This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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








In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of:

Sheila Erickson.



Filed March 26, 2002


Crippen, Judge



Hennepin County District Court

File No. P20060244



Ruth Y. Ostrom, 270 Grain Exchange North, 301 Fourth Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN  55415 (for appellant Erickson)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, John L. Kirwin, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55487 (for respondent petitioner)


            Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            This review once again compels the court to consider the nature of proceedings occurring in the aftermath of the initial stay of a commitment.  We affirm the trial court decision that the continuation of a stay addresses only the term of the stay, rather than the term of the commitment.  We also reject appellant’s contention that a term of actual commitment upon revocation of a stayed initial order for commitment is for any duration other than six months, the period provided by statute for an initial commitment.


            A petition was filed on behalf of the Hennepin County Medical Center to commit appellant Sheila Erickson as a mentally ill person, and a hearing was held.  On June 16, 2000, the court ordered commitment of appellant but stayed this order on conditions meant to induce voluntary treatment.  The order provided that the stay would terminate without further order on December 12, 2000, unless the stay was revoked or the matter was continued pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 253B.095, subd. 5 (2000).

            Shortly before the stay was to expire, respondent moved to extend the stay pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 253B.095, subd. 3 (2000).  After a hearing, the court issued an order on December 12, 2000.  Although entitled “Order for Continued Commitment as Mentally Ill Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 253B.12,” the operative language of the order merely continued the stay of appellant’s commitment for a three-month period ending March 16, 2001.

            On February 6, 2001, respondent moved to vacate the stay of commitment on the grounds that appellant violated stay conditions.  After a hearing, the court issued an order on February 16, 2001, determining that stay-condition violations had occurred, vacating the stay, and stating that appellant is actually committed.  The court provided that the December 12, 2000, order would otherwise remain in effect.

            Appellant’s commitment placement was at Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center, and she was provisionally discharged on March 27, 2001.  On June 20, 2001, the discharge was revoked because her mental health deteriorated.  A hearing was held on whether the commitment should be continued.  Appellant argued that the court had no jurisdiction to consider the issue because her commitment had already expired on March 16, 2001—three months after the continuance in December 2000.  The trial court rejected appellant’s argument and continued appellant’s commitment until February 15, 2002. 


            Statutory interpretation is a question of law that is reviewed de novo.  Hince v. O’Keefe, 632 N.W.2d 577, 582 (Minn. 2001).  When interpreting a statute, the court must give effect to its plain meaning and take into account the structure of the statute and the context of the disputed language.  In re Robledo, 611 N.W.2d 67, 69 (Minn. App. 2000).  Any ambiguity in the commitment law must be construed against the state and in favor of the person being deprived of liberty.  In re Colbert, 464 N.W.2d 505, 507 (Minn. 1991).

            Appellant contends that the December 12, 2000, order addressed the term of her commitment and provided that it expired on March 16, 2001.  She reasons that because the February 16, 2001 order was silent as to the term of commitment, her commitment expired on March 16, 2001, pursuant to the December 2000 order.  The trial court evidently rejected appellant’s view of the December order, observing that the order addressed the stay, not the term of commitment, because there was no commitment in effect at that time.  This interpretation is consistent with the language in the December order determining the continuance of the “stayed commitment.”

            We are cognizant of the fact that language in the December order was confusing, the court once observing that the “continued commitment” term would end in March 2001.  But it is evident to us, as it was to the trial court, that this reference was directed at the stayed commitment, as specifically mentioned in the staying language of the order.

            This view is substantially confirmed by the fact that the December procedure dealt entirely with the stay, not the medical circumstances of the patient that would shape the underlying commitment.  Of equal importance is that this construction is dictated as a matter of law by the statute governing the stay of commitment.

            Cause for commitment is determined under Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1 (2000).  If, in fact, actual commitment is to occur, the procedures are governed by Minn. Stat. § 253B.10 (2000), which sets in motion the process of reporting and review; ultimately, the propriety of continued commitment will be determined in Minn. Stat. § 253B.12, subd. 4 (2000).  In contrast, if the commitment does not actually occur but is stayed, this occurs under Minn. Stat. § 253B.095 (2000), which separately provides for the duration of the stay and the continuation of the stay.  In this proceeding, the trial court in the June 2000 order stayed the commitment under Minn. Stat. § 253B.095.  In December 2000, the court did not conduct review proceedings of the commitment under Minn. Stat. § 253B.12 (2000) but conducted a review of the stay under Minn. Stat. § 253B.095.

            As already reported, appellant contends that if the December 2000 order is viewed as a commitment order, it expired on March 16, 2001, because the February 2001 order vacating the stay and ordering the commitment was silent on duration.  She goes on to argue that if the December 2000 order is not viewed as a commitment order, the only determination of the term of commitment was in the June 2000 order, a term that expired long before the revocation.  To support this argument, appellant cites In re Brown, 627 N.W.2d 113 (Minn. App. 2001), review granted (Minn. Aug. 15, 2001).  Brown provided that the term of commitment was established in the initial commitment order in spite of a stay of proceedings.  Id. at 116.

            We observe initially that Brown is under review by the supreme court, and we are encumbered by the need to decide this appeal before the supreme court’s decision in Brown.  In any event, we find the procedure in this case is not dictated by Brown.  It is evident in Brown that the initial order was treated on review as an order for commitment under Minn. Stat. § 253B.10 and not as a stayed commitment under Minn. Stat. § 253B.095.  Id. at 115.  And it is unclear in Brown whether the proceeding involved a section 253B.095 stay.  In contrast, in the immediate case, it is undisputed that there was a stay under section 253B.095, and we determine the law of the case accordingly.

            Section 253B.09, subd. 1, addresses whether there is cause for commitment, and section 253B.10 contemplates a warrant or order for actual commitment of the patient to the hospital.  There was no warrant or order for actual commitment in this case.  Moreover, it is not significant that the February 2001 order is silent as to duration.  Section 253B.09, subdivision 5, builds into the law an initial period of actual commitment for six months.[1]  In re Wicks, 364 N.W.2d 844, 848 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. May 31, 1985).

            Our approach to the statute is also dictated by the rules of construction, which provide that the legislature does not intend an absurd result.  Minn. Stat. § 645.17(1) (2000). Nothing in the statute suggests an expectation of dual tracks of court proceedings in the event of a stay, one to determine whether the patient should remain under the jurisdiction of the court when released on stay and another to deal with diagnosing the current health of the patient and determining the term of any actual commitment.  Thus, for example, the statutes envision, as the source of evidence for continuation proceedings under sections 253B.12 and 253B.13, the contents of a treatment report of staff that only occurs in the event of actual commitment.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.12, subd. 1 (2000).  There is no actual commitment in the event of a stay unless revocation of the stay occurs.



[1] Significantly, we reject inferring a different view from dicta in In re Abrahams, 394 N.W.2d 234, 237 (Minn. App. 1986), on the same topic.  Abrahams is properly cited as authority that time is a critical element, to be determined based on medical evidence, in a review hearing under section 253B.12 and in a continued commitment hearing under section 253B.13.  Id.  In contrast, the initial commitment is addressed by section 253B.09, which flatly sets the term at six months, leaving to the specific process for subsequent evaluation the question as to the ultimate length of the initial commitment.  The February 2001 order was for a period of six months.  And except as to the issue of whether the term of the February order is limited either by Brown or by the December 2000 proceeding, appellant has not questioned the trial court’s treatment of the February order as being one for six months.