On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
J.h. Coleman, Shebell and Arnold M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Arnold M. Stein, J.A.D.
We reverse the order continuing appellant's involuntary commitment to Lyons Veterans Administration Medical Center following his initial ex parte commitment to Newark Beth Israel Hospital. The evidence did not support a finding "by clear and convincing evidence that [appellant] needs continued involuntary commitment, . . . ." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.15a.
Appellant was released from confinement approximately two weeks after his initial review hearing. He successfully completed his court-ordered ninety days of outpatient therapy. Because his mental illness is classified as a service-connected disability, he has no financial obligation to Lyons, his place of continued involuntary commitment. See In re Commitment of A.A., 252 N.J. Super. 170, 172 n. 1, 599 A.2d 573 (App.Div.1991) (involuntary committee's release from confinement did not moot his appeal from the order of confinement because his property was subject to a lien for the cost of his hospital care).
Nevertheless, we will not treat this matter as moot. Appellant's involuntary commitment has potential ramifications if the need again arises to evaluate his mental condition. See, e.g., N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.5 which provides that "[i]f a person has been admitted three times . . . at a short-term care facility . . . consideration shall be given to not placing the person in a short-term care facility." In light of appellant's three prior commitments, this recent confinement might have an effect upon whether he might some day be placed in a long-term rather than a short-term facility.
On March 24, 1992, appellant was involuntarily committed to Newark Beth Israel Hospital by an ex parte temporary order of commitment. The initial commitment hearing, scheduled for April 8, 1992, was adjourned because appellant was transferred to Lyons Veterans Administration Medical Center. At the rescheduled hearing on April 16, 1992, the reviewing Judge ordered continuation of appellant's involuntary confinement. On May 1, 1992, the Judge discharged appellant on condition
that he undergo outpatient treatment for ninety days at the East Orange VA Medical Center.
Appellant is a forty-six-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives at home with his mother. For approximately the last eight years he has suffered from a mental illness for which he was voluntarily hospitalized on three prior occasions, most recently at Lyons in December 1990. Appellant regularly takes medication and also receives outpatient treatment at the East Orange VA hospital.
Dr. Dela Cruz, a psychiatrist at Lyons, treated appellant after his transfer to that facility in April 1992. Her initial diagnosis was schizophrenia paranoid, chronic type. That diagnosis remained the same on the hearing date. The doctor testified that appellant had been very noncommunicative while under her care, making it difficult for her to evaluate his condition. She recommended continuation of appellant's commitment.
The doctor's recommendation was based primarily on screening certificates submitted in support of the application for appellant's ex parte temporary commitment to Beth Israel. Dr. Dela Cruz testified that appellant was not suicidal, but she believed that appellant was an "indirect" danger to himself because of his erratic behavior. She noted two instances of this behavior: he threw nails on the floor and walked on them, and he left the gas stove lit when he was not at home. Dr. Dela Cruz stated that her opinion of these events was based on the screening certificates.
Dr. Dela Cruz also testified that, according to the screening certificates, appellant had stopped taking his medication shortly before his commitment. Since his commitment, however, appellant was very cooperative about taking his medicine, and agreed that he would continue to take it upon his discharge from the hospital.
Dr. Dela Cruz learned that appellant had some type of "outburst" while at Lyons, in which ...