June 20, 2012
IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF J.B.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. GLSC-222-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 30, 2012 -
Before Judges Alvarez and Skillman.
J.B. was involuntarily committed on June 13, 2011. At his request, the initial commitment hearing was postponed until June 28, 2011. J.B., although acknowledging that his continued commitment was necessary, sought to have his status converted to that of a voluntary patient. The judge did not grant the requested relief, continued the commitment on an involuntary basis, and scheduled a review hearing. This appeal followed, and for the reasons stated by the judge, subject to the following brief comments, we affirm.
Thereafter J.B., on July 26, 2011, was placed on conditional extension pending placement. A review hearing was scheduled. We do not know the outcome of that proceeding, or J.B.'s current status.
At the June 28, 2011 hearing, J.B.'s treating psychiatrist, Dr. Joann Matthews, testified that J.B. had "limited insight into the continued need for medication . . . ." The doctor's report and recommendations were not included in the appendix. The doctor opined that J.B. lacked the capacity to be a voluntary patient. Additionally, because of his labile emotional mood, limited insight into his illness, multiple suicide attempts prior to admission, and agitation and aggression towards others during his commitment, she believed he would make good on his statement that "[i]f his needs were not met he would elope[,]" meaning that he would leave the facility. Although at that time he was compliant with treatment, the psychiatrist reiterated that J.B. had threatened to elope.
J.B. also testified. He suffers from severe epilepsy and was then homeless. He said that he wanted to become a voluntary patient because of the implications of the term - "[c]ommitted is such a bad word."
On appeal, J.B. raises the following points:
I. APPELLANT'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT WAS NOT AUTHORIZED BY NEW JERSEY COMMITMENT STATUTES ABSENT CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS UNWILLING TO VOLUNTARILY ACCEPT INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE
II. THE COURT BELOW ERRED BY ORDERING INVOLUNTAR[Y] COMMITMENT WITHOUT CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT [J.B.] WAS UNWILLING TO BE TREATED VOLUNTARILY
III. INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT OF PATIENT SEEKING VOLUNTARY TREATMENT VIOLATES CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES OF DUE PROCESS
IV. THE INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT OF PATIENTS SEEKING VOLUNTARY TREATMENT CONTRAVENES THE LEGISLATIVE INTENT OF NEW JERSEY COMMITMENT LAW AND IMPORTANT PUBLIC POLICIES
V. INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT OF PATIENTS SEEKING VOLUNTARY ADMISSION TO A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL VIOLATES THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY RIGHT TO TREATMENT IN THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE SETTING
Involuntary commitments are continued where the court finds "clear and convincing evidence" that the patient is in need. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.15(a); Rule 4:74-7(f). That is precisely what the court found in this case, that the proofs established by clear and convincing evidence that J.B. suffered from bipolar disorder, compounded by a substance abuse problem; was a danger to himself as demonstrated by two recent suicidal ideations; was a danger to others as established by his aggressive and threatening behavior toward staff; and was homeless. But cf. In Re Commitment of M.M., 384 N.J. Super. 313, 337-38 (App. Div. 2006) (finding that the committee was not in need of voluntary commitment where there was no evidence of current mental illness or risk of violence). The record fully supports the judge's findings of fact. See Seidman v. Clifton Sav. Bank, 205 N.J. 150, 169 (2011). Those findings of fact lead inescapably to the judge's conclusion that J.B. was in need of continued involuntary commitment.
Since we concur that the statutory standard for continued involuntary commitment was met, we only address J.B.'s contention that his expressed willingness to continue as a voluntary patient should have sufficed for reasons of due process, New Jersey's public policies regarding commitment, and the need for psychiatric patients to receive treatment in the least restrictive setting. See N.J.S.A. 30:4-24.2(e)(2); In re Commitment of J.L.J., 196 N.J. Super. 34, 46 (App. Div. 1984), certif. denied, 101 N.J. 210 (1985).
The judge found that J.B. was not "at all" a credible witness. This assessment we also review with great deference. See In re Newsome, 176 N.J. Super. 511, 523 (App. Div. 1980) (holding that the Appellate Division must accord "determined deference" to the trial judge, based on his ability to assess credibility, arising from his feel for the case and capacity to measure witness demeanor). The judge observed, in fact, that J.B.'s interest was solely in eloping, as he had no "genuine desire to be a patient in the hospital." To reiterate, nothing in the record causes us to doubt the judge's findings of fact.
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