IN RE: PETITION OF J.M.Y. APPEAL OF: PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE
ARGUED: April 9, 2019
from the Order of the Superior Court entered February 14,
2018 at No. 1323 WDA 2015, vacating the Order of the Court of
Common Pleas of Allegheny County entered March 10, 2015 at
No. CC 1419 of 2014 and remanding.
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
appeal brought by the Pennsylvania State Police
("PSP"), we address whether the lower courts had
jurisdiction to consider the challenge by Appellee J.M.Y. to
his certification for involuntary mental health treatment
pursuant to Section 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act
("MHPA"), where his challenge was brought two years
later under the Uniform Firearms Act. Concluding that the lower
courts lacked jurisdiction, we reverse the order of the
Facts and Procedural History
following salient facts were established at the trial court
hearing on Appellee's 2014 petition to vacate and expunge
his mental health treatment records, which was held on
January 8, 2015 ("Expungement Hearing"). In the
autumn of 2012, Appellee, a resident of Blair County,
Pennsylvania, was enrolled as a freshman at the University of
Pittsburgh. N.T. Expungement Hearing, 1/8/15, at 27. On
September 22, 2012, Appellee attended a fraternity party at
which he consumed alcoholic beverages. Appellee recalled that
he subsequently left the party after being informed by some
of the fraternity members that the allegedly dour countenance
he exhibited while walking about campus made them reluctant
to accept him as a member of their fraternity. Id.
at 29. Sometime thereafter, he encountered University of
Pittsburgh police officers who were answering a call from
their emergency dispatch center that there was an intoxicated
individual attempting to harm himself outside of one of the
residence halls of the university.
police officers responded to the call, and, on arriving at
the location mentioned in the dispatch, noticed Appellee, who
began to walk away from them despite their request that he
stop. Id. at 49. The officers pursued, and one of
the responding officers, Sergeant Andrew Redman, testified
that he tackled Appellee from behind due to his concern that
Appellee might still be in possession of an instrumentality
which he may have used to harm himself. Sergeant Redman also
related that, once Appellee was on the ground, he spat at the
officers, and that he became angry and uncooperative after
being handcuffed. Id. at 52. Sergeant Redman
additionally recounted that Appellee appeared to be
intoxicated, had sustained superficial cuts to his arm and
wrist area, and that other officers found a small knife
attached to a money clip on the ground near Appellee.
Id. at 51, 53.
Redman transported Appellee to Presbyterian Hospital in
Pittsburgh, from which Appellee was transferred to a nearby
psychiatric treatment facility, Western Psychiatric Institute
and Clinic ("WPIC"). Id. at 50. Sergeant
Redman filled out a petition requesting an involuntary
emergency examination pursuant to Section 302 of the
to determine if Appellee was severely mentally disabled and
in need of emergency treatment. Id. at 6, 54-55. After
examination, the treating physician opined that Appellee was
severely mentally disabled and in need of emergency
treatment; thus, in accordance with Section 302, Appellee was
involuntarily committed for treatment at WPIC.
days later, on September 24, 2012, pursuant to Section 303(a)
of the MHPA, Appellee's attending psychiatrist at
WPIC applied for certification of an extended 20-day period
of involuntary commitment and treatment for Appellee.
Although Section 303(b) requires the holding of a hearing on
the application before a mental health review officer or a
judge at the facility in which the involuntarily committed
person is being housed within 24 hours of the application
having been filed, and also directs that counsel be appointed
to represent the person at that hearing, see 50 P.S.
§ 7303(b), the evidence adduced from the certified
record in this matter is equivocal as to whether these
mandatory requirements were met.
regard, at the Expungement Hearing, a
"Certification" dated September 25, 2012, and
executed by Mental Health Review Officer Robert Zunich, was
entered as an exhibit and described. The first portion of
this Certification stated that a hearing was held on the
Section 303 petition, at which Appellee was present and
represented by the Office of Public Defender. Incongruously,
however, the form also contained a notation that the patient
did not attend the hearing. N.T. Expungement Hearing, 1/8/15,
at 20. The Certification directed that Appellee receive
outpatient treatment for 20 days. Id. at 11.
part, Appellee testified at the Expungement Hearing that he
never attended any hearing or conference before the hearing
officer who was considering the Section 303 certification
application, nor was he ever advised by anyone that such a
hearing was to be held on September 25, 2012. Id. at
33-35. Appellee did recall that he was told by the head nurse
on his floor that "they were going to try to make me
stay for another 20 days," and that the nurse allegedly
cautioned him "not to comply with the doctor or the
public defender or anybody else who tried to get [him] to
sign any documents." Id. at 32-33. Appellee
recounted that he followed that admonition and refused to
sign forms presented to him by the doctor and the public
defender on the morning of September 25, 2012. Id.
additionally denied ever having been furnished a copy of the
Certification, stipulating to any facts contained therein, or
agreeing to any plan of mental health treatment. Id.
at 35-36. All that Appellee could recall was that he was told
on the morning of September 25, 2012 that he could collect
his things and go home. Id. at 36. Appellee claims
to have never received any discharge summary or treatment
instructions from WPIC. Id.
public defender whose initials appeared on the Certification,
Ernest Simon, Esq., also appeared at the Expungement Hearing.
Id. at 16. Simon related that he did not
specifically recall Appellee, but he attributed that to the
sheer volume of clients - 50, 000 - he has handled over the
span of his career. Id. After reviewing the
Certification and other items of record, Simon concluded that
Appellee did not attend the hearing, but Simon stated that
he, nevertheless, would have spoken with Appellee.
Id. at 17. Simon noted that, as a general practice,
WPIC and its parent entity UPMC preferred not to discharge
patients who had been involuntarily committed for liability
purposes, so they would rather have a hearing officer make
the final decision regarding release. Id. Further,
if a witness was unavailable, WPIC's custom was to refile
the petition, resulting in the patient remaining confined
until the next hearing date; thus, if the treating physician
and the hearing officer thought the patient would not be a
danger to himself or others, reaching a stipulation allowed
the patient to go home without having to wait in the hospital
until the next hearing. Id. at 17-19. Simon also
explained that, whenever a stipulated plan of outpatient
treatment was agreed to by all parties as a condition for a
patient's immediate release, it was the practice of the
hearing officer to require that the patient enter into an
agreement to continue outpatient care under a Section 303
involuntary commitment order. Id.
was, in fact, discharged from WPIC on September 25, 2012.
Curiously, as recounted at the Expungement Hearing, his
discharge papers noted that he was "discharged to home
with his parents after winning his 303 hearing on 9/25/12
after police did not show up." Id. at 36. In
this regard, Sergeant Redman testified at the Expungement
Hearing that he had no recollection of being informed of any
Section 303 hearing requiring his attendance. Id. at
54-55. Thereafter, and as we will discuss further below,
Appellee did not petition the court of common pleas for
review of the Certification, as permitted by Section 303(g)
of the MHPA.
two years later, on November 24, 2014, Appellee filed a
"Petition to Vacate and Expunge Involuntary Civil
Commitment," alleging, broadly, "that there was no
lawful basis for his commitment, which was effectuated
through flawed procedures pursuant to Section 302 and 303 of
the [MHPA]." Petition to Vacate, 11/24/14, at ¶ 12.
More specifically, he claimed that his involuntary commitment
under Section 302 of the MHPA was unlawful because it was not
supported by adequate medical findings, and that he was
denied his procedural due process rights because he was not
afforded a hearing before being involuntarily committed.
Id. at ¶¶ 24, 29. Appellee asserted that
the maintenance of his commitment records served as bar to
his lawful ownership and possession of a firearm under
Pennsylvania and federal law. Id. at ¶¶ 23,
28. He contended that these prohibitions, in turn, prevented
him from realizing his career objective of becoming a law
enforcement officer. Id. at ¶ 37. Appellee
averred that these claims for relief "are based on the
Court's inherent authority to remedy the affects [sic] of
¶awed commitment procedures, the statutory authority
given Court's [sic] to craft appropriate relief pursuant
to [Section] 6105(f)(1) and 6111.1(g)(2) [of the Uniform
Firearms Act] and the available remedies for the violations
of [his] constitutional and civil rights." Id.
at ¶ 16. Appellee requested that the trial court vacate
his initial commitment of September 21, 2012, as well as
order the expungement of all of his commitment records in the
possession of treatment facilities and public agencies.
indicated above, the trial court, by the Honorable John A.
Zottola, conducted the Expungement Hearing on this petition
on January 8, 2015, and, on March 10, 2015, he entered an
order denying Appellee's expungement
petition. In his opinion prepared pursuant to
Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), Judge Zottola noted that Appellee's
reliance on 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g)(2) was misplaced
because that section did not allow a petitioner to obtain
expungement of mental health records where the commitment was
pursuant to Section 303 of the MHPA. Trial Court Opinion,
10/17/15, at 2 (citing In re Jacobs, 15 A.3d 509
(Pa. Super. 2011) (holding that trial court had no
jurisdiction under 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g) to consider a
petition to expunge records of an individual's
involuntary commitment under Section 303 filed five years
after commitment order was entered)). Judge Zottola observed
that the Superior Court in In re Jacobs had also
determined that the "heightened due process
requirements" afforded by Section 303 insured that the
earlier commitment under Section 302 was valid; thus, he
proceeded to examine whether the evidence was sufficient to
establish that "the due process requirements of a
Section 303 commitment were sufficiently met with regard to
[Appellee]." Id. at 2-3.
Zottola determined that the application for Appellee's
involuntary commitment under Section 303 was timely and
properly filed, and that the application contained an
attestation by the attending psychiatrist that Appellee was
informed that this commitment action was being taken. Judge
Zottola also found that the Certification established that a
hearing was held on September 25, 2012, which comported with
the requirements of Section 303(b) of the MHPA that a hearing
be held within 24 hours of the filing of an involuntary
commitment petition. Judge Zottola observed that
Appellee's absence from the hearing was noted in the
Certification, which he viewed as demonstrating "that
the matter was uncontested and resolved by stipulation,"
id. at 3, and further noted that Section 303 did not
require that Appellee be actually present at the hearing.
Judge Zottola ultimately concluded that, because the
procedural requirements of Section 303 were met,
Appellee's involuntary commitment under this section was
valid, and Appellee was not entitled to expungement of his
Appellee appealed to the Superior Court. A panel of that
court initially affirmed the trial court's order in a
divided unpublished memorandum opinion. See In re
J.M.Y., 1323 WDA 2015 (Pa. Super. filed Nov. 16, 2016).
Subsequently, however, the full court granted reargument of
that decision before an en banc panel, which issued
a divided published opinion reversing the order of the trial
court. See In re J.M.Y., 179 A.3d 1139 (Pa. Super.
2018) (en banc).
court began its analysis with a discussion of In re
Ryan, 784 A.2d 803 (Pa. Super. 2001) (concluding that,
because an individual who was involuntarily committed under
Section 303 did not receive his informal hearing on the
commitment petition within 24 hours as required by Section
303(b), nor, after he petitioned the court of common pleas
for review of his certification by the mental health review
officer under Section 303(g), did he receive a hearing in
that court within 72 hours as that provision required, his
due process rights were violated, which necessitated vacating
the Section 303 commitment order and expunging his treatment
records). The majority viewed In re Ryan as
establishing the proposition that, whenever the procedures
set forth in the MHPA are not followed in a Section 303
commitment proceeding, the involuntarily committed person has
been denied due process, and the commitment must be vacated
as well as the records thereof destroyed.
majority acknowledged the holding of In re Jacobs,
cited by the trial court, that, once a person has been
committed under Section 303, this forecloses judicial review
of the Section 302 commitment; however, it interpreted In
re Ryan as establishing an exception to this general
principle for situations where the due process rights of the
involuntarily committed individual were violated. Thus, the
majority reasoned that, whenever a Section 303 commitment
does not furnish adequate due process to the involuntarily
committed person, In re Jacobs does not preclude the
vacation of that individual's Section 302 commitment and
expungement of his or her treatment records.
court then recited the language of Sections 303(c)-(g) of the
MHPA, and concluded that, based on its review of the
certified record in this matter, "the certification was
not proper and, therefore, the Section 303 commitment was not
valid." In re J.M.Y., 179 A.3d at 1145. The
court highlighted the fact that Appellee testified that he
was unaware that the Section 303 commitment hearing would be
held on September 23, 2012, the testimony of his public
defender that Appellee did not attend the hearing, the
testimony of Sergeant Redman that he did not appear at such a
hearing, and the notation in the Certification that Appellee
did not appear at the hearing.
court also noted how, in its view, the Certification did not
meet the requirements of Section 303(d) because it did not
contain any explanation of Appellee's right to appeal to
the court of common pleas under Section 303(g), nor an
explanation of his right to continuing representation by
counsel in pursuing such an appeal. Also, the majority
pointed out that there was no evidence Appellee was ever
served with the Certification as required by Section 303(e),
and it called attention to the statement in the discharge
summary that Appellee "won" his Section 303 hearing
as further evidence the Certification was not valid.
Accordingly, because it concluded Appellee's due process
rights were violated, "fundamental fairness"
required his Section 303 commitment be expunged. Id.
court further concluded that, because Appellee had also
challenged the validity of his Section 302 petition, and the
trial court never ruled on that question, given its
conclusion that the Section 303 Certification was not valid,
it was necessary to remand the matter to the trial court so
that, in addition to expunging the records of Appellee's
Section 303 commitment, it could hold a hearing to determine
whether there was sufficient evidence to support
Appellee's Section 302 commitment.
Olson dissented. She began by observing that caselaw from the
Superior Court, such as In re Jacobs,
supra, held that 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g), which
Appellee relied upon in his petition, did not allow an
individual to seek expungement of a commitment and
accompanying mental health records obtained under Section
303. Judge Olson noted that Section 6111.1(g)(2) allows a
trial court to review the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting a Section 302 commitment and to expunge those
records, but it does not confer on a trial court that same
power with respect to a commitment under Section 303.
Olson criticized the majority for failing to explain what
other statutory authority gave any court, including the
Superior Court, the jurisdiction to review the sufficiency of
a Section 303 commitment which had become final over two
years prior, as, from her perspective, no such statutory
source existed. Judge Olson observed that Section 303(g) did
give Appellee the right to appeal his Certification to the
court of common pleas; however, because our Court has ruled
that such a certification constitutes a final adjudication
from which an appeal must be taken within 30 days, see In
re K.L.S., 934 A.2d 1244 (Pa. 2007), and 42 Pa.C.S.
§ 5571, Appellee had until October 25, 2012 to appeal
his Certification to the court of common pleas, which he did
not. Thus, in Judge Olson's view, the trial court had no
jurisdiction to entertain Appellee's instant petition for
relief, as it was filed well beyond that date.
Correspondingly, Judge Olson concluded that the trial
court's lack of jurisdiction to review the Section 303
certification, which was, thus, still extant, also precluded
the trial court from reviewing the Section 302 certification.
Hence, she would have affirmed the trial court's order
dismissing Appellee's petition.
PSP filed a petition for
allowance of appeal of the en banc Superior
Court's decision and order, which we granted with respect
to the following issue:
Did the Pennsylvania Superior Court err when it exercised
jurisdiction to review a commitment under 50 P.S. §
7303, when no timely appeal was filed, and the challenge was
brought years later under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms