This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C4-03-179

 

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of:  Patricia Furlow.

 

Filed June 10, 2003

Affirmed

Kalitowski, Judge

 

Olmsted County District Court

File No. P7024612

 

Steven K. Murakami, Bagniefski & Murakami, P.A., 9 First Street Northwest, P.O. Box 6, Rochester, MN 55903 (for appellant)

 

Raymond F. Schmitz, Olmsted County Attorney, Geoffrey A. Hjerleid, Assistant County Attorney, Government Center, 151 Fourth Street Southeast, Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

KALITOWSKI, Judge

            The district court committed appellant as mentally ill, finding that she poses a likelihood of harm because she:  (1) has a habit of fasting for four or more days; (2) does not have reasonable shelter; and (3) refuses to take medication for her mental illness.  Appellant challenges her commitment, contending that the requirement of harm was not met and was based on speculation.  We affirm.

D E C I S I O N

 

            In reviewing a commitment this court is limited to an examination of whether the district court complied with the requirements of the commitment act.  In re Schaefer, 498 N.W.2d 298, 300 (Minn. App. 1993).  Moreover, findings of fact justifying commitment shall not be overturned “unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.”  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; see also Schaefer, 498 N.W.2d at 300.

            Under the statute, a mentally ill person is defined as having a substantial psychiatric disorder that

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; (2) an inability for reasons other than indigence to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care as a result of the impairment and it is more probable than not that the person will suffer substantial harm, significant psychiatric deterioration or debilitation, or serious illness, unless appropriate treatment and services are provided; (3) a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others; or (4) recent and volitional conduct involving significant damage to substantial property.

 

Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a) (2002).  But the commitment statute does not require that a person suffer actual physical harm as a result of a failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care, so long as the danger of the person’s condition has already become evident.  In re Terra, 412 N.W.2d 325, 328 (Minn. App. 1987).  The district court must find the person mentally ill by clear and convincing evidence.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1 (2002).  And the court must make specific findings and state what conduct forms the basis for the commitment.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 2 (2002).

            The district court’s basis for the commitment was that appellant has a mental illness, has a habit of fasting for four or more concurrent days, has no reasonable shelter, and refuses to take medication for her mental illness.  Based on the evidence presented in the record and at trial, we agree with the district court’s conclusion that appellant is mentally ill under the statute.

            Appellant argues there is no evidence on the record that she poses a substantial likelihood of harm to herself.  But appellant does not dispute that she suffers from a substantial psychiatric disorder.  Appellant was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1999.  Moreover, Dr. Marshall, the court-appointed examiner, also diagnosed appellant as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  And Dr. Linderman, the second court-appointed examiner, diagnosed appellant with bipolar affective disorder with current manic and psychotic features.  In addition, appellant’s family reports that she has been displaying symptoms of mental illness for approximately 20 years.

            Appellant contends that, contrary to the district court’s finding, she only fasts for two days at a time, and the claim that she has fasted for up to four days was unsubstantiated at trial.  But according to the pre-petition screening report, appellant refused to eat from November 15, 2002, until November 18, 2002.  Further, the report indicates that the reason appellant was not eating was because she believed her food was poisoned or that the staff was putting medications in her food and she would lose her “special gift” and her “calling” if she took medications.  In addition, the pre-petition screening report stated that appellant told the staff that she had been fasting for four to five days.  Thus, we cannot conclude that the district court’s finding that appellant is a danger to herself because of her practice of fasting for up to four days at a time was clearly erroneous.

            Appellant also contends that she had a reasonable plan for shelter, as demonstrated by the fact that she has never been homeless and has had apartments in the past.  Appellant indicated that she planned to travel to Dallas, Texas, to look for housing while staying with a friend and continue her “lawsuit” against her former employer American Airlines.  Appellant claims that she hit her head and suffered a “nine-month concussion” while working for American Airlines.  Appellant also testified that her accident at American Airlines was related to the attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001.

            Despite the fact that appellant had reasonable shelter in the past, we cannot conclude that the district court’s finding was clearly erroneous.  At the time of trial, appellant had only vague plans for shelter.  Moreover, her plan to move to Dallas was motivated by her grudge against American Airlines, which may be based on a delusion.  Thus, because the record indicates appellant’s plan for shelter was unreasonably vague and likely motivated by her delusions, the district court did not err in finding that appellant is a danger to herself because she did not have a reasonable plan for shelter.

            Next, appellant argues that she only refuses to take neuroleptic medication and that Dr. Linderman mentioned appellant’s willingness to take medication for mood swings and anger.  But Dr. Linderman also stated in her report that appellant “is an incompetent refuser of neuroleptics.”  Moreover, Dr. Marshall testified that schizophrenia is a chronic, progressive disease that becomes more difficult to treat if left untreated and that appellant has no insight into her mental illness.   Thus, the district court’s finding that appellant’s refusal to take neuroleptic medication poses a substantial risk of harm is not clearly erroneous.

            Appellant urges us to follow In re Nadeau, 375 N.W.2d 85 (Minn. App. 1985).  In Nadeau, this court reversed the commitment because there was no evidence that the resources used by Nadeau in the past to meet her needs for food, shelter, clothing, and medical care would be unavailable to her in the future.  Id. at 87.  Appellant’s situation is distinguishable. 

            First, appellant refused to eat because she believed her food was either poisoned or contained medications.  In Nadeau, there was no mention of Nadeau’s refusal to eat because of a delusion.  Second, Nadeau demonstrated an ability to care for herself by seeking shelter at a residential halfway facility and demanding that the hospital provide her with a wheelchair and a wrap for her injured knee.  Id.  Here, appellant has consistently refused medications for her mental illness and, immediately prior to trial, had not been shown to be living anywhere.  She had been staying with friends but had left.  And according to the record, those friends were also concerned for appellant because she had not been sleeping, and she refused to eat, believing her food was poisoned.

            Because the district court’s findings have support in the record, and therefore, are not clearly erroneous, we conclude that the evidence provided the district court with clear and convincing evidence that appellant poses a substantial likelihood of harm to herself. 

            Affirmed.

 



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