Appeal from the Order Entered August 19, 1996, In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Civil, No. 5468 of 1996.
Appeal from the Order Entered October 15, 1996, In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Civil, No. 5142 of 1996. Before MIHALICH & SCHERER, JJ.
Before: Beck, Ford Elliott and Hester, JJ. Opinion BY Beck, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beck
These consolidated matters require us to consider the technical requirements of the Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 P.S. § 7101, et seq. ("MHPA" or "the Act"), specifically its provisions regarding involuntary commitment and treatment.
While these two cases are unrelated, they share not only the same counsel but the same general complaint, namely, that the technical procedures mandated by the Act were not strictly adhered to and, as a result, the orders of commitment must be vacated and the records of commitment expunged.
We begin with a brief summary of the relevant sections of the MHPA. Among other things, the Act provides that an individual can be made subject to involuntary emergency commitment and examination in the event a physician determines that the person is severely mentally disabled and in need of emergency treatment. See 50 P.S. § 7302. Section 302 treatment, as it is often called, cannot exceed five days. The definition of a severe mental disability is set forth with particularity in the Act. See 50 P.S. § 7301.
In the event treatment is necessary for a period longer than five days, the Act provides a procedure for extended treatment. See 50 P.S. § 7303. Such extended treatment, commonly referred to as § 303 treatment, requires court intervention in the form of a petition filed in the court of common pleas followed by a hearing before a Judge or mental health review officer ("MHRO"). At the Conclusion of the hearing, the MHRO either certifies that the individual is severely mentally disabled and in need of continued involuntary treatment or, in the absence of such a certification, orders the facility director to discharge the individual. See 50 P.S. § 7303(c).
If a certification for extended treatment is made, its contents must conform with statutory provisions. See 50 P.S. § 7303(d). Further, the certification must be filed with the director of the treating facility and a copy served on the individual, his or her counsel and any other relevant parties. See 50 P.S. § 7303(e). Section 303 treatment cannot exceed twenty days.
Further involuntary treatment, not to exceed ninety days, is permissible, but is subject to additional procedural rules set forth with particularity in the Act. See 50 P.S. § 7304.
Despite the fact that MHPA matters frequently appear moot due to the lapse of time between an involuntary commitment and appellate Disposition, our courts consistently have held that a live controversy exists in these cases. We recognize that an important liberty interest is at stake in all involuntary commitments and by their nature, most commitment orders expire prior to appellate review. See In re Condry, 304 Pa. Super. 131, 450 A.2d 136, 137 (1982). Since a finding of mootness would allow such claims to go unchallenged in most, if not all, cases, we continue to hear these matters and, where the facts allow, we have authority to vacate a commitment order and direct that the record be expunged. See In re S.O., 342 Pa. Super. 215, 492 A.2d 727 (1985).
The specific due process protections provided for in the Act are strictly construed; a violation of the Act's provisions requires that the order of commitment be vacated. See In re Chiumento, 455 Pa. Super. 376, 688 A.2d 217 (1997) (order vacated due to delay in § 303 hearing); Condry, (supra) (order vacated where treatment plan not adequately described).
S.L.W. alleges several MHPA violations. Her first complaint is that the county failed to file timely the § 303 certification on the facility at which she was involuntarily committed. In her brief, S.L.W. relies on § 302(d)(2), which provides that an individual committed under § 302 must be discharged within five days unless a § 303 certification is filed pursuant to the Act, and ...