2018 Mass. App. Div. 67

December 8, 2017 - March 23, 2018

Appellate Division Southern District

Court Below: District Court, Fall River Division

Present: Hand, P.J., Welch & Finnerty, JJ.

Stephen F. Kiley for the petitioner.

Peter F. Kuntz for the respondent.

FINNERTY, J. This is an appeal from an order of the Fall River District Court allowing a petition under G.L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8 for commitment of the appellant, C.B.

The petition of Corrigan Mental Health Center ("Corrigan") was filed on July 8, 2015, and after a hearing on July 14, 2015, which included the testimony of C.B.'s treating psychiatrist and C.B., the court ordered the involuntary commitment of C.B. for six months. C.B. was discharged on July 21, 2015.

In this appeal, filed before his discharge, C.B. challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and contends that the court did not apply the proper standard of proof. He also argues that his appeal is not moot because of possible collateral consequences.

We dispose of the standard of proof argument first. The court orally set forth some of the factors in its decision, but nowhere suggested a lesser burden of proof than the required standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. [Note 1] Nor did the court suggest that the burden of proof rested with anyone other than the petitioner. We do not find this case to be comparable to Matter of C.V., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 29, where the court announced that its finding was based on an improper standard. The trial judge in the instant matter clearly relied on the opinion testimony of the attending psychiatrist and issued the order based on that reliance. The credibility and weight of the evidence are certainly for the fact finder. Demoulas v. Demoulas, 428 Mass. 555, 565 (1998).

"[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). 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 Southern Pac. Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498, 515 (1911). See Globe Newspaper Co., supra.

C.B. has been discharged from the hospital and is no longer subject to the orders of the District Court. As such, he no longer has a stake in the outcome of this case, and the matter is moot. Cases involving commitment and treatment of mentally ill persons are generally considered matters of public importance and are capable of

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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, this finding has not been interpreted to mean that mental health cases are exempt from mootness considerations. Matter of L.C., 2015 Mass. App. Div. 98, 100. C.B. has not stated how the facts present in this case apply beyond this case, or how the concerns raised here have application beyond these facts, in order to overcome the mootness argument. He is merely disagreeing with the sufficiency of the evidence and the ultimate findings of the court as they apply to him. Cases in this Division have stated that issues of legal sufficiency of the evidence have been found to be unique to particular cases, unlikely to arise in similar circumstances, and therefore have been deemed moot. Matter of A.D., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 183, 184; Matter of V.G., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 173, 174; Matter of D.S., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 157, 158-159; Matter of K.M., 2017 Mass. App. Div. 93, 94; In Re: Commitment of K.R., 2012 Mass. App. Div. 229.

C.B. argues that the trial court commitment order could affect his future rights as it will be disclosed to NCIC and CJIS databases [Note 2] and will be on record should the appellant seek a firearms license; that he cannot lawfully possess "self-defense spray" without medical documentation that he suffers no disability that should prevent him from possessing it; and other speculative effects, some possible only with future changes in the law.

There is no evidence in the record that C.B. ever applied for or intended to apply for a license to carry or possess a firearm, or that any of the speculative collateral consequences are real issues in controversy. See Matter of J.C., 2018 Mass. App. Div. 63 (No. 17-ADMH-101NO, issued March 22, 2018); Matter of K.M., supra.

On the record before us, this matter is moot, and the appeal is therefore dismissed.


[Note 1] There are no statutory mandates for a trial judge hearing a commitment matter to issue written findings.

[Note 2] The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, 34 U.S.C. § 40903; and the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, G.L. c. 6, § 167A.