Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3(2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Commitment of
Renee P. Sharp.
Hennepin County District Court
File No. P99335403
Allan R. Poncin, Esq., 702 Towle Building, 330 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, John L. Kirwin, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presidning Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
In this appeal from an order committing her as a mentally ill person, appellant Renee P. Sharp argues that the evidence does not demonstrate that she poses a substantial likelihood of causing harm to herself or others. We affirm.
Sharp is a 45-year-old woman with a long history of mental illness who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Sharp lives with her mother, who feared for her safety because of Sharp’s behavior. On April 20, 2001, Sharp’s mother called the police because Sharp was out-of-control. She was not eating or sleeping, and she drank wine daily even though her doctor had advised against combining the medication she was taking with alcohol. A week or two earlier, Sharp’s mother awoke at about 1:00 a.m. and found that Sharp had put a calendar in their cat’s litter box and set it afire. Sharp’s mother doused the flame. Sharp also suspected her mother of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Justice Department.
When the police arrived in response to the call from Sharp’s mother, Sharp grabbed her mother and attempted to push her aside to shut the door. Sharp also told her mother that she did not want to live any more. The police brought Sharp to the Hennepin County Medical Center Crisis Intervention Center (HCMCCIC). While at the HCMCCIC, Sharp attempted to scratch a security guard’s face and was put into restraints.
A nurse testified that Sharp refused to take medication while in the hospital and was delusional about the food at the hospital. Sharp refused to eat food from the tray with her name on it and would only eat prepackaged food. Sharp provoked hospital staff by pointing her fingers in their faces and becoming irate.
D E C I S I O N
A trial court’s findings of fact in a commitment matter will not be reversed unless an appellate court determines they are clearly erroneous. In re McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d 621, 623 (Minn. 1995). The commitment may be reversed if the findings are insufficient to support the commitment. Id. at 624. The trial court shall make specific findings and state the conduct that forms the basis for the commitment. Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 2 (2000). The trial court must find the person mentally ill by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1 (2000).
A “mentally ill person” is a person with a substantial psychiatric disorder that
grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or to reason or understand, which is manifested by instances of grossly disturbed behavior or faulty perceptions and poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others as demonstrated by:
(1) a failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care as a result of the impairment; or
(2) a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others.
Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a) (2000). Sharp challenges the determination that there is clear and convincing evidence that she poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to herself or others.
A commitment will be reversed if there is insufficient evidence to show likely physical harm to the patient or others. In re Nadeau, 375 N.W.2d 85, 87-88 (Minn. App. 1985) (reversing commitment where all witnesses agreed patient posed no danger to others, was appropriately dressed, not malnourished, and had obtained shelter). The likelihood of harm must be demonstrated by an overt failure to obtain necessities or a recent attempt or threat to harm self or others; mere speculation is insufficient. McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d at 623.
This is not to say, however, that the person must either come to harm or harm others before commitment as a mentally ill person is justified. The statute requires only that a substantial likelihood of physical harm exists, as demonstrated by an overt failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care or by a recent attempt or threat to harm self or others.
Id. at 623-24.
The trial court’s conclusion that Sharp poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to herself or others is supported by its findings that Sharp set a calendar on fire in her apartment in the middle of the night, told her mother that she did not want to live anymore, attempted to scratch a hospital security guard, and would not eat food from her hospital tray. Although none of this conduct caused significant harm, there was a substantial likelihood that it would. For example, but for the fact that Sharp’s mother awoke and put out the fire that Sharp set in their apartment, the fire-setting incident could easily have caused physical harm.
Sharp argues that the evidence does not demonstrate that the fire-setting incident was an attempt to cause harm because there is no indication that the fire was anything more than a small, controlled fire. But even if the fire was small and controlled when Sharp’s mother doused it, the district court could reasonably infer that setting a fire inside an apartment in the middle of the night while Sharp’s mother was asleep was an attempt to harm Sharp or others.
The district court’s findings of fact are not clearly erroneous, and the findings support the commitment.