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Sephakis v. Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 10, 2019

THOMAS J. SEPHAKIS Appellant
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE BUREAU OF RECORDS AND IDENTIFICATION, MONTGOMERY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF BEHAVIORAL HEALTH/DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, MCES, INC.

          Appeal from the Order Entered May 25, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Civil Division at No(s): 2017-00794-59

          BEFORE: OLSON, J., DUBOW, J., and STEVENS [*] , P.J.E.

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         Thomas J. Sephakis ("Appellant") seeks review of the Order denying his Petition to expunge his mental health commitment records and restore his right to possess firearms pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 6111.1 and 6105(f)(1) and (j). After careful review, we affirm.

         The trial court has provided a thorough recitation of the facts underlying this case, which we need not repeat in detail. See Trial Ct Op., dated Aug. 17, 2018. In sum, on October 15, 2015, Appellant's business partner reported to the Pottsgrove Township Police Department that Appellant was suicidal. Officer Robert Greenwood transported Appellant to a Montgomery County Mental Health Facility, and Appellant's parents confirmed that Appellant had been talking about killing himself for the past few days. Appellant was involuntarily committed to the hospital pursuant to Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act ("MHPA"), 50 P.S. § 7302.[1] On October 19, 2015, four days after the involuntary commitment, Appellant received notice and an application submitted by the Montgomery County Emergency Services, Inc., ("County") seeking to extend Appellant's involuntary commitment pursuant to Section 303[2] for an additional 20 days' inpatient treatment. A hearing was scheduled for October 20, 2015.

         At the scheduled hearing, Appellant, his privately-retained counsel, and the solicitor for the county facility appeared before the Mental Health Review Officer ("MHRO"). However, the solicitor informed the MHRO that Officer Greenwood was unable to appear that day and requested a continuance of two days. Rather than continue the hearing for two days, Appellant and his counsel negotiated a Stipulation whereby Appellant agreed that he was in need of further treatment as alleged in the Section 303 application and to an additional 20 days' outpatient treatment in exchange for his immediate release from the hospital.

         The MHRO set forth the Stipulation in a "Certification by the Court for Extended Involuntary Emergency Treatment-Section 303." The Certification indicated that failure to comply with the Order would result in Appellant's return to inpatient status. Appellant did not seek review of the Section 303 Certification. He complied with the Order and completed his outpatient treatment.

         Over one year later, on January 12, 2017, Appellant filed a Petition seeking the expungement of his Sections 302 and 303 mental health commitment records and the restoration of his right to possess firearms pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 6105(f)(1), (j), and 6111.1(g)(2), [3] or permission to appeal nunc pro tunc from his 302 and 303 commitments. Appellant asserted that insufficient evidence supported the Section 302 and 303 commitments and the commitments resulted from a violation of his due process rights. On February 20, 2018, Appellant filed, with permission from the court, an amended Petition asserting that he was proceeding pursuant to the Mental Health Procedures Act generally and 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1. See N.T., 2/20/18, at 104.

         The court held a hearing on February 20, 2018, at which Appellant testified, inter alia, that he and his attorney negotiated the agreement at the scheduled Section 303 conference after Appellant agreed that he needed continuing treatment, but did not want to stay in the hospital for even two more days. He stated that he agreed to attend outpatient therapy for 20 days so that he could be immediately discharged from the hospital. See N.T., 2/20/18, at 121, 125-27. In response to extensive questioning by the court, Appellant testified that he was aware of his rights, including his right to appeal the Section 303 certification, as well as the loss of his right to possess firearms. Id. at 134-38. The court ordered the parties to submit briefs.

         After consideration of the parties' briefs, the court denied the Petition on May 25, 2018.

         Appellant appealed. Both he and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925. Appellant presents the following Statement of Questions Involved in his brief:

1. Did the trial court commit an error of law by failing to apply the holding in In re JMY, 179 A.3d 1140 ([Pa. Super.] 2018)[(en banc)] (hereinafter JMY), to this case?
2. Did the trial court commit an error of law when it found that the Section 303 Hearing Stipulation was an "Agreed Order" and therefore [Appellant] was precluded altogether from appealing it even if timeliness was not an issue?
3. Did the trial court commit an error of law when it ruled that much of the evidence that was going to be presented was irrelevant because the court had no intention of considering [Appellant's] argument that JMY controls the outcome of this case, or in allowing [Appellant] to develop the case in his own manner?[4] Appellant's Brief at 2-3.

         Our standard of review is well-settled. We review the trial court's denial of a motion for expunction for an abuse of its discretion Commonwealth v. Smerconish, 112 ...


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