In re P.S.; In re L.T.; In re N.J.; In re R.J., ___ N.C. App. ___, 807 S.E.2d 631 (2017)

Held: 
Affirmed in Part
Vacated in Part
  • This opinion involves four consolidated appeals regarding procedural issues, some of which implicate subject matter jurisdiction, for the readmission of minors who are voluntarily admitted to an inpatient mental health facility.
  • Violation of statutory right to timely judicial review of admission. In all four cases, the minors were admitted to and denied their right to a judicial review within 15 days of their respective initial admissions as provided for by G.S. 122C-224. The minor respondents filed motions to dismiss based on the failure to comply with the statutory time requirement to hold a judicial review. The motions were denied. Minors who are voluntary committed to an inpatient treatment facility by his or her parent’s or guardian’s affirmations are entitled to due process protections. See In re A.N.B., 232 N.C. App. 406 (2014). The statutory scheme in G.S. Chapter 122C that governs these admissions attempts to balance the needs of the minor who is mentally ill and in need of treatment with the rights of the parent or guardian and with the minor’s rights to due process. See In re Lynette H., 323 N.C. 598 (1988). Although the minors’ statutory rights to a timely judicial review were denied, the trial court did not err in denying the motions to dismiss. The review hearings did take place, and the law does not require a dismissal as that result would deny treatment to the minors for an indeterminate period of time regardless of whether they were in need of treatment.
    • Note: Any potential civil remedies for the violation were not an issue in the appeal.
  • Subject matter jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction is conferred by statute or the North Carolina Constitution and cannot be conferred by consent or waiver. When subject matter jurisdiction is conferred by statute, the Court must follow the manner, procedure, or limitations required by the statute and not act beyond the statutory limits in excess of its jurisdiction. G.S. 122C-221(a) applies to the admissions of minors and states “a written application for evaluation or admission, signed by the individual seeking admission, is required.” Additionally, for minors, “the legally responsible person” acts for the minor. The court’s subject matter jurisdiction to concur in the minor’s admission, therefore, requires the filing of an admission authorization form for a minor in need of treatment that is signed by the minor’s legally responsible person.
    • The statute does not require the trial court to make an independent determination that the signatures on the admission authorization forms were from a legally responsible person with authority to admit the minor. When an admission authorization form, on its face, appears to comply with the statute, the court may presume the form was signed by a legally responsible person; however, this presumption may be rebutted by evidence to the contrary. In three of the appeals, the form contained a signature in the appropriate place on the form that indicated it was signed by a parent or guardian.
    • In the case of In re N.J., the form was not signed by a legally responsible person. Instead, the form unambiguously stated it was signed by a representative of the mental health facility based on the verbal authorization of the minor’s parent. Verbal consent is not sufficient under the statute; the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction as a result of the absence of the legally responsible person’s signature on the admission authorization form.
  • Consent to Admission by Minor. In In re L.T., the minor consented to his readmission after a brief colloquy with the court. The applicable statutes do not require that a specific procedure, such as a written waiver, be followed for the court to accept the minor’s consent. Although a more detailed colloquy with the minor to ensure his consent was voluntary and fully informed would have been a better practice, the minor’s due process rights were not violated when the court accepted his consent.

 

Category:
Civil Cases with Application to Child Welfare
Stage:
Judicial Review of Child's Voluntary Admission
Topic:
Readmission
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