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In re B.A.C.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 17, 2017

In the Interest of B.A.C.
B.A.C., Respondent and Appellant State of North Dakota, Petitioner and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Stutsman County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable James D. Hovey, Judge.

          Leo A. Ryan, Jamestown, N.D., for petitioner and appellee; submitted on brief.

          Andrew S. Marquart, Fargo, N.D., for respondent and appellant; submitted on brief.


          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] B.A.C. appeals a district court order for involuntary hospitalization and involuntary treatment with medication. We affirm the district court order, concluding that B.A.C.'s release did not moot this appeal and that the district court did not clearly err when it found by clear and convincing evidence that B.A.C. was a mentally ill person requiring inpatient treatment.


         [¶ 2] B.A.C. was admitted to the North Dakota State Hospital on June 6, 2017. Prior to being admitted, B.A.C. drove his car into a pond near Devils Lake. He then walked barefoot away from the pond and invaded a private residence. When confronted inside, B.A.C. offered to buy the property. After B.A.C. was ordered to leave, he walked approximately two miles further before he was apprehended by police. In talking to the police officers, B.A.C. made several delusional statements about Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump, which included stating that he himself was the richest man in the world and that is why Bill Clinton wanted to kill him. The police took B.A.C. to a hospital in Devils Lake. He was then transported to the North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown.

         [¶ 3] The State Hospital petitioned the district court for involuntary commitment of B.A.C. At the State Hospital, B.A.C. had refused to take prescribed medication and expressed his wish to leave the hospital. An examination was performed by Dr. Lincoln Coombs, a doctor of psychology at the State Hospital. He found B.A.C. to be mentally ill and noted that if "untreated on an inpatient basis he would likely place himself at risk, as he did just prior to the current admission." Dr. Naveed Haider, a psychiatrist, performed an independent evaluation on B.A.C. and found him to have a primary psychotic disorder. Dr. Haider also believed that releasing B.A.C. from the hospital without treatment would likely result in self-harm.

         [¶ 4] At the treatment and medication hearing, Dr. Pryatel, the treating psychiatrist at the State Hospital, stated B.A.C. was diagnosed with "unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder." He also stated that both of these diagnoses are recognized mental illnesses. Dr. Pryatel stated that B.A.C.'s illness impacts his self-control and judgment. He also stated that left untreated, B.A.C. poses a serious risk of harm to himself and others. Specifically, he testified that B.A.C. could fail to care for himself to the point of starving to death or endanger himself or others in further home invasions.

         [¶ 5] On August 1, 2017, the district court ordered B.A.C. to be hospitalized at the State Hospital for 90 days, and ordered involuntary medication for that same period of time. The district court also found that the federal firearms restrictions under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4) and (g)(4) applied to B.A.C. On August 15, 2017, B.A.C. was released from the State Hospital. In the Notice of Release, Dr. Pryatel explained that B.A.C. "no longer requires hospitalization at the State Hospital" and requested the court to enter an order of dismissal. On August 16, the district court ordered "the Respondent shall be discharged and released from any further involuntary civil commitment." B.A.C. now appeals the district court's hospitalization and treatment order.


         [¶ 6] Before addressing the merits of B.A.C.'s appeal, we must first determine whether this case has been rendered moot because B.A.C. is no longer hospitalized and the petition for involuntary commitment has been dismissed. B.A.C. argues that his appeal is not moot because his right to possess firearms remains restricted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4) and (g)(4).

         [¶ 7] "This Court may consider the threshold issue of mootness in every appeal." Interest of G.K.S., 2012 ND 17, ¶ 4, 809 N.W.2d 335. We dismiss an appeal as moot "if no actual controversy is left to be determined, " including when "certain events have occurred which make it impossible for this Court to issue relief." In re Guardianship/Conservatorship of Van Sickle, 2005 ND 69, ¶ 12, 694 N.W.2d 212 (citations omitted). An appeal is moot when "a determination is sought which, when rendered, cannot have any practical legal effect upon a then-existing controversy." Varnson v. Satran, 368 N.W.2d 533, 535 (N.D. 1985). An appeal is not moot, however, if the district court's decision "continues to have 'collateral consequences' for the appealing party." Interest of G.K.S., at ¶ 4.

         [¶ 8] Under 18 U.S.C. § 922, persons who have been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "committed to any mental institution" are prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition. It is unlawful "for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person... has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution." 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). Similarly, it is unlawful for a person "who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution" to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). The district court is required to make a finding on whether § 922(d)(4) and (g)(4) apply to the subject of a proceeding in which the court orders "involuntary hospitalization or commitment to a treatment ...

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