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In re MH2015-002490

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

May 1, 2018


          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. MH2015-002490, MH2015-004896 The Honorable Andrew G. Klein, Judge The Honorable Barbara L. Spencer, Judge Pro Tempore.

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Aubrey Joy Corcoran, Louis Frank Caputo, III Counsel for Intervenor/Appellant.

          Dickinson Wright, PLLC, Phoenix By David J. Ouimette, Vail C. Cloar Counsel for Intervenor.

          Judge Kenton D. Jones delivered the Opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge James B. Morse Jr. joined.


          JONES, Judge:

         ¶1 In this consolidated appeal, Intervenor Arizona State Hospital (ASH)[1] challenges orders involuntarily committing Edgar T. and Juan A. (the Patients) for inpatient psychiatric treatment. Both Patients were deemed incompetent to stand trial for violent crimes, but upon commitment were unable to provide documentation establishing their lawful presence in the United States. ASH argues it cannot comply with the commitment orders without violating state and federal law governing the provision of state and local public benefits to unauthorized aliens.

         ¶2 As a matter of first impression, we consider whether court- ordered psychiatric treatment is a "state and local public benefit, " as defined within 8 U.S.C. § 1621(c)[2] and A.R.S. § 1-502(I). Because individuals subject to court-ordered psychiatric treatment do not "apply" for the services, the treatment is not a "benefit" within the meaning of those statutes. Accordingly, we affirm the superior court's orders.


         ¶3 In 2013, Edgar was charged with one count of aggravated assault and one count of assault by a prisoner with bodily fluids. Edgar spat upon an officer who tried to end a fight between Edgar and another inmate in the medical area of the Durango Jail. In 2015, Juan was charged with aggravated assault and criminal trespass after attacking officers who tried to remove him from a dumpster in which he had been living for four days. When the officers tried to move Juan, he refused to obey orders and swung a board at one of them. Ultimately, the officers resorted to the use of pepper spray to subdue him.

         ¶4 In March 2014 and July 2015, the criminal court found the Patients incompetent to stand trial and dismissed the charges pending against them without prejudice. The court ordered the Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO) to file a petition for court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. See A.R.S. §§ 13-4517(A)(1) (authorizing the court to "[r]emand the defendant to an evaluating agency for the institution of civil commitment proceedings" if it finds he is "incompetent to stand trial and that there is no substantial probability that the defendant will regain competency within twenty-one months"); 36-521(F) (authorizing the county attorney to file the petition for evaluation if court-ordered). Both Patients were evaluated, and their evaluators filed petitions for court-ordered treatment pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-531(B) (stating that, upon a determination that a patient is disabled or dangerous, the appropriate person "shall prepare, sign and file a petition for court-ordered treatment"). After considering the petitions, the superior court in both cases found the Patients to be "persistently and acutely disabled." The court also found Juan to be "a danger to others." Both Patients were ordered to submit to inpatient psychiatric treatment at ASH.

         ¶5 ASH moved to intervene in both cases, asking the superior court to reconsider the commitment orders - not because its findings were incorrect, but because the Patients were unable to provide documents establishing their lawful presence in the United States, and therefore were ineligible to receive public benefits. The court granted the motion to intervene but declined to reconsider its orders, and ASH timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and -2101(A)(2).[3]

         ¶6 On appeal, this Court granted the Maricopa County Special Healthcare District (the District) leave to intervene as well. The District operates Desert Vista Behavioral Health Center (Desert Vista), a facility that provides short-term court-ordered evaluation and treatment for individuals with mental disabilities, and therefore has an interest in the outcome of our decision.


         ¶7 The parties dispute whether court-ordered psychiatric treatment is a "state and local public benefit" subject to immigration verification. We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. In re MH2010-002637,228 Ariz. 74, 78, ¶ 13 (App. 2011) (citation omitted). "When interpreting a statute, our primary purpose is to give effect to the intent of the legislature." Pinal Cty. No. MH-201000029, 225 Ariz. 500, 502, ¶ 6 (App. 2010) (citing Maricopa Cty. No. MH 2001-001139,203 Ariz. 351, 353, ¶ 12 (App. 2002)). "The best indicator of that intent is the statute's plain language, and, if that language is clear and unambiguous, we apply it as written." State ex rel. Brnovich ...

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