46.1. They are initiated by the certificate of a single physician stating that the patient is suffering from mental or emotional illness and is incapable of making voluntary application for admission. The hospital management has discretion whether or not to accept the patient. If accepted, the patient must be discharged after seven days unless formally committed pursuant to other statutory proceedings. There is no judicial review of seven day commitments. In counting the statutorily defined seven days, ...