Home IN THE MATTER OF J.R.

2016 Mass. App. Div. 47

April 13, 2016

Appellate Division Western District

Court Below: District Court, Worcester Division

Present: Hadley, P.J., Despotopulos & McGill, JJ.

Stephen Shull for the petitioner.

Mark A. Larsen for the respondent.

Ellyn H. Lazar-Moore for the Commonwealth.


HADLEY, P.J. In this case, a district attorney has appealed a judge’s order allowing a person committed to a facility pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16, to leave the facility with court-ordered restrictions on his movements. For the reasons stated below, we rule that the issue presented by this appeal is moot, and we dismiss the appeal.

In 2009, J.R. was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness. He was held at Bridgewater State Hospital pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16. In 2012, the appellant, the district attorney for Worcester County, received a notice of intent to discharge J.R. from Bridgewater State Hospital pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16(e). The appellant filed a motion to recommit J.R. pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16(c). J.R. was recommitted to Bridgewater State Hospital for six months pursuant to an order that was to expire on January 16, 2013.

On January 10, 2013, the appellant received notice from Bridgewater State Hospital of its intention to discharge J.R. to the Department of Mental Health (“DMH”). The appellant filed a motion for an order restricting J.R. to the buildings and grounds of any DMH facility to which he might be committed. [Note 1] That motion was allowed, and J.R. was transferred to a DMH facility.

In February, 2014, the DMH facility filed a petition for recommitment of J.R. That petition did not include a request for an order restricting J.R.’s movements to the facility’s buildings and grounds. The appellant sought another court order imposing such restrictions on J.R. Having waived a hearing on the recommitment petition, J.R. was recommitted in June, 2014. The trial court denied, however, the appellant’s motion for an order restricting J.R. to the facility’s buildings and grounds, but did issue an order placing conditions on J.R.’s movements and activities away from the DMH facility. Generally, these conditions were intended to ensure that J.R. had no access to firearms.

The appellant filed a motion for reconsideration of the trial court’s order that would have allowed J.R. to leave the DMH facility with conditions. That motion was denied. The appellant advised the trial court judge that he intended to appeal the denial of his motion, and the judge stayed her order allowing J.R. to be away from the DMH facility with conditions pending the outcome of this appeal.

Page 48

Shortly after the appellant filed his notice of appeal, the order that is the subject of this appeal expired. The DMH facility filed a petition to recommit J.R., and the appellant filed a motion to restrict his movements to the buildings and grounds of that facility. A different judge allowed both the petition and the appellant’s motion, and in July, 2015, J.R. was recommitted to the DMH facility for another year with an order restricting him to the facility’s buildings and grounds.

The parties agreed to waive oral argument before this Appellate Division. Citing Commonwealth v. Carrara, 58 Mass. App. Ct. 86 (2003), the parties have now advised us that they agree that the trial court exceeded its authority under G.L. c. 123, § 16(e), by issuing an order that allowed J.R. to leave the grounds of a DMH facility with restrictions on his movements.

Because the order in question has expired, this appeal is presently moot. It is within our discretion to decide an issue that is moot “where the question is one of public importance, is very likely to arise again in similar circumstances, and where appellate review could not be obtained before the question would again be moot.” Attorney Gen. v. Commissioner of Ins., 403 Mass. 370 , 380 (1988). Issues involving the commitment of mentally ill persons can be ones that evade review and are often matters of public importance. Newton-Wellesley Hosp. v. Magrini, 451 Mass. 777 , 782 (2008). In this case, however, not only are we dealing with a moot issue, but the parties are also in agreement on the issue presented, and there is no actual controversy to be decided. Moreover, given the availability of an order for a stay pending appeal such as the one that issued in this case, it does not appear that the question presented is one that is likely to be repeated without an opportunity for review. We, therefore, decline the opportunity to address the merits of this matter.

Appeal dismissed.

So ordered.


FOOTNOTES

[Note 1] General Laws c. 123, § 16(e) provides, in pertinent part, “Any person committed to a facility under the provisions of this section may be restricted in his movements to the buildings and grounds of the facility at which he is committed by the court which ordered the commitment.”