On December 13, 2018, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Rebecca Darwin, Docket No 343112, 2018 WL 6579228 (Mich Ct App Dec 13 2018) (unpublished). A hospital social worker petitioned the probate court to order respondent Ms. Darwin to undergo involuntary treatment for mental illness. The probate court granted the petition following a hearing, and Ms. Darwin appealed.
The petition in this case was filed under MCL 330.1516, found in the Mental Health Code. That statute provides that “[a] court may order the admission of an individual 18 years of age or older who meets both of the following requirements: (a) Has been diagnosed as an individual with an intellectual disability[; and] (b) Can be reasonably expected within the near future to intentionally or unintentionally seriously physically injure himself or herself or another person, and has overtly acted in a manner substantially supportive of that expectation.”
Before ordering involuntary treatment under MCL 330.1516, the probate court is required to “order that the individual be examined and a report be prepared.” MCL 330.1516(3). That report on the individual’s need for involuntary treatment must meet several statutory requirements, including the requirement that the report be signed by “1 physician and 1 licensed psychologist” or “2 physicians who performed examinations serving in part as the basis of the report.” MCL 330.1516(6).
On appeal, Ms. Darwin argued that the probate court never should have held a hearing because the report on her need for treatment was deficient, in that it was only signed by the psychiatrist who examined her. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the probate court should have dismissed the petition because of the deficient report, under MCL 330.1516(8) (“The petition shall be dismissed by the court unless 1 physician and 1 licensed psychologist or 2 physicians conclude, and that conclusion is stated in the report, that the individual meets the criteria for judicial admission.”). As a result, the Court of Appeals vacated the probate court’s involuntary treatment order.
What is to be learned from this case? Clearly, the report on the individual’s need for mental health treatment must fully comply with the particular and technical requirements of the Mental Health Code. Otherwise, the probate court cannot order treatment, no matter how serious the allegations regarding the individual’s condition. Here, the petition alleged “that respondent reported that she was noncompliant with her medications, that she had visual hallucinations of her home being on fire, and that she sent text messages to her legal guardian stating that she was going to kill herself,” and the psychiatrist who examined Ms. Darwin confirmed these concerns. Nonetheless, the absence of a second signature on the report was a serious defect that should not have been overlooked by the probate court.