In Re MH 2008-000438 (2/10/2009)

March 3, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds that Court-Ordered Examinations Pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-533 Must Be In-Person Physical Examinations.

John Doe failed to take medication for bipolar disorder and exhibited signs of mania.  A state health agency therefore petitioned for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Doe, which was granted.  After Mr. Doe was evaluated by two doctors, and both concluded that Mr. Doe was persistently or acutely disabled, the state filed a petition for involuntary treatment.  At the hearing on the petition, one of the doctors admitted that she did not personally examine Mr. Doe; rather, she had based her conclusions solely on pleadings and the evaluation of another doctor.  The court nevertheless granted the petition and ordered both inpatient and outpatient treatment for a period not to exceed one year.  Mr. Doe appealed.        

The Arizona Appeals Court vacated the order.  The Court concluded that the statutes governing involuntary treatment proceedings require that at least two physicians personally examine a patient and conclude that he or she is disabled.  See A.R.S. §§ 36-533(B), 36-501(14).  The Court noted that this construction furthered the statutory purpose “‘to prevent professional mental health evaluators, whether consciously or otherwise, from simply ratifying or ‘rubber-stamping’ one another’s findings.’”  Because the second doctor failed to examine Mr. Doe personally, the Court vacated the involuntary treatment order.              

Judge Portley authored the opinion; Judges Thompson and Swann concurred.