In the Matter of SH

In the Matter of SH, 2016 MT 137 (June 7, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court relied on sufficient evidence to determine SH required commitment, and (2) whether SH received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.


Facts: SH sought help from the Billings Clinic ER in November 2014, complaining there were snakes in her stomach, black bugs in the toilet, and the voices of God and Satan were arguing in her head. A psychiatrist at the clinic examined her and, upon his recommendation, the state petitioned to involuntarily commit SH on November 12, 2014. The district court ordered SH detained at the clinic pending resolution of the petition, appointed counsel to represent SH, and appointed the clinic psychiatrist as the professional person to evaluate SH.

Diane Goedde, a nurse practitioner at the clinic, evaluated SH and filed a report with the district court. On November 17, 2014, the district court held a hearing on the petition. Goedde and SH testified.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court found that the state proved to a reasonable medical certainty that SH suffers from bipolar disorder and is in a manic state, delusional, agitated and paranoid. It also found that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that SH needs to be committed under § 53-21-126(1)(1) and (c), MCA, because she is an imminent threat to others and substantially unable to care for her basic needs. The court committed SH to the Montana State Hospital for up to three months. SH appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) SH does not contest the district court’s finding that she suffers from a mental disorder, but rather, that insufficient evidence supported the district court’s finding that she required commitment because she was unable to care for herself or because she was an imminent threat to others. The Court concludes that SH’s refusal to obtain treatment and her apparent lack of winter shelter are sufficient evidence that she was unable to care for her basic needs.  It further concludes that the physical altercation SH was involved in the day before the hearing was sufficient evidence that SH posed an imminent risk of injury to others because of her delusions, agitation, and paranoia.

(2) The Court measures counsel’s assistance in involuntary commitment proceedings through five factors: 1) appointment of counsel; 2) counsel’s initial investigation; 3) counsel’s interview with the client; 4) the patient-respondent’s right to remain silent; and 5) counsel’s role as an advocate for the patient-respondent. The only factor implicated here is counsel’s role as advocate for the patient. The proper role of the attorney is to “represent the perspective of the respondent and to serve as a vigorous advocate for the respondent’s wishes.” ¶ 17. SH contends her counsel was ineffective because she failed to object to testimony and failed to ask for a continuance upon learning Billings Clinic staff had involuntarily medicated S.H. within 24 hours before her hearing. The Court concludes the record as a whole demonstrates that counsel vigorously represented SH at the hearing,