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In re Commitment of Z.G.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

November 1, 2013



Argued September 23, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Essex County, Docket No. MH-1494-2012.

Daniel F. O'Brien, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Mr. O'Brien, on the brief).

Thomas M. Bachman, Assistant Essex County Counsel, argued the cause for respondent (James R. Paganelli, Essex County Counsel, attorney; Mr. Bachman, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Ashrafi and Leone.


Z.G. appeals from an order dated September 5, 2012, that continued his civil commitment for psychiatric treatment at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (University Hospital). We dismiss the appeal as moot because appellant was discharged within a few weeks of his commitment and there is no adequate remedy that we can grant him to address the court's alleged errors in its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The forty-year-old appellant was taken by police to University Hospital in Newark on August 16, 2012. He had called the police himself after an altercation occurred in his mother's home where he lived. Appellant's mother testified at the commitment hearing and explained what occurred. She testified that her son suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and alcohol abuse. In August 2012, he may not have been taking his medication and had isolated himself in his room, expressing suspicion that people in the house were threatening him and children were purposely making noise to keep him from sleeping. He would eat his meals alone in his room. He kept the volume of his television set loud and plugged his ears because he was hearing voices.

On August 16, he came into the kitchen and became involved in a verbal dispute with his niece, the witness's granddaughter. When the child's mother and brother — appellant's sister and nephew — entered the kitchen to see what was happening, appellant "clobbered" the sixteen-year-old nephew by suddenly striking him on the back of the head with a frozen water bottle. Several family members had to restrain appellant. He then went to his room and called the police, which he had done about half a dozen times earlier that same day because he was upset about something that his brother had done to his car. The police eventually arrived and transported him to the hospital. The mother testified that, in the past, appellant had been "verbally" but not "physically violent." She believed he should remain hospitalized for treatment. She would not accept his return to her home until his medications and his behavior were stabilized.

University Hospital psychiatrist Ye-Ming Sun testified that he had examined appellant and diagnosed his condition as schizophrenia, paranoid type, and alcohol abuse. Appellant's medical records indicated he had been hospitalized about three years earlier but not much detail was available about the reasons for that hospitalization.

While at the hospital on this commitment, defendant was angry and irritable. He believed he did not need medication that had been previously prescribed for him. He had improved some during the approximately three weeks of his treatment, but the doctor was still working on determining the appropriate medications for him. It was the doctor's opinion that appellant was a danger to others because he had attacked his teenaged nephew, and also that he needed further treatment to become compliant with medication before he could return to the community. The doctor recommended that appellant be transferred to another hospital for longer term treatment.

Appellant did not testify and presented no witnesses at the hearing. The court determined that appellant's commitment should continue but that a review hearing should be conducted to determine his status as soon as possible if he was transferred to another facility and in two weeks if he remained at University Hospital.

A review hearing was conducted two weeks later at University Hospital. The court's order of September 19, 2012, changed appellant's status to conditional extension pending placement (CEPP). See R. 4:74-7(h)(2). It recited three conditions for his discharge: 1) compliance with medications, 2) follow-up with a combined mental health and substance abuse program, and 3) community residential placement in a boarding house. According to appellant's brief, he was discharged from the commitment before the next review hearing scheduled in ...

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