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In re MH2012-002480

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division, Department B

June 27, 2013

IN RE MH2012-002480

Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County Cause No. MH2012-002480 The Honorable Lori L. Horn Bustamante, Judge Pro Tem

William G. Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney Phoenix Anne C. Longo, Deputy County Attorney Attorneys for Appellee.

Marty Lieberman, Maricopa County Legal Defender Phoenix Cynthia D. Beck, Deputy Legal Defender Attorneys for Appellant

OPINION

ANDREW W. GOULD, Judge

¶1 This appeal addresses whether two witnesses who testified at an involuntary commitment proceeding qualified as "acquaintance witnesses" pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 36-539(B). Finding that they did, we affirm the superior court's involuntary commitment order.

Background and Procedural History

¶2 In late July 2012, Appellant's doctor filed a petition for court-ordered evaluation alleging that Appellant was persistently or acutely disabled, unwilling to accept voluntary treatment, and "delusional and psychotic" with impaired insight and judgment. On August 13, 2012, another physician filed a petition for court-ordered treatment pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-533, [1] attaching the affidavits of two doctors whose probable diagnoses were "Bipolar Disorder, Manic with Psychotic Features" and "Schizophrenia, Chronic Paranoid Type." Both doctors concluded there was no alternative to involuntary treatment, and both attached memoranda to their affidavits explaining how Appellant was persistently or acutely disabled.

¶3 The court held a hearing on the petition on August 20, 2012. Several doctors and lay witnesses testified at the hearing, including Angela H., a former employee of the TERROS Hospital rapid response team, who met with and evaluated Appellant; Eugenia T., a friend of Appellant; and Loren S., Appellant's ex-husband. Based on the evidence presented, the court found that as a result of a mental disorder, Appellant was "persistently and acutely disabled and in need of psychiatric treatment[, ]" that she was "either unwilling or unable to accept voluntary treatment, " and that there were "no appropriate and available alternatives to court-ordered treatment." The court ordered Appellant to undergo treatment in a combined inpatient/outpatient treatment program for no longer than 365 days, with a maximum inpatient treatment time of 180 days.

¶4 Appellant timely appeals. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 36-546.01 (West 2013) and 12-2101(A)(10)(a) (West 2013) .

Discussion

¶5 "Because involuntary treatment proceedings may result in a serious deprivation of the appellant's liberty interests, " the statutory requirements must be strictly construed and followed. In re MH 2001-001139, 203 Ariz. 351, 353, 8, 54 P.3d 380, 382 (2002) . "We view the facts in the light most favorable to sustaining the trial court's judgment and will not set aside the related findings unless they are clearly erroneous." In re MH 2008-002596, 223 Ariz. 32, 35, 12, 219 P.3d 242, 245 (App. 2009). We apply de novo review to matters of statutory interpretation because they involve questions of law. In re MH 2006-000749, 214 Ariz. 318, 321, 13, 152 P.3d 1201, 1204 (App. 2007) .

¶6 Appellant argues the statutory requirement that at least two acquaintance witnesses testify at the hearing was not satisfied. Section 36-539 provides as follows:

The evidence presented by the petitioner or the patient shall include the testimony of two or more witnesses acquainted with the patient at the time of the alleged mental disorder, which may be satisfied by a statement agreed on by the parties[.]

(Emphasis added.) The acquaintance witnesses requirement prevents physicians from "rubber stamping" each other's work and gives the court a perspective of the patient based on "informal, day-to-day observation." In re MH 2001-001139, 203 Ariz. ...


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