2017 Mass. App. Div. 183

October 20, 2017 - December 14, 2017

Appellate Division Northern District

Court Below: District Court, Cambridge Division

Present: Coven, P.J., Flynn & Karstetter, JJ.

Diane M. Geraghty Hall for the petitioner.

Roberta Mann Driscoll for the respondent.

KARSTETTER, J. This is an appeal from an order of the Cambridge District Court authorizing commitment of the appellant, A.D., to McLean Hospital (the "hospital") pursuant to G.L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8. The hospital filed its petition for civil commitment of A.D. on November 21, 2016. [Note 1] After hearing on December 8, 2016, the petition for commitment was granted. On December 15, 2016, the hospital discharged A.D. On December 16, 2016, A.D. filed a notice of appeal pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 9(a), challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and the order of commitment. Because the appeal is moot, we dismiss.

The evidence at the hearing came from one witness for the hospital, Dr. Robert Aranow ("Aranow"), who was qualified as an expert without objection. There was testimonial evidence in support of the statutory requirements for commitment. [Note 2] Dr. Aranow testified that A.D. was "[h]yper-religious in a very euphoric way," that he was "sleeping as little as less than an hour a night some nights," and that he was "agitated wanting -- trying to escape, and needed restraints." In his opinion, A.D. suffered from bipolar disorder and was in his "first full-blown manic episode," which was not abating. Dr. Aranow further opined that the level of A.D.'s mania and disorganized thought could, if he were not receiving treatment in a structured setting, result in criminal behavior or even suicide.

"[L]itigation is considered moot when the party who claimed to be aggrieved ceases to have a personal stake in its outcome." Globe Newspaper Co. v. Chief Med. Examiner, 404 Mass. 132, 134 (1989), quoting Blake v. Massachusetts Parole Bd., 369 Mass. 701, 703 (1976). "The general rule is that courts ordinarily will not decide moot questions." Norwood Hosp. v. Munoz, 409 Mass. 116, 121 (1991). Exceptions to this general rule arise "where the issue was one of public importance, where it was fully argued on both sides, where the question was certain, or at least very likely, to arise again in similar factual circumstances, and especially where appellate review could not be obtained before

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the recurring question would again be moot." Id., quoting Lockhart v. Attorney Gen., 390 Mass. 780, 783 (1984). Said another way, courts have considered moot cases only when the matter is "capable of repetition, yet evading review." Kane v. Commissioner of Correction, 395 Mass. 1002 (1985), quoting Lockhart, supra. See Globe Newspaper Co., supra at 134. Cases involving commitment and treatment of mentally ill persons are generally considered matters of public importance and are capable of repetition and evading review. Newton-Wellesley Hosp. v. Magrini, 451 Mass. 777, 782 (2008); Acting Supt. of Bournewood Hosp. v. Baker, 431 Mass. 101, 103 (2000). However, as we pointed out recently, this principle does not mean that cases involving issues of mental illness are never moot. Matter of D.S., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 157 (No. 17-ADMH-63NO), citing Matter of L.C., 2015 Mass. App. Div. 98, 100. Moreover, this Division has stated that issues surrounding the legal sufficiency of evidence are unique to particular cases, unlikely to arise in similar circumstances, would have little or no precedential value, and therefore have been deemed moot. Matter of K.M., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 93, 94; Matter of L.C., supra at 100-101; In Re: Commitment of K.R., 2012 Mass. App. Div. 229; BayRidge Hosp. v. Jackson, 2010 Mass. App. Div. 12.

A.D. was discharged from the hospital and is no longer subject to the orders of the District Court. This is not a controversy in which A.D. continues to have a personal stake in the outcome. The facts of A.D.'s case are unique; A.D. has not articulated a basis for us to view them otherwise. His chief complaint on appeal is the sufficiency of the evidence against him; he raised no grounds for his appeal that are of public importance, that were fully argued on both sides, and where the question is certain or at least very likely to arise again. His circumstances, being particular to him, are not capable of repetition in others and, thus, there is no occasion to reach whatever merits there may be of the appeal. At the moment he was discharged from the hospital, his matter was moot.

Although we need not reach the issue (having determined this appeal to be moot), A.D. urges us to consider his argument that, in the absence of written findings of fact and rulings of law from the hearing judge, it is impossible to ascertain both whether the hearing judge applied the requisite standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and how she concluded that the evidence met that standard. We note, as we did in Matter of D.S., supra, that there is no statutory requirement for a hearing judge at a commitment pursuant to G.L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8 to issue findings, written or otherwise, nor has A.D. specified any other legal requirement for the hearing judge to do so. The hearing judge could have relied on the opinion testimony of the attending psychiatrist Dr. Aranow and issued the commitment order based on that reliance. The credibility and weight of the evidence are for the fact finder. Demoulas v. Demoulas, 428 Mass. 555, 565 (1998). How a hearing judge weighs the evidence and gauges the credibility of witnesses is entitled to deference by this Division. Custody of Eleanor, 414 Mass. 795, 800 (1993) (because trial judge has opportunity to observe witness demeanor and assess candor, appellate courts are especially reluctant to review trial judge's assessment of witness credibility). There was no evidence from any other clinical personnel to contradict the doctor's expert testimony on the presence of a mental illness and a substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to A.D. resulting from his judgment being affected. The evidence was sufficient to allow the hearing judge to make the necessary findings allowing the petition for commitment.

The appeal is dismissed.


[Note 1] The hospital also filed a petition seeking authorization for medical treatment pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 8B.

[Note 2] Based on the allegations in its petition, the hospital was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that A.D. suffered from a mental illness and that by virtue of that mental illness he posed a very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to himself as manifested by evidence that his judgment was so affected that he was unable to protect himself in the community. G.L. c. 123, §§ 1, 7 and 8.