On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. CASC-785-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.
E.S. appeals from an order of involuntary commitment. The judge found that E.S. posed a danger to herself. We reverse.
On June 3, 2011, E.S. was involuntarily committed to John F. Kennedy Hospital in Cherry Hill. Ten days later, she was transferred to Camden County Health Services Center pursuant to a temporary involuntary commitment order. At the June 28, 2011 hearing to review her continued eligibility for involuntary commitment, two witnesses testified: Dr. Joann Mathews and E.S.
Dr. Mathews' testimony highlighted two factors: a history of assaultive behavior by E.S. and her failure to take her medications. The judge quickly determined that E.S. did not pose a danger to others. Accordingly, our review of the testimony offered by Dr. Mathews focuses solely on the issue of whether E.S.'s failure to take prescribed medications posed a danger to herself.
Dr. Mathews testified diagnosed E.S. with bipolar disorder with mixed psychotic features. The doctor reported that E.S. refused to take two medications over the weekend. One medication, Lasix, is a diuretic prescribed to address pedal edema (ankle swelling). The other medication, hydrochlorothiazide, was prescribed to treat hypertension. The doctor stated E.S. took all other prescribed medications. Dr. Mathews opined that failure to take these medications was "potentially life threatening if discontinued on her own." She could not state that E.S. suffered any harm due to the omission of these medications. The record contains no information that the ankle swelling worsened or her blood pressure rose to unhealthy or dangerous levels. Dr. Mathews also admitted that E.S. refused to take the diuretic due to increased urination. A urine culture revealed a urinary tract infection.
E.S. testified that she discontinued the medications "[b]ecause I pee on myself and I have to wash my clothes all the time." She also testified that she lived with her family prior to her hospitalization, sees a medical doctor three or four times a month, and consults a psychiatrist at the Hispanic Family Center (HFC). She did not remember the last time she went to HFC, but stated "sometimes I go every day." She also reported that she would like to return home and would attend the HFC and take her medications.
The judge found that E.S. suffered from a mental illness and posed a danger to herself based on her failure to take the two prescribed medications. He also found the failure to take the prescribed medications would be life-threatening and accepted the "opinion and medical conclusion that [E.S.] would be in clear and present danger, were she to not take her medications, which medication she had refused to take at the hospital." The judge, therefore, continued the commitment of E.S. until the next review hearing on July 26, 2011. E.S. was discharged on July 22, 2011.*fn1
On appeal, E.S. argues that the record contained insufficient evidence to permit the judge to find by clear and convincing evidence that she was a danger to herself and required involuntary commitment. She also contends that she was denied a fair hearing by the judge.
N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.15a authorizes a court to continue an individual's involuntary commitment past a temporary commitment order, so long as "the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the patient needs continued involuntary commitment to treatment . . . ." The statute defines "in need of involuntary commitment to treatment" as "an adult with mental illness, whose mental illness causes the person to be dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property . . . ." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2m. The Legislature further defined the purpose of the statute as requiring commitment only when an individual is "dangerous to [herself], others or property . . . ." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1a. When a person is no longer dangerous by reason of mental illness, however, and they can be supported by themselves or by family ...