This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).






In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of:

Diane M. Anderson.


Filed March 4, 2003

Forsberg, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. P70260339


Gregory R. Solum, 7625 Metro Boulevard, Suite 140, Edina, MN 55439 (for appellant Diane M. Anderson)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth V. Cutter, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent Hennepin County)


            Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant challenges her commitment as a mentally ill person, contending that there was not clear and convincing evidence to support her commitment and that the district court abused its discretion by precluding the testimony of the second court-appointed examiner.  Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence supporting the order for commitment and because precluding the examiner’s testimony was not an abuse of the district court’s discretion, we affirm.


            In October 2000, the Minneapolis Housing Inspection Department (MHID) posted a notice of intent to condemn the house in which appellant Diane M. Anderson was living because it contained potentially fatal hazards.  Though the house had running water, it did not have a functioning toilet or refrigerator.  The MHID allowed persons to enter the property, a so-called “garbage house,” during its condemnation, but the house was not to be occupied, which a housing inspector defined as sleeping, eating, or living at the property.

            Despite the condemnation of the house, Anderson continued to occupy the premises.  Her occupation was demonstrated by rooms that were lighted at 10:00 p.m., calls made from the house at all hours of the day and night, mail and water bills delivered to the house, trash in the dumpster, rotting food, and water usage typical for a one-occupant, single-family home.

            The MHID district supervisor testified that the house contained more hazardous materials at the time of Anderson’s commitment than when the house was initially condemned two years earlier.  When MHID personnel entered the house in July of 2002, the house contained “countless” garbage bags of fecal material and toilet paper, and fecal material was seeping through the ceiling to the main level of the house.  Anderson admitted to putting the feces in the garbage bags and said that she “was going to take [the bags of feces] to the basement, but didn’t get a path cleaned.”  The floor of the kitchen contained approximately three feet of material and debris.  The amount of debris in the house made it difficult to enter through its doors.

            Anderson demonstrated behavior that indicated that she is not aware of the extent of the house’s dangerous condition.  She admitted that she is “apathetic” about housecleaning, but dismissed concerns about the amount of feces, garbage, and hazardous materials in the house.  Anderson stated that the condition of the house was not “that bad,” but just an excess of “clutter” and that “you just have to know where to step.”  She did not notice any odor in the house on the day she was last there, though others testified that the smell was repulsive and overwhelmingly putrid.  Anderson has also made verbal threats to her daughters that she would kill herself if she were required to move from the condemned house.

            On July 2, 2002, Anderson was placed on a 72-hour hold at the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) Crisis Intervention Center.  Several experts analyzed Anderson, concluded that she was delusional, and recommended that she be committed as a mentally ill person.  Six days later, the HCMC filed an administrative petition seeking Anderson’s involuntary commitment.  The district court held hearings on the matter on July 16 and 29.  During the hearings, the court precluded the testimony of a second court-appointed examiner because the county attorney did not receive notice of that examination.  On August 5, 2002, the court ordered Anderson’s commitment as a mentally ill person.

            This appeal follows.


I.  Commitment as a Mentally Ill Person

            A.         Evidentiary Findings

            Anderson first challenges the district court’s evidentiary findings that she is a mentally ill person.  A district court’s factual findings of whether a person is mentally ill will not be set aside unless they are clearly erroneous.  In re McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d 621, 623 (Minn. 1995); see Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.  An appellate court will examine the record in the light most favorable to the district court’s decision, In re Knops, 536 N.W.2d 616, 620 (Minn. 1995), and the reviewing court will not reweigh the evidence, but will only determine if the evidence as a whole supports the district court’s findings.  In re Salkin, 430 N.W.2d 13, 16 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Nov. 23, 1988).

            The Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act (MCTA) prohibits a person from being committed as mentally ill unless it is proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person has a “substantial psychiatric disorder” that “grossly impairs judgment,” resulting in “grossly disturbed behavior or faulty perceptions,” and posing “a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others.”  Minn. Stat. §§ 253B.02, subd. 13(a); 253B.09, subd. 1 (2002).  This must be demonstrated by “a failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care” or “a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others.”  Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a)(1), (3).  The MCTA requires the court to set out with specificity the patient’s conduct that forms the basis for the commitment.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 2 (2002).  This court has upheld commitments with scant, though legally sufficient, findings.  See, e.g., In re King, 476 N.W.2d 190, 194 (Minn. App. 1991).

            Anderson’s commitment was based upon her failure to obtain shelter and her recent attempt or threat to physically harm herself or others.  The district court found that Anderson has demonstrated “grossly disturbed behavior and faulty perceptions” and maintains “delusional beliefs about the extent of the problem” of the condition of her house.  It found that Anderson is unable “to act in her own best interest to provide herself with suitable shelter” and that this inability “is the result of the fixed and focused delusional disorder that characterizes her mental illness.”  In addition, the court found that Anderson poses a risk to herself, as is demonstrated by her threats to kill herself if she were removed from the condemned house.

            The findings of the district court are consistent with the record.  All experts confirmed that Anderson suffers from a substantial psychiatric disorder.  Dr. Janet Andrews, the first expert witness and a staff psychiatrist at the HCMC, diagnosed Anderson as having a “delusional disorder, persecutory type,” with a history of “major depression versus bipolar disorder” and a mixed personality disorder consisting of both obsessive-compulsive and passive-aggressive features.  Dr. Andrews testified that Anderson’s delusions were focused on persecutory beliefs regarding her daughters and on the safety of her house.  In addition, Dr. Andrews noted that Anderson did not have an understanding of the impact of gathering feces in her home and that Anderson’s primary problem was her inability to select and maintain appropriate shelter.  Dr. Andrews further testified that Anderson’s delusions impaired only limited aspects of her life, making the illness less severe but more difficult to treat.  Similarly, the first court-appointed examiner, Dr. James Jacobson, diagnosed Anderson as having a paranoid delusional disorder that prevented her from cleaning her house, despite being ordered to do so by legal authorities.  Dr. Jacobson also stated that although Anderson appears intelligent and capable in some ways, part of her illness is “undiagnosable.”  This evidence sufficiently demonstrates that the district court did not err in finding that Anderson has a mental illness.

            Anderson also argues that she did not occupy the residence, but that she has stayed at the homes of friends.  She contends that because she did not spend her entire day at the residence, her time there does not fit the definition of occupation, which includes sleeping, eating, and living at the property.[1]  But there is undisputed evidence that the house lights were on at 10:00 p.m., that calls were made from the house at all hours of the day and night, that mail and water bills were delivered to the house, that there was trash in the dumpster, there was rotting food in the house, and that water usage was typical for a one-occupant, single-family home.  This evidence is sufficient to show Anderson’s occupation of the home.

            In light of the substantial supporting evidence, the district court did not err in its factual findings.

            B.         Legal Standard for Commitment

            Anderson next argues that the district court erred in applying its findings to the statutory requirements for commitment.  This court reviews de novo the legal question of whether clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that appellant meets the legal standards for commitment.  See Knops, 536 N.W.2d at 620; Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1(a) (2002) (requiring clear and convincing evidence).

            Anderson contends that the record contains insufficient evidence that she poses a risk of physical harm to herself or others.  The MCTA requires that a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others be demonstrated by “a failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care,” or by “a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others,” and mere speculation is insufficient.  In re McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d 621, 623 (Minn. 1995); see Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a)(1), (3).

            The district court did not err in finding that Anderson failed to obtain appropriate shelter and posed a risk to herself or others.  As described above, there is sufficient evidence that Anderson continued to live in a house that was unsanitary and contained potentially fatal hazards.  See In re Emond, 366 N.W.2d 689, 692 (Minn. App. 1985) (failure to provide sanitary shelter constitutes failure to provide shelter within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13).  The record also reflects that Anderson told her daughters, Lisa and Cheryl Regan, that she would kill herself if she were forced to move again.  Cheryl Regan also testified that Anderson said that she would try to make the suicide look as though Lisa Regan did it.  The only evidence rebutting Anderson’s threats of suicide was her own self-serving testimony that she was not suicidal, but that her nonspecific statements were the result of strained relationships within the family.  This alone is insufficient to show that the district court erred in finding that Anderson is a threat to herself or others.  See Rohling v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 309 Minn. 258, 260, 243 N.W.2d 742, 743 (1976) (noting that contradictory testimony of interested witnesses should not be given conclusive effect); see also Merrill v. Kjelgren, 280 Minn. 456, 459, 160 N.W.2d 155, 158 (1968) (stating that court is not bound to accept testimony of defendant).  The district court reasonably concluded that Anderson poses a substantial likelihood of harm to herself or others and that she fails to recognize the health hazards caused by unsanitary living conditions.

            Anderson next argues that because of the limited and focused nature of her illness, there is insufficient evidence to justify involuntary commitment.  We disagree.  As the district court noted in its order, the weight of the evidence shows that Anderson’s mental illness has caused a substantial psychiatric disorder of her thought, mood, and perception.  Merely because the mental illness is limited in scope does not make it insufficient for commitment. 

            Because the evidence demonstrates that Anderson suffers from a substantial psychiatric disorder, the district court properly found that she satisfies the legal standards for commitment.

II.  Preclusion of the Second Examiner’s Testimony

            Anderson argues that the district court improperly precluded the testimony of her second court-appointed examiner.  An appellate court will reverse the evidentiary rulings of a district court only upon a demonstration that the court abused its discretion.  In re Ramey, 648 N.W.2d 260, 270 (Minn. App. 2002); see In re Preston, 629 N.W.2d 104, 115 (Minn. App. 2001) (“[T]he mode, manner, and method of receiving testimony rest almost wholly in the discretion of the trial court.”) (citation omitted).

            Prior to a proposed patient’s hearing, the court must inform the patient of the right to an independent second examination, and the court shall appoint a second examiner of the patient’s choosing at the proposed patient’s request.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.07, subd. 3 (2002).  Both the proposed patient’s attorney and the county attorney have a right to be present at examinations.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.07, subd. 5 (2002).

            On July 12, 2002, the district court appointed a second examiner, Dr. Nelson, in an order that directed Anderson’s attorney to “notify [the county] attorney of the time, date and place of any examinations scheduled pursuant to this order.”  The county attorney was not given notice of Dr. Nelson’s examination, however.  When Anderson sought to introduce Dr. Nelson’s testimony, the county objected to the introduction of the testimony, and the court sustained the objection.  The court offered to appoint another examiner, but Anderson rejected this offer.

            Anderson argues that the second examiner’s testimony was incorrectly excluded because (1) the second examiner generally provides the court with updated information regarding the proposed patient, (2) there was no objection to Dr. Nelson’s appointment or status as an expert, and (3) the county’s attorney waived her appearance at the second examination.  None of these arguments, however, assists Anderson.  Neither her assertion that “it is not uncommon” for an examiner to provide updated information to the court, nor the lack of an objection to Dr. Nelson’s appointment, is relevant to the court’s decision that the county attorney was impermissibly denied notice of the examination.  Appellant’s next assertion that the county attorney waived her appearance at the second examination by being on vacation is without merit.  The county attorney had arranged for a colleague to appear at the examination, if needed, but she did not receive notice.  Finally, the court offered to appoint a third examiner, but Anderson rejected the court’s offer.  Because the county attorney was not notified of the second examination, and because the court offered to appoint another examiner, the district court acted within its discretion by precluding the testimony of the second court-appointed examiner.


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


[1] A housing inspector testified that the term “living” at a property involves “conducting activities that a normal person would say that they are occupying a particular property.”  Prohibited activities under this definition include overnight stays and “spending an amount of time in a property.”