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Smith v. State

Superior Court of Delaware

March 28, 2018

JOHN SMITH, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Appellee.

          Date Submitted: February 12, 2018

          ORDER

          Calvin L. Scott, Jr. Judge

         Appellant, John Smith ("Mr. Smith")[1] filed an Appeal of Commissioners' Findings of Fact and Recommendations based on an October 11, 2017 and October 18, 2017 Orders. The Commissioner found probable cause to involuntarily commit Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith appealed the Commissioners' Orders, and for the foregoing reasons this Court AFFIRMS.

         Finding of Fact

         Mr. Smith is a client with Connections Community Re-Integration Support Program ("CRISP"), and he resides at an apartment in New Castle, Delaware ("the apartment"). On September 26, 2017, Mr. Smith was at the apartment with his roommates: Roommate 1 and Roommate 2. Roommate 2 is employed by Connections as a Residential Aide, and he was working his 12:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. shift. Roommate 2 alleged that between 5:00 A.M. and 8:00 A.M. Roommate 2 believed that Mr. Smith was working out in his bedroom because he heard loud noises coming from Mr. Smith's bedroom. Roommate 2 saw Mr. Smith exit his bedroom and he began punching the wall, getting angry and agitated. Mr. Smith then went back into his room and Roommate 2 stated that the noises got louder. Mr. Smith re-emerged from his bedroom carrying a weight. Roommate 2 testified that Mr. Smith was "not trying to harm himself, " but he was "amping himself up." At this time Roommate 2 began looking for Mr. Smith's case manager's number. Roommate 2 then heard sounds of a lighter striking and saw Mr. Smith's arm reach out his bedroom door and drop burning paper towels onto the floor. Roommate 2 extinguished the burning paper towels and Mr. Smith shut his bedroom door. Mr. Smith began yelling about his family and that he did not want to live anymore. Roommate 1 heard the noise and came out of his room and asked what was going on. Roommate 2 also stated that the next-door neighbor knocked on the door due to the noise and spoke with Roommate 1. New Castle County Police arrived at the apartment around 7:00 A.M. in response to a phone call made by the neighbor. Roommate 2 was on the phone with Mr. Smith's case manager, and Roommate 2 showed the officer the burnt paper towels. The case manager told Roommate 2 to give the phone to the police officer. At the request of Mr. Smith's case manager, the officer completed section one of the 24-hour Detention Form. Mr. Smith was taken to the Christiana Hospital Emergency Room and was seen by Gregory Wanner, D.O. Dr. Wanner assessed Mr. Smith and determined that he met the standard for the 24-hour emergency detention because he experienced symptoms of mental illness and was a danger to himself and others. Dr. Wanner completed sections two through four of the 24-hour emergency detention form.

         On September 27, 2017 Mr. Smith was admitted to Delaware psychiatric Center ("DPC"). On the Psychiatrist's Certificate Daniel Grimes, M.D. listed aggression, yelling, pressured speech, severely psychotic, tangential, delusional, poor insight and judgment, and racing thoughts, as his behavioral observations. On September 29, 2017, when the 48-hour provisional period expired, Dr. Grimes submitted an Affidavit of Treatment Provider in Support of Involuntary Inpatient Commitment. Dr. Grimes observed that Mr. Smith was a danger to himself and others. Dr. Grimes also submitted an Affidavit of Treatment Provider in Support of Outpatient Treatment Over Objection. In this affidavit Dr. Grimes wrote that Mr. Smith had an extensive history of multiple psychiatric hospitalizations for psychosis, mania, depression, violent/assaultive behavior, and Mr. Smith had a history of non-compliance with medication.

         The State filed a Complaint on October 3, 2017 in which it sought involuntary inpatient commitment of Mr. Smith and involuntary outpatient treatment over objection on behalf of DPC. On October 4, 2017 a probable cause hearing was held before a Commissioner. The hearing was continued in order for additional witnesses to be present. On October 11, 2017 the probable cause hearing was held, and the court found that there was probable cause to involuntarily commit Mr. Smith for inpatient treatment. Additionally, an 8-day hearing, intended as a continuation of the initial hearing, was scheduled for October 18. 2017. Subsequently, on October 19, 2017, Mr. Smith appealed the October 11 and October 18 Orders. Mr. Smith was appointed counsel, and the parties were given time to receive and review copies of the hearing transcripts. Mr. Smith's brief was filed on January 26, 2018 and the State's Response was filed on February 12, 2018. In the time between Mr. Smith's initial commitment and the briefing deadlines, Mr. Smith was determined to be psychiatrically stable and is no longer an involuntary inpatient. Mr. Smith is currently in involuntary outpatient treatment.

         Parties Contentions

         Mr. Smith argues that the 24-Hour Emergency Detention did not meet the requirements of 16 Del C. § 5004(a). Mr. Smith argues that § 5004(a) requires that an officer must provide "in writing ... a description of the behavior and symptoms observed by the peace officer which led him or her to conclude that another person's behavior is both the product of a mental condition and is dangerous to self or dangerous to others." Mr. Smith contends that the officer who arrived at the apartment did not describe personal observations on section one of the emergency detention form. Mr. Smith also contends that he was not present at the apartment during the alleged incident with the burnt paper towels, and the officer did not have any personal observations or record of Mr. Smith's behavior to suggest that Mr. Smith was a danger to himself or others. Additionally, Mr. Smith contends that the 24-Hour Emergency Detention form fails pursuant to 16 Del C. § 5004(b) because Dr. Gregory Wanner did not provide a rationale for detention, including specific information about Mr. Smith's alleged mental condition and alleged dangerous behaviors. Mr. Smith argues that Dr. Wanner's portion of the 24-Hour Emergency Detention form states "Please see attached comprehensive assessment, " and it was not included in the October 2, 2017 complaint. Mr. Smith also contends that he was denied his right to summon and cross examine witnesses, the Commissioner abused his discretion in not granting a continuance at the October 11 hearing, and there were pleading defects in the initial involuntary commitment pleadings which require this Court to vacate the Commissioners' Orders. Finally, Mr. Smith argues in the alternative that the Commissioner erred in finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Smith was a danger to himself or others.

         The State contends that the 24-Hour Emergency Detention form is compliant with the applicable Delaware statutes. Additionally, the State contends that Mr. Smith was not denied his right to summon and cross examine witnesses because there were witnesses present at the October 11 hearing, and the October 4 hearing was continued at his request. Similarly, the State argues that the Commissioner did not abuse his discretion when he denied Mr. Smith a continuance at the October 11 hearing. Finally, the State avers that there are no defects in the initial pleadings which would allow this Court to vacate the Commissioners' Orders, nor did the Commissioner err in finding probable cause and clear and convincing evidence to involuntarily commit Mr. Smith to involuntary inpatient and outpatient care. The State also argues as a procedural aspect, because Mr. Smith is no longer in involuntary inpatient due to his discharge, his appeal of the involuntary inpatient commitment is now moot. The State contends that the only issue for the Court to determine with whether the Commissioner erred in finding that the State met its burden by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Smith required involuntary outpatient treatment over objection.

         Standard of Review

         Superior Court Civil Rule 132 provides the powers and duties imposed upon Commissioners in this State. Specifically, Rule 132 (a)(4) provides that Commissioners have the power to conduct case-dispositive hearings, which includes mental hearings pursuant to Title 16 Del. C, ch. 50.[2] This Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings of fact or recommendations made by the Commissioner."[3]

         Discussion

         At the onset, the Court finds that the Commissioners'[4] October 11 and October 18 Orders are AFFIRMED. The Court addresses each of Mr. ...


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