In re MH 2008-000097 – 3/31/2009

April 8, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Psychiatrists Conducting Court-Ordered Mental Health Evaluations Pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-501(12)(a) May Jointly Interview a Patient if They Act Independently in Their Overall Evaluation of the Patient.

In January 2008, the superior court held a hearing on a petition for court-ordered mental health treatment for Appellant A.M.  The petition was supported by psychiatric evaluations from two physicians – Dr. Cyriac and Dr. Sadr.  Dr. Cyriac encountered A.M. three times before preparing his affidavit concluding that A.M. was mentally ill.  Dr. Sadr – a resident under the direction of another physician, Dr. Torio – also encountered A.M. several times before preparing his affidavit concluding that she was mentally ill.  Dr. Sadr was present during Dr. Cyriac’s third visit with A.M., and both doctors jointly interviewed A.M. at that time.  In addition to visiting A.M., both doctors reviewed other information about A.M. to complete their evaluations, which slightly differed with respect to the specific mental illness suffered by A.M.  A.M. objected to the evaluations, arguing that they were not completed independently because Dr. Sadr and Dr. Cyriac jointly interviewed her, and because Dr. Sadr was a resident under Dr. Cyriac.  The superior court rejected A.M.’s arguments and ordered treatment.  A.M. timely appealed.     

The ArizonaAppeals Court affirmed.  The Court began its analysis by reviewing the language of A.R.S. § 36-501(12)(a), which requires two psychiatrists to complete their evaluations after analyzing the patient’s “identity, biography, and medical, psychological and social conditions” and also requires them to “examine and report their findings independently.”  The Court explained that the requirement of independence does not require physical separation; it only requires that the physicians act impartially and be free from each other’s influence.  Thus, joint interviews are permissible if the physicians evaluate the patient using their individual observations, diagnoses, and examinations and do not consult with or influence each other. 

The Court then examined the record and determined that Dr. Cyriac and Dr. Sadr acted independently, noting that the joint interview was only one part of each doctor’s evaluation and that they reached different conclusions.  The Court rejected A.M.’s argument that Dr. Sadr was not independent because he was a resident under Dr. Cyriac, explaining that for purposes of A.M.’s evaluation, Dr. Sadr was supervised by and consulted with Dr. Torio, not Dr. Cyriac.

Judge Gemmill authored the opinion; Presiding Judges Weisberg and Judge Barker concurred