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Smith Duggan Successfully Defends Hospital in Civil Commitment Appeal

Andrew Black of Smith Duggan Buell & Rufo LLP successfully defended a leading Massachusetts hospital with behavioral units for adolescents, adults and the elderly in an appeal from a civil commitment order.

An individual was committed to the psychiatric facility at the hospital. Subsequently, he sought a declaration in a post-discharge appeal that his commitment was invalid and should never have happened.  This individual raised issues related to pre-trial discovery, evidentiary issues, and sufficiency of the evidence.

Prior to the commitment hearing, the individual sought an order compelling the hospital to answer interrogatories and requests for admissions.  The trial judge denied the motion for the reasons stated in the hospital's opposition. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the hospital that the trial judge could not gauge the relevance of the discovery without opposing counsel first identifying the information sought.

The trial court had also denied the patient’s motion to continue the commitment hearing.  On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the hospital that the individual was not entitled to a second continuance as matter of right and denial was proper under the circumstances.

The patient argued that hearsay evidence was improperly introduced at trial.  However, the Appellate Division rejected this evidentiary argument because, as the hospital argued, the patient’s own expert testified to the same hearsay evidence, curing any potential harm.

The Appellate Division also rejected the argument that the hospital failed to put forth sufficient evidence to warrant commitment where the hospital proved that the individual would not take medication, would be living homeless, could be victimized at a homeless shelter, had picked at an infection that resulted in a potentially life threatening condition, and had been hospitalized four times within a year of the hearing.