In the Matter of SGR

In the Matter of SGR, 2016 MT 70 (March 22, 2016) (Baker, J.; McKinnon, dissenting) (5-2, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court’s order met the statutory requirements for extending commitments under §§ 53-21-127 and -128, MCA.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: SGR is 76 years old, with a long history of severe alcoholism, mental health issues and multiple periods of institutionalization. He is in a wheelchair. Before his initial commitment in 2014, SGR had a pattern of receiving his social security check on the first of the month, staying at a hotel, and drinking until his money ran out. He would then check in to the Community Crisis Center in Billings for the rest of the month. At the Community Crisis Center in 2014, he suffered a seizure as a result of alcohol withdrawal and was hospitalized. There, he was diagnosed with dementia secondary to chronic alcoholism, prompting the state to petition for involuntary commitment.

SGR consented to the initial commitment at the state hospital for a period not to exceed three months. Before the period expired, the state moved to extend it. In May 2014, the commitment was extended for six months without objection. SGR was moved to the Nursing Care Center, where he was diagnosed with depression nd alcohol-induced dementia. In October 2014 a psychology specialist at the Nursing Care Center petitioned to extend SGR’s commitment on he basis of a need for further evaluation and that SGR required detention to prevent injury to himself or others. The district court appointed a “friend” and legal counsel for SGR.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court held a hearing at which SGR was present and represented by counsel. The Nursing Care Center psychologist testified, as did SGR. At the end of the hearing, the district court granted the petition requiring SGR to be committed to the Nursing Care Center for no more than one year, and directing staff to begin looking for an alternate placement for him. SGR appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: The district court did not specify which statutory criteria it relied upon in concluding SGR required continued commitment, although it made several findings regarding SGR. The record establishes that the district court’s written and oral findings, as well as its implied findings, were properly based on SGR’s individual circumstances. The district court order “is not a model,” but it is not defective under the statute. It was minimally sufficient and supported by substantial evidence.

Justice McKinnon’s Dissent (joined by Rice, J.): The district court’s order was not minimally sufficient, and SGR’s involuntary commitment must be reversed. The district court’s findings do not detail the factual basis of its determination that SGR required continued commitment due to a mental disorder. “[T]he most concerning error the Court makes is in failing to appreciate the role an appellate court has to review determinations of the trial court. When those determinations have not been made in the first instance, we cannot string a web of implied findings and baldly state that it is “clear” upon which statutory subsection the trial court relied in fashioning its order of commitment. We do more harm to litigants and our precedent through such faulty analysis and manipulation of the record than had we simply reversed an individual’s order of commitment for its insufficiency, despite that individual’s need for assistance.” ¶ 31.