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In re Commitment of S.D.

Decided: August 21, 1986.

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF S.D.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Essex County.

Fritz, Gaulkin and Long. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D.

Fritz

[212 NJSuper Page 212] This is an appeal from an order which continues the involuntary commitment of S.D. at Essex County Hospital Center. The Public Advocate urges on behalf of S.D. that the record

made at the commitment review hearing (R. 4:74-7(f)) does not justify the continued commitment, that S.D. should be discharged pending placement (DPP) and that he should be afforded "an immediate placement review hearing" in accordance with In re S.L., 94 N.J. 128 (1983).

We are satisfied that the judgment below, although very possibly a correct one, was insufficiently bottomed on present considerations of law and so must be reversed. However, we are also satisfied that we should not enter the contrary judgment but rather that we should remand the matter for rehearing. Our determination brings into focus ethical, procedural and substantive concerns with respect to which we are somewhat limited by superior precedent but to which we now bring our best effort.

S.D. is 77 years old and has been a patient at Essex County Hospital Center since 1927. He is presently diagnosed as schizophrenic, chronic undifferentiated, with arteriosclerotic heart disease and a grossly impaired level of functioning. A Center psychiatrist, Dr. Procario, testified that S.D.'s behavior is grossly disorganized: he wanders aimlessly and frequently about the wards, picks up imaginary objects from the floor, exposes himself and masturbates publicly, continually keeps his head down and avoids eye contact and does not speak or communicate "in any meaningful way." The doctor concluded that S.D. "needs help in-patient, twenty-four hour care."

Dr. Procario further testified that S.D. hallucinates, has an "unpredictable response" to auditory hallucinations and "strikes out with no provocation." Under further inquiry as to that behavior, the doctor testified that the "[s]triking out" consisted of an aimless flailing of the arms, which S.D. does "very close to people" so that "if someone was around you they'd catch it." The doctor never observed S.D. "chase after people" or cause any "serious or permanent damage."

Dr. Procario recommended that S.D.'s commitment be continued. When asked, however, whether S.D. was "a danger to himself or to others," the doctor responded as follows:

Well to himself in a sense that he's totally unable to care for himself. To others -- he does strike out at people, but to my knowledge, I'm new on the case -- I have not noted him causing any serious or permanent damage.

But as I said his behavior is unpredictable -- I don't know how he'd be.

The trial judge interpreted the doctor's opinion to be that S.D. was not a danger to others but that he was unable to care for himself; he specifically instructed S.D.'s counsel that "we don't need cross on danger to others -- there's been no opinion in that direction."

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge ordered the commitment to continue solely because of S.D.'s ...


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