Woods v. State ex rel. Montana State Hospital

Woods v. State ex rel. Montana State Hospital, 2015 MT 8 (Jan. 13, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the Montana State Hospital had a duty to warn Catherine Woods of the risk of violent behavior by her former boyfriend after his release from involuntary commitment.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Justin Schiller was involuntarily committed to the Montana State Hospital in Jun 2008. He was released 12 days later, and his relationship with Catherine Woods ended thereafter. In July 2008, Schiller bought a handgun. In November 2008, Schiller saw Woods at a bar with a male friend. Schiller had been drinking. When Woods and the friend left the bar, Schiller followed. He assaulted Wood’s friend and fired multiple shots at Woods as she tried to drive away. One of the shots struck her in the neck and killed her. Schiller later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Woods’ parents filed suit alleging the hospital had a duty under § 27-1-1102, MCA, to warn Woods of Schiller’s potentially violent behavior. The State moved for summary judgment arguing Schiller never communicated a specific threat of violence against Woods. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment to the state and the hospital. The Woods appeal, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Section 27-1-1102, MCA, imposes a duty on mental health professional “only if the patient has communicated to the mental health professional an actual threat of physical violence by specific means against a clearly identified or reasonably identifiable victim.” This is an extremely narrow duty. Evidence that MSH knew of Schiller’s problems with alcohol and his tendency to be aggressive toward Woods when intoxicated “is not sufficient to trigger the statutory duty to warn.” ¶ 19. “The record contains no evidence that an actual, specific threat was communicated in this case.” ¶ 20.