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In re Portus

Court of Appeals of Michigan

July 24, 2018

In re CHARLES FREDERICK PORTUS.
v.
CHARLES FREDERICK PORTUS, Respondent-Appellant. PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Oakland Probate Court LC No. 1976-017337-MI

          Before: Borrello, P.J., and M. J. Kelly and Boonstra, JJ.

          Borrello, P.J.

         Respondent, Charles Frederick Portus, appeals as of right a probate court order requiring him to remain hospitalized at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry (CFP) and denying his request to be transferred to Harbor Point Center for treatment. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse the probate court's order and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This appeal arises out of the annual petition for a continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment that was filed by the CFP on October 19, 2016. In this petition, it was alleged that respondent continued to be a "person requiring treatment"[1] and that respondent was in need of continuing hospitalization for a period of one year. The probate court noted that in 1974, respondent was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of a seven-year-old boy. As a result, respondent was committed to the CFP.

         The probate court held a hearing regarding the CFP petition on December 9, 2016. At the hearing, respondent's attorney stipulated that respondent was a person requiring treatment but challenged "the type of hospitalization" required, arguing that respondent should be transferred from the CFP to Harbor Point Center. Consistent with the parties' stipulation, the probate court entered an order requiring respondent to undergo continuing treatment and hospitalization at the CFP for a period not to exceed one year, subject to the court's later determination regarding the proper placement for respondent's treatment. The probate court scheduled an evidentiary hearing and directed the parties to submit briefs stating, among other things, their respective positions concerning "the burden of proof for placement of a person found to be in need of treatment."

         Responding to this directive, petitioner argued that under the Mental Health Code, MCL 330.1001 et seq., "there is no burden of proof on the petitioner to show clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of the evidence that [respondent] should continue to be placed at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry." Petitioner further argued that the probate court should exercise its discretion in weighing respondent's "need for treatment, the safety of the public, and what is the less [sic] restrictive setting to accomplish those goals." According to petitioner, the evidentiary standard contained in MCL 330.1465, which provides that "[a] judge or jury shall not find that an individual is a person requiring treatment unless that fact has been established by clear and convincing evidence," only applied to determining whether an individual was a "person requiring treatment." Petitioner argued that respondent had already been determined to be a person requiring treatment pursuant to the parties' stipulation and that the Mental Health Code did not contain any statutorily required "burden of proof" for determining an individual's placement facility.

         Respondent, in contrast, argued that the evidentiary standard in MCL 330.1465 should carry through to the determination regarding the appropriate placement and form of treatment to order for a person requiring treatment. Respondent also acknowledged that, in the alternative, a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard could potentially apply to the placement determination. Respondent argued, however, that regardless of the standard of proof applied, the burden of proof should remain with petitioner to establish that the CFP was the appropriate placement for respondent.

         The probate court addressed this issue at the outset of the evidentiary hearing, concluding as follows:

[I]t's really up to the judge. There is no burden of proof with regard to the treatment. The burden of proof applies only to whether the person is mentally ill or not. That's already been stipulated to. So now it's just to see if this is the most appropriate treatment.

         Following the presentation of witness testimony, exhibits, and oral argument during the evidentiary hearing, the probate court announced its findings and ruling on the record. The probate court denied respondent's request to be placed at Harbor Point Center for treatment, and it ordered that respondent would remain at the CFP "until further order of the court." An amended continuing order for mental health treatment was entered consistent with the probate court's oral ruling, which ordered respondent to be hospitalized at the CFP "until further order of the court" but up to 365 days. This appeal ensued.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court "reviews for an abuse of discretion a probate court's dispositional rulings and reviews for clear error the factual findings underlying a probate court's decision." In re Bibi Guardianship, 315 Mich.App. 323, 328; 890 N.W.2d 387 (2016). An abuse of discretion occurs when the probate court "chooses an outcome outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes." Id. at 329 (quotation marks and citation omitted). "A probate court's finding is clearly erroneous when a reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made, even if there is evidence to support the finding." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). We review de novo matters of statutory interpretation. In re Guardianship of Redd, 321 Mich.App. 398, 404; 909 N.W.2d 289 (2017). The probate court "necessarily abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law." Ronnisch Constr Group, Inc v Lofts on the Nine, LLC, 499 Mich. 544, 552; 886 N.W.2d 113 (2016).

         On appeal, respondent first argues that the probate court erred by ruling that there was no applicable burden of proof with respect to determining the appropriate form of treatment to order for respondent. This issue appears to be one of first impression and presents this Court with questions of statutory interpretation. "When interpreting statutes, our primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." Averill v Dauterman, 284 Mich.App. 18, 22; 772 N.W.2d 797 (2009). In doing so, we first turn to "the specific language of the statute, considering the fair and natural import of the terms employed, in view of the subject matter of the law." Id. We must "examine the statute as a whole, reading individual words and phrases in the context of the entire legislative scheme." State ex rel Gurganus v CVS Caremark Corp, 496 Mich. 45, 59; 852 N.W.2d 103 (2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Proceedings seeking an order of involuntary mental health treatment under the Mental Health Code for an individual on the basis of mental illness, including when such proceedings are instituted following a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict, generally are referred to as "civil commitment" proceedings. See, e.g, People v Dobben, 440 Mich. 679, 690-691; 488 N.W.2d 726 (1992); People v Miller, 440 Mich. 631, 640; 489 N.W.2d 60 (1992); People v Williams, 228 Mich.App. 546, 556-557; 580 N.W.2d 438 (1998); In re KB, 221 Mich.App. 414, 417; 562 N.W.2d 208 (1997); In re Baker, 117 Mich.App. 591, 592-593, 595; 324 N.W.2d 91 (1982); In re Wagstaff, 93 Mich.App. 755, 757; 287 N.W.2d 339 (1979). The specific procedures for obtaining continuing orders of hospitalization or other forms of treatment based on a person's mental illness are contained in various provisions of Chapter 4 of the Mental Health Code, MCL 330.1400 et seq.

         In the instant case, respondent's appeal stems from the CFP's petition for a continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment filed pursuant to MCL 330.1473, which provides in pertinent part that "[n]ot less than 14 days before the expiration of [a] . . . continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment issued under section 472a or section 485a, a hospital director . . . shall file a petition for a second or continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment if the hospital director or supervisor believes the individual continues to be a person requiring treatment and that the individual is likely to refuse treatment on a voluntary basis when the order expires." The filing of a petition under § 473 before the expiration of a continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment triggers MCL 330.1472a(4), which provides in relevant part as follows:

(4) Upon the receipt of a petition under section 473 before the expiration of a continuing order of involuntary mental health treatment . . . and a finding that the individual continues to be a person requiring treatment, the court shall issue another continuing order for involuntary mental health treatment as provided in subsection (3) for a period not to exceed 1 year. The court shall continue to issue consecutive 1-year continuing orders for involuntary mental health treatment under this section until a continuing order expires without a petition having been filed under section 473 or the court finds that the individual is not a person requiring treatment.

         The above provision directs our attention to MCL 330.1472a(3), which lists the options for involuntary mental health treatment and imposes time limitations for such orders. Section 472a(3) provides in relevant part as follows:

(3) . . . the court shall issue a continuing order for involuntary mental health treatment that shall be limited in duration as follows:
(a) A continuing order of hospitalization shall not exceed 1 year.
(b) A continuing order of alternative treatment or assisted outpatient treatment shall not exceed 1 year.
(c) A continuing order of combined hospitalization and alternative treatment or hospitalization and assisted outpatient treatment shall not exceed 1 year. The hospitalization portion of a continuing order for combined hospitalization and alternative treatment or hospitalization and assisted outpatient treatment shall not exceed 90 days.

         Furthermore, the term "involuntary mental health treatment" is statutorily defined for purposes of Chapter 4 of the Mental Health Code as "court-ordered hospitalization, alternative treatment, or combined hospitalization and alternative treatment as described in section 468." MCL 330.1400(f). MCL 330.1468(2) provides descriptions of the forms of treatment that may be ordered upon a finding that an individual is a person requiring treatment, and these descriptions correspond to the forms of treatment referenced in MCL 330.1472a(3). Section 468(2) provides in relevant part as follows:

(2) . . . if an individual is found to be a person requiring treatment, the court shall do 1 of the following:
(a) Order the individual hospitalized in a hospital recommended by the community mental health services program or other entity as designated by the department.
(b) Order the individual hospitalized in a private or veterans administration hospital at the request of the individual or his or her family, if private or federal funds are to be utilized and if the hospital agrees. . . .
(c) Order the individual to undergo a program of treatment that is an alternative to hospitalization and that is recommended by the community mental health services program or ...

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