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J.S. APPEAL J.S. (07/10/89)

filed: July 10, 1989.


Appeal from the Order Entered July 15, 1988, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division, at No. 87-10-863.


John Packel, Asst. Public Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Guy Vilim, City Sol., Philadelphia, Philadelphia County Office, participating party.

Kelly, Popovich and Hester, JJ. Kelly, J., files a concurring and dissenting opinion.

Author: Hester

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 433]

J.S. appeals from a July 15, 1988 commitment order wherein the trial court vacated a master's decision to discharge her due to the fact that she had not received a court hearing required by the Mental Health Procedures Act of 1976, 50 P.S. §§ 7101 et seq. (the "Act"), following her commitment to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Appellant raises two contentions. First: The trial court's July 15, 1988 order vacating the master's order is void since it reversed an October 15, 1987 order in violation of 42 Pa.C.S. § 5505 (order may not be modified thirty days after entry). Second: The trial court erred in ruling that a patient who

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 434]

    voluntarily commits himself for a period of seventy-two hours under section 206 of the Act can be held for 120 hours under a section 302 involuntary commitment after the patient has given the seventy-two hour notice of intent to leave the facility. We agree with appellant's second contention and hold that, if involuntary proceedings are initiated after a patient has voluntarily committed himself, then either a hearing on the involuntary petition must be held within the time constraints of section 206 of the Act or the patient must be released under section 206 of the Act. Accordingly, we reverse.

The record establishes the following. On Tuesday, September 29, 1987, R.S. (daughter of J.S.) initiated proceedings for J.S.'s involuntary commitment under section 302 of the Act by applying for examination. No further action was taken on the involuntary application, i.e., no warrant was issued under section 302(a)(1) of the Act, and no examination under section 302(a)(2) of the Act occurred. On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, R.S. convinced J.S. to go to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and voluntarily commit herself pursuant to section 201 of the Act. Under section 206 of the Act, persons who have been admitted voluntarily to treatment must be released upon indicating a desire to leave, unless they have agreed to be held for a set period of time after they indicate a desire to leave. However, seventy-two hours is the maximum amount of time which a voluntarily-committed person may be detained without being released.

Immediately after signing the voluntary commitment papers and agreeing to a detention of the maximum of seventy-two hours, J.S. said that she wanted to leave by Saturday, October 3, 1987, when the seventy-two hour period expired. N.T., 10/5/87, at 50. She was told that she would be released then. Instead, however, on Thursday, October 1, 1987, the hospital completed the previously instituted involuntary commitment proceedings under sections 302 and 303 of the Act by examining J.S. and certifying that she needed treatment. Pursuant to sections 302 and 303, J.S.

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 435]

    had to be released within 120 hours of initiation of the involuntary proceedings unless a mental health review officer determined within that period that she was severely mentally disabled and that she required extended involuntary in-patient treatment.

On Monday, October 5, 1987, the section 303 hearing was held before mental health master Joseph M. Davidson. J.S.'s husband and daughter testified at the hearing. Their testimony established that in the month prior to her commitment, J.S. had imagined an affair between her husband and her girlfriend. She had become violent with her husband, at one point threatening to kill herself, him, and the girlfriend. See N.T., 10/5/87, at 7-10. The doctor who testified at the hearing recommended extended, twenty-day involuntary inpatient treatment because J.S. was potentially dangerous and had no insight into her condition. Id. at 45.

The master found that J.S. was severely mentally disabled within the meaning of the Act and ordered the extended involuntary treatment of twenty days. During the course of the hearing, J.S. told him about her voluntary commitment and that when she admitted herself on Wednesday, September 30, 1987, she had told the hospital that she wished to leave by Saturday, October 3, 1987. The master stated that he would check the hospital records and that he would discharge her the next day if she had, in fact, been committed voluntarily and had failed to receive a hearing before a master within the seventy-two hour time constraints of section 206 of the Act. On October 5, 1987, Davidson discharged J.S. and dismissed the section 303 petition on the grounds that J.S. had been held beyond the seventy-two hour period allowed by law.

The court of common pleas affirmed Davidson's order by order dated October 5, 1987. The court of common pleas order dismissed the involuntary commitment petition and discharged J.S. This order was docketed on October 15, 1987. Also on that date, the Philadelphia County Office of Mental Health and Mental Retardation filed post-trial motions to the October 5, 1987 order of the court of common

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 436]

    pleas, and on November 2, 1987, the office also filed a notice of appeal to us from the October 5, 1987 order. On October 31, 1987, the trial court denied the office's post-trial motions. This October 31, 1987 order was docketed November 4, 1987, and was vacated at a hearing held November 11, 1987. On December 14, 1987, pursuant to a petition for voluntary withdrawal of the appeal by the mental health office, the appeal before us from the October 31, 1987 order was discontinued.

Subsequently, on July 15, 1988, the court of common pleas granted appellee's post-trial motions, vacated its October 5, 1987 order discharging appellant, vacated the master's order discharging J.S., and remanded the matter to the master for further proceedings consistent with an opinion filed the same day. This appeal followed.

Initially, we address appellant's argument that the trial court improperly vacated its October 5, 1987 order under section 42 Pa.C.S. § 5505, which states, " Except as otherwise provided or prescribed by law, a court upon notice to the parties may modify or rescind any order within 30 days after its entry, notwithstanding the prior termination of any term of court, if no appeal from such order has been taken or allowed." (emphasis added).

We first quote from Pa.R.C.P. 227.1:

(a) After trial and upon the written Motion for Post-Trial Relief filed by any party, the court may

(1) order a new trial as to all or any of the issues; or

(2) direct the entry of judgment in favor of any party; or

(3) remove a non-suit; or

(4) affirm, modify or change the decision or decree nisi; or

(5) enter any other appropriate order.

(Emphasis added).

The October 5, 1987 order affirming the master's discharge order was a decision in the case of a non-jury trial regarding which a motion for post-trial relief must be filed

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 437]

    under Pa.R.C.P. 227.1(c)(2). See In re Wilson, 303 Pa. Super. 326, 449 A.2d 711 (1982); see also Commonwealth v. Wertz, 362 Pa. Super. 255, 523 A.2d 1179 (1987). The office filed timely post-trial motions to the October 5, 1987 order. The October 31, 1987 order denying these post-trial motions was vacated on November 1, 1987, within the thirty days prescribed by section 5505. The vacation of the order denying post-trial motions left the status of this case as follows: properly filed post-trial motions were pending with respect to the October 5, 1987 order which had affirmed the master's discharge. Pa.R.Civ.P. 227.1 provides that a court may modify any order to which post-trial motions have been properly filed. Accordingly, the trial court had the authority to vacate its October 5, 1987 order at any time based upon the pending and properly filed post-trial motions. Consequently, the trial court had the power to enter its July 15, 1988 order granting post-trial motions and reversing its October 5, 1987 order.

Next, we will address the merits of this appeal.*fn1 We must determine whether involuntary commitment proceedings completed after a patient has expressed his desire to leave a hospital following a voluntary commitment may extend the time period within which the patient must be released absent a hearing. Based on the statutory language of the Act and prior judicial interpretations of it, we hold that the procedure utilized in this case was improper on the grounds that appellant's hearing on the involuntary petition had to be held within seventy-two hours of when she expressed her ...

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