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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. IDA BLAKER (12/29/81)

filed: December 29, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA,
v.
IDA BLAKER, APPELLANT



No. 925 October 1979, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County at Civil Action Special Docket 5 Page 312 - 12.

COUNSEL

Andrew F. Schneider, Assistant Public Defender, Doylestown, for appellant.

Louis Floge, Cornwells Heights, did not file a brief on behalf of participating party.

Spaeth, Cavanaugh and O'Kicki, JJ.*fn* O'Kicki, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Spaeth

[ 293 Pa. Super. Page 393]

This appeal is from an order entered pursuant to section 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act, Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 817, No. 143, as amended, 50 P.S. § 7303, committing appellant to a mental hospital for extended involuntary emergency treatment. Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the commitment.*fn1 We agree, and therefore vacate the order.

Section 301(a) of the Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 P.S. § 7301, provides that a person may be subjected to involuntary examination and treatment only if that person is so "severely mentally disabled" that he "poses a clear and present danger of harm to others or to himself." Section 301(b) provides specific, narrow, definitions of "clear and present danger":

Clear and present danger to others shall be shown by establishing that within the past 30 days the person has inflicted or attempted to inflict serious bodily harm on another and that there is a reasonable probability that such conduct will be repeated.

[ 293 Pa. Super. Page 394]

Section 301(b)(1), 50 P.S. § 7301(b)(1) (in relevant part) Clear and present danger to himself shall be shown by establishing that within the past 30 days:

(i) the person has acted in such manner as to evidence that he would be unable, without care, supervision and the continued assistance of others, to satisfy his need for nourishment, personal or medical care, shelter, or self-protection and safety, and that there is reasonable probability that death, serious bodily injury or serious physical debilitation would ensue within 30 days unless adequate treatment were afforded under this act[.]

Section 301(b)(2), 50 P.S. § 7301(b)(2) (in relevant part)

Not only are these sections narrowly drawn, we have held that the entire Act is to be construed strictly. In re S. C., 280 Pa. Superior Ct. 539, 546, 421 A.2d 853, 857 (1980).

The incident giving rise to appellant's commitment occurred on April 9, 1979. Shortly before noon appellant, a woman in her middle sixties, had arrived at the Bucks County Nutrition Center, which was located about six miles from her home, in a bus driven by Jean Murphy, a driver for Bucks County Adult Services. For some reason appellant became upset and left the Center on foot. It was a rainy day and she was carrying an umbrella. Ms. Murphy went looking for her and found her about 50 yards away. When Ms. Murphy took appellant's elbow to help her into the bus, appellant struck her once with the umbrella. She then voluntarily entered the bus and was driven home.

At the informal hearing before the mental health review officer, four people testified in support of appellant's commitment: Ms. Murphy; Lewis McGrath, also apparently with Adult Services although his exact title is not in the record; Dr. John H. Houey,*fn2 staff psychologist at Eugenia Hospital; and Jacqueline Hancock, geriatric social coordinator at the hospital. On the basis of their testimony, the

[ 293 Pa. Super. Page 395]

    mental health review officer found that appellant represented a clear and present danger to others.

After listening to a tape recording of the proceeding before the mental health review officer, and after hearing the argument of appellant's counsel, the lower court found that it did not agree with the officer that appellant represented a clear and present danger to others. However, the court found that she did represent a danger to herself, and on that basis, continued the officer's order of involuntary commitment in effect without change.

In our view, the testimony before the mental health review officer was insufficient to show that appellant represented a clear and present danger either to others, as the officer found, or to herself, as the lower court found.

The testimony concerning the incident at the Center indicated that appellant became upset, left the Center, and walked away about 50 yards. Contrary to the lower court's statement, Slip op. at 3, there was no testimony that showed she was intending to walk home, or, for that matter, that walking home would have probably resulted in "death, serious bodily injury or serious physical debilitation." The testimony indicated that appellant is a sensitive person, who is hard to deal with. She is proud, does not like to be touched by others, and because of a hearing problem, has some trouble communicating with others. She said that she did not want to take the medication the hospital was giving her because she was a Christian Scientist.

In support of its finding that appellant was a danger to herself, the lower court cited the testimony of Dr. Houey, the staff psychologist. Dr. Houey had spent a total of one hour and forty-five minutes with appellant at the hospital after her initial involuntary commitment -- ten or fifteen minutes the day after she was admitted, an hour the following day, and 30 minutes the morning of the hearing. The

[ 293 Pa. Super. Page 396]

    core of his testimony concerning appellant's danger to herself and others was as follows:*fn3

Q. Do you feel at the present time she's in danger to ...


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