This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C2-01-1293

 

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment
of Aaron Allen Jones.

 

 

Filed November 27, 2001

Affirmed

Stoneburner, Judge

 

 

Hubbard County District Court

File No. PX00732

 

 

Robert D. Tiffany, Wallace & Tiffany, 201 East First Street, P.O. Box 27, Park Rapids, MN 56470 (for appellant)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Angela M. Helseth, Assistant Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103; and

 

Gregory D. Larson, Hubbard County Attorney, Hubbard County Courthouse, Suite 200, P.O. Box 486, Park Rapids, MN 56470 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Stoneburner, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

STONEBURNER, Judge

 

The district court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that appellant Aaron Allen Jones met the requirements for commitment as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) under Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18c (2000), and as a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP) under Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18b (2000).  Jones does not challenge the court’s determination that the respondent proved by clear and convincing evidence that he meets the criteria for commitment.  Instead, Jones alleges the district court erred by (1) denying his request to stay the proceedings pending an inquiry as to whether he should be committed as a mentally retarded person; (2) adopting the respondent’s proposed findings; (3) ordering the production of records Jones claims are privileged; and (4) committing him to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.  Jones also appeals the district court’s denial of his request for a jury trial and argues that the law should be changed to provide for the right to a jury trial in a civil commitment proceeding.  We affirm.

D E C I S I O N

 

Absent erroneous interpretation of the law, the question of whether to admit or exclude evidence is within the district court’s discretion.  Kroning v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42, 45-46 (Minn. 1997).  A district court’s evidentiary decision “will not be reversed unless there was a clear abuse of discretion.”  State v. Ashby, 567 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1997).  A commitment based on the erroneous admission of evidence, however, will not be reversed if properly admitted evidence supports the commitment.  In re Bieganowski, 520 N.W.2d 525, 529 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Oct. 27, 1994).

 

1.         Suspension of proceedings pending a review to consider mental-retardation commitment

 

Jones petitioned the court to stay the commitment proceedings in order to direct the Hubbard County Attorney to make a due and diligent inquiry as to whether the county should pursue mental-retardation commitment.  The district court denied Jones’s request.  Jones alleges that it was fundamentally unfair for the court to preclude consideration of mental-retardation commitment. 

Respondent followed proper preliminary procedures for commitment as proscribed in Minn. Stat. § 253B.07 (2000).  Jones has not alleged that respondent improperly proceeded with the SDP/SPP commitment hearing.  Because nothing in Minn. Stat.         § 253B.07 requires the petitioning party to consider mental-retardation commitment, the district court did not err in refusing to stay the proceedings.

 

2.         District court’s adoption of respondent’s proposed findings

 

            Jones challenges the district court’s verbatim adoption of respondent’s proposed findings of fact.  When a district court adopts one party’s proposed findings, the clearly erroneous standard of review applies.  Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 408 N.W.2d 654, 657 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 1987). 

            The verbatim adoption of one party’s proposed findings is not per se reversible error.  Id.  This court has recognized that such a practice is acceptable.  Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).  But the district court must “scrupulously assure” that the findings it adopts from one party are “sufficient enough to enable meaningful review by this court.”  Id.

In this case, the district court “carefully reviewed the proposed findings of fact submitted by the [county]” and concluded that these findings “accurately, completely, and properly describe the evidence presented at the trial.”  We conclude that the record supports the district court’s findings.  Furthermore, the findings of fact, consisting of nearly 50 pages, are “detailed, specific and sufficient enough to enable meaningful review by this court.”  See Bliss, 493 N.W.2d at 590.  The district court’s adoption of the respondent’s proposed findings was not clearly erroneous.

 

3.         Pre-petition production of records

 

            Prior to petitioning the court to commit Jones, respondent made a motion requesting the production of records pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1b (2000).  The request included school and medical records.  Prior to filing a petition for SPP or SDP commitment, the county attorney

[m]ay move the court for an order granting access to any records or data, to the extent it relates to the proposed patient, for the purpose of determining whether good cause exists to file a petition and, if a petition is filed, to support the allegations set forth in the petition.

 

Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1b.  The respondent provided notice to Jones of the request as required by Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1b. 

The court may grant the county’s motion “upon a showing that the requested category of data or records may be relevant to the determination by the county attorney.”  Id.  The requested records were relevant to Jones’s commitment proceeding.  Because the court had the statutory authority to grant respondent’s request, and because the request complied with the statutory requirements, the district court did not err in ordering the production of Jones’s records.

            Jones argues that the court’s order for the production of records was improper because those records were privileged.  Under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, “[a]ny privilege otherwise existing between patient and physician, patient and psychologist, patient and examiner, or patient and social worker, is waived.”  Minn. Stat. § 253B.23, subd. 4 (2000).  By operation of law, Jones cannot assert the privilege in the context of his civil-commitment proceeding.

            Jones also argues that the district court should not have ordered the production of

the records because he did not receive a “Tennessen Warning.”[1]  The civil-commitment statute, however, allows the court to grant a request for the production of relevant records notwithstanding the Tennessen Warning articulated in Minn. Stat. § 13.04.  Minn. Stat.    § 253B.185, subd. 1b.  Consequently, the court did not abuse its discretion by ordering production of these documents.

In addition to arguing that the court erred in granting respondent’s request for the records, Jones also argues that the district court erred in allowing the court-appointed examiners to view these records.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has “stressed the value of permitting court-appointed examiners * * * full access to all available information.”  In re Morton, 386 N.W.2d 832, 835 (Minn. App. 1986).  In Morton, the appellant argued that court-appointed examiners should not be able to review a pre-petition report.  Id. at 834.  The court concluded that “pre-petition screening reports, as compilations of data collected for the purpose of bringing commitment proceedings, may be disseminated to court-appointed examiners.”  Id. at 835.  The district court did not err in allowing the court-appointed examiners to review Jones’s records.

 

4.         Request for a jury trial

 

The district court denied Jones’s request for a jury trial.  The Minnesota Commitment Act does not provide the right to a jury trial.  See Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1 (2000) (“Upon the filing of a petition alleging that a proposed patient is a sexually dangerous person or is a person with a sexual psychopathic personality, the court shall hear the petition * * * .” (emphasis added)).  In Joelson v. O’Keefe, the court noted that a jury trial is not required under the sexual-psychopathic-personality-commitment statute.  594 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. App. 1999) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).  The district court did not err in refusing Jones’s request for a jury trial.

Although Jones acknowledges that there is no right to a jury trial in civil- commitment proceedings in Minnesota, he urges this court to change the law.  We decline to extend the law on this issue.  See Tereault v. Palmer, 413 N.W.2d 283, 286 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that the task of extending the law falls to the supreme court or the legislature, but not to this court), review denied (Minn. Dec. 18, 1987). 

 

5.         Commitment to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program

 

After concluding that Jones satisfied the requirements for SDP/SPP commitment, the district court committed Jones to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) at  St. Peter and Moose Lake.  The court found that MSOP provides the least-restrictive treatment program available to meet Jones’s needs.  An appellate court will not reverse a district court’s findings as to the least-restrictive treatment program unless the findings are clearly erroneous.  In re Kellor, 520 N.W.2d 9, 12 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1994).

If a court determines that a person needs to be committed as a SDP or a SPP,

[t]he court shall commit the patient to a secure treatment facility unless the patient establishes by clear and convincing evidence that a less restrictive treatment program is available that is consistent with the patient’s treatment needs and the requirements of public safety.

 

Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1. 

At the hearing, a Hubbard County social worker suggested two less restrictive alternatives: the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) program or placement in a corporate foster home.  Jones, however, produced no evidence indicating that either of these programs would accept him.  Jones also failed to show that he would be eligible for placement in METO or a corporate foster home.  Consequently, Jones failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a less-restrictive treatment program is available.

In addition, Jones’s social worker failed to address the court-appointed doctors’ concerns that Jones needs to be placed in a secure environment because he is a threat to the public.  Harry Hoberman, Ph.D., testified that Jones needs extensive and intensive sex-offender treatment in a secure setting because there is a risk that he will try to escape from a less-restrictive facility.  Thomas Alberg, Ph.D., concurred, stating that Jones needs to be placed in a highly structured program in a secure setting because there is a risk that he will flee.  Both experts testified that the Moose Lake program is the only program in the state that offers the type of treatment Jones needs.  The district court’s decision to commit Jones to MSOP is supported by the evidence and is not clearly erroneous.

Jones argues that he has a constitutional right to treatment and contends that his commitment to MSOP will not provide him with “a realistic opportunity for meaningful treatment.”  A committed person “has the right to receive proper care and treatment, best adapted * * * to rendering further supervision unnecessary.”  Minn. Stat. § 253B.03, subd. 7 (2000). 

Anita Schlank, Ph.D., clinical director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, testified that the treatment at the center involves three stages: (1) evaluation; (2) inpatient; and (3) transition into the community.  Jones claims that he will not receive adequate treatment because no previous patient who has been cognitively impaired to the same extent that he is has ever reached the transitional stage. 

The supreme court has noted, however, that:

[e]ven when treatment is problematic, and it often is, the state’s interest in the safety of others is no less legitimate and compelling.  So long as civil commitment is programmed to provide treatment and periodic review, due process is provided.  Minnesota’s commitment system provides for periodic review and reevaluation of the need for continued confinement.

 

In re Blodgett, 510 N.W.2d 910, 916 (Minn. 1994).  Both of the court-appointed examiners testified that Jones should be placed in a secure facility because he is a danger to the public. 

Furthermore, although Jones has a statutory right to treatment, he cannot assert this right “until he is actually deprived of that treatment.”  In re Martenies, 350 N.W.2d 470, 472 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Sept. 12, 1984).  The fact that no other similarly situated patient has reached the transitional stage does not mean that Jones has been deprived of treatment.  The district court did not err in committing Jones to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Affirmed.

 



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The “Tennessen Warning” as found in the Minnesota Government Data Practice Act provides:

 

An individual asked to supply private or confidential data concerning the individual shall be informed of: (a) the purpose and intended use of the requested data within the collecting state agency, political subdivision, or statewide system; (b) whether the individual may refuse or is legally required to supply the requested data; (c) any known consequence arising from supplying or refusing to supply private or confidential data; and (d) the identity of other persons or entities authorized by state or federal law to receive the data.

 

Minn. Stat. § 13.04, subd. 2 (2000).