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August 19, 1997


Appeal from the Order of February 5, 1997 docketed on February 10, 1997 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, No. 3176 October Term 1996. Before COHEN, J.

Before: Cirillo, P.j.e., and Tamilia and Saylor, JJ. Opinion BY Cirillo, P.j.e.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cirillo


Filed August 19, 1997

This motion to quash is in response to an appeal from a February 5, 1997 order denying appellant's, the City of Philadelphia, County Office of Mental Health/ Mental Retardation (MH/MR), Petition for review pursuant to 50 P.S. §§ 7102, 7109, 7301-7303. Appellant's petition sought review of the October 22, 1996 order, issued by the Mental Health Review Officer (MHRO), that denied appellant's petition to extend the commitment of the appellee, T.J., and, instead, discharged T.J. from involuntary treatment.

T.J. has filed this motion to quash based upon two grounds. First, T.J. argues that the issue on appeal is moot. *fn1 Second, she contends that section 7109 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. § 7109, "creates no right of review by the government from a decision of a MHRO discharging a petition for involuntary treatment." We disagree with T.J. on the issue of mootness. We find, however, that appellant lacks standing to petition for review. We, therefore, grant the motion to quash.

On October 18, 1996, T.J. was involuntarily committed to Misercordia Hospital for a period not to exceed 120 hours, pursuant to section 7302 of the MHPA. See 50 P.S. § 7302. On October 22, 1996, Misercordia Hospital, with the support of T.J.'s husband and sister, filed a 303 petition *fn2 requesting that the MHRO extend T.J.'s involuntary commitment for a period not to exceed 20 days. *fn3 T.J. moved to have the petition discharged, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to prove she should be involuntarily committed according to a clear and present danger standard. *fn4

At the hearing, counsel for Petitioner requested an opportunity to offer into evidence additional facts of T.J.'s conduct. These facts were not set forth in the original 303 petition, but would allegedly establish that T.J. was a clear and present danger to herself and/or others. The MHRO denied the request and rendered a decision to discharge T.J. based exclusively on the information presented in the 303 petition.

Appellant filed a petition for review in the court of common pleas alleging that the MHRO erred in excluding evidence and further erred in granting the motion for discharge. T.J. then filed a motion to quash the appeal in the court of common pleas and asserted that the issue was moot and that MH/MR Office did not have the right to petition for review of the decision. The common pleas court denied both appellee's motion to quash and appellant's petition for review. Appellant subsequently filed an appeal in the Superior Court. It is from this appeal that T.J. has filed a motion to quash, again asserting that the MH/MR Office's appeal is a moot issue and unauthorized by law.

Initially, we find that the appeal before this court is not moot. A case is "moot" when a determination is sought on a matter which, when rendered, cannot have any practical effect on the existing controversy. Sonder v. Sonder, 378 Pa. Super. 474, 521, 549 A.2d 155, 179 (1988) (citing Leonhart v. McCormick, 395 F. Supp. 1073, 1077 (W.D.Pa. 1975)). Appeals presenting questions capable of repetition, however, are apt to elude appellate review and will be decided even if they are technically moot. Jersey Shore Area Sch. Dist. v. Jersey Shore Educ. Ass'n, 519 Pa. 398, 400, 548 A.2d 1202, 1204 (1988).

The doctrine of mootness is implicated in this case because T.J. has already been discharged from Misercordia Hospital. Nevertheless, this case is properly subject to appellate review because the procedure at issue, which is of great public concern due to implications of liberty interests, is likely to recur and equally likely to continually evade appellate review. See In re Chiumento, 455 Pa. Super. 376, 688 A.2d 217 (1997) (noting that although the commitment period authorized by a section 7303 hearing in question had expired, a live controversy still existed); In Re J.S., 387 Pa. Super. 432, 564 A.2d 468 (1989) (explaining that courts normally review MHPA commitment procedures even if the patient is discharged because the procedures, which are of great public concern, are capable of repetition and may otherwise evade appellate review); In Re Condry, 304 Pa. Super. 131, 450 A.2d 136 (1982) (appeals from involuntary commitment orders which have expired are not moot because involuntary commitment affects an important liberty interest, and because by their nature most involuntary commitment orders expire before appellate review is possible). See also Western Pa. Socialist Workers 1982 Campaign v. Connecticut General Life Ins. Co., 335 Pa. Super. 493, 485 A.2d 1 (1984) (a case that is technically moot may be decided on its merits if it involves a question that is capable of repetition but likely to evade review if normal rules on mootness were applied).

In the alternative, T.J. asserts that the MH/MR Office lacks standing to bring this appeal. In essence, the question of standing concerns whether a litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of a particular issue. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343, 95 S. Ct. 2197 (1975). A litigant may obtain standing based upon explicit statutory language or by demonstrating a close relationship or personal stake in the claim made. See J. Barron, C. Dienes, W. McCormack & M. Redish, Constitutional Law, 1287 (3rd ed. 1987).

T.J. contends that the MH/MR Office lacks standing because the MHPA is devoid of any language which would permit a government or agency a right to appeal a discharge petition. We find the legislature's omission of such a right significant and determinative of our decision to grant this motion to quash. We further justify our decision on the fact that the MH/MR Office has no close or personal relationship with the outcome of the litigation.

The MHPA establishes the rights of parties in mental health proceedings and sets forth the procedures employed therein. The legislature's purpose in enacting the MHPA was "to assure the availability of adequate treatment to persons who are mentally ill" and "to make voluntary and involuntary treatment available where the need is great and its absence could result in serious harm to the mentally ill person or to others." 50 P.S. ยง 7102; In Re McMullins, 315 Pa. Super. 531, 538, 462 A.2d 718, 722 (1983). The purpose behind the language of the statute is to "provide treatment with the least restriction on liberty and freedom consistent with protection of patient and society." In Re S.O., 342 Pa. Super. 215, 229, 492 A.2d 727, 735 (1985)(emphasis added). The MPHA, therefore, must be strictly construed in favor of the patient's liberty interest since ...

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