In re MH 2007-001264 – 6/26/2008

July 2, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That a Court May Not Continue the Hearing on a Petition for Involuntary Treatment Absent a Request by the Patient and, When a Patient Has Been Detained But Cannot Attend the Hearing for Medical Reasons, the Court Must Conduct the Hearing in the Patient’s Absence or Order the Patient’s Release.

A doctor filed a petition for involuntary treatment of Patient pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-533.  The State detained Patient atDesertVistaHospital and set a hearing.  Patient was unable to attend the hearing, however, because she had been transferred to another hospital for surgery.  Counsel forDesertVistaHospital requested a continuance of the hearing.  Patient’s counsel argued that the continuance should be denied and asked the court to either dismiss the petition or allow Patient to be treated as an outpatient.  The court determined that Patient could not participate in the hearing and ordered the hearing continued for seven days.

Patient’s counsel then filed a motion to dismiss the petition because Patient had been in detention in excess of the six-day statutory maximum under A.R.S. § 36-535(B).  The court denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that A.R.S.  § 36-539(C) gave the court discretion to continue the hearing.  After the hearing, the court found Patient to be persistently or acutely disabled and ordered a combined inpatient and outpatient treatment program.  Patient appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion by continuing the hearing and that the motion to dismiss should have been granted.  Once an individual is detained and a petition for court-ordered treatment is filed, the court must either release the patient or order a hearing to be held within six days after the petition is filed.  A.R.S. § 36-535(B).  Although A.R.S. § 36-539(C) allows the court to conduct the hearing in the patient’s absence if the patient is unable to attend for medical reasons, the statute does not grant the court discretion to continue the hearing.  Instead, the court may continue the hearing only at the patient’s request.  In re MH 2003-000240, 206Ariz. 367, 369, 78 P.3d 1088, 1090 (App. 2003).  Because Patient did not request a continuance, the trial court had only two options: conduct the hearing in Patient’s absence or order Patient’s release.  The Court of Appeals, therefore, reversed the order for involuntary treatment.

Judge Orozco wrote the opinion; Judges Winthrop and Snow concurred.