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In re Civil Commitment of L.J.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 18, 2018

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: L.J., Appellant-Respondent,
v.
Health and Hospital Corp. d/b/a Eskenazi Health CMHC, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Steven R. Eichholtz, Judge The Honorable Kelly Scanlan, Commissioner Trial Court Cause No. 49D08-1712-MH-47185

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Joel M. Schumm Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Bryan H. Babb Sarah Thompson ParksBose McKinney & Evans LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          MAY, JUDGE.

         [¶1] L.J. appeals an order of regular commitment signed only by the commissioner who held the hearing on the commitment petition. L.J. argues the order is invalid because the trial court judge failed to "enter the final order" as is required by Indiana Code section 33-23-5-9(a).

         [¶2] Rather than sign the commitment order, the trial court judge signed an order under a separate cause number that purported to approve all decisions entered by commissioners and magistrates during the week L.J.'s commitment hearing was held. That separate order contained no reference to L.J.'s civil commitment. Nor does the Chronological Case Summary ("CCS") for L.J.'s civil commitment contain any reference to the judge's entry of the business record order purporting to approve the commissioner's actions during the week of L.J.'s commitment.

         [¶3] Under these facts, we hold the trial court judge's order was ineffective to demonstrate the sitting judge considered the merits of L.J.'s case and entered the final order as required by statute. As there is no final order from which L.J. could appeal, we dismiss this appeal. On remand the trial court judge should review whether the evidence in the record supports the commissioner's determination and enter a final order as to L.J.'s civil commitment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶4] On December 27, 2017, under cause number 49D08-1712-MH-047185, Health and Hospital Corporation, d/b/a Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health (hereinafter "Eskenazi"), filed an application for emergency detention of L.J. based on alleged mental illness. The next day, Eskenazi filed a report that included a doctor's statement regarding L.J.'s condition, diagnosis, and recommended treatment. On January 2, 2018, the judge reviewed the filings, found probable cause to continue L.J.'s detention, and set an evidentiary hearing for two days later.

         [¶5] On January 4, 2018, the commissioner held the hearing on the petition for regular commitment of L.J. At the conclusion of that hearing, the commissioner concluded L.J. should be involuntarily committed based on her findings L.J. was "gravely disabled" and "dangerous to others." (App. Vol. 2 at 6.) The commissioner signed and dated an order of regular commitment that same day. The line on which the commissioner signed indicated the order was to have been signed by the judge, (id. at 7), but the judge's signature does not appear on that document. The CCS indicates the commissioner's entry of that order and her submission of that order to NICS, [1] but nothing in the record indicates the commissioner was appointed special judge or judge pro tem for this case. There were no further CCS entries indicating the judge reviewed the case or entered a separate final order.[2]

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] L.J. appeals the validity of the order committing her to Eskenazi because it was signed by the commissioner but not by the judge. Commissioners can be appointed to assist with the Probate Court's caseload:

An appointed probate hearing judge or probate commissioner shall be vested by the judge of the probate division with suitable powers for the handling of all probate matters of the court, including the following:
(1) Fixing of all bonds.
(2) Auditing accounts of estates, guardianships, ...

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