Mental Health Procedures Act; Review of Section 303 Commitment after Expiration of Appeal Period

In Re: Petition of J.M.Y., 179 A.3d 1140 (Pa. Super. 2018) (en banc), allocatur granted Sept. 17, 2018, appeal docket 33 WAP 2018 (Majority) (Dissent)

J.M.Y. got drunk at a college fraternity party while taking medication for anxiety and depression; campus police concluded he was a danger to himself, took him to a mental hospital, and had him involuntarily committed under section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) 50 P.S. §§ 7101-7503. Section 302 of the MHPA provides for the involuntary emergency examination and treatment of a person not to exceed 120 hours if, upon certification of a physician for examination, or upon a warrant issued by a county administrator authorizing an examination, an examination conducted by a physician within two hours of arrival shows that the person is severely mentally disabled and in need of emergency treatment. 50 P.S. § 7302(a), (b). Section 303 of the MHPA provides for extended involuntary emergency treatment of any person who is being treated pursuant to section 302 for a period not to exceed twenty days if, after an informal conference where the patient is represented by counsel, a judge or mental health review officer finds that the patient is severely mentally disabled and in need of continued involuntary treatment, so certifies. 50 P.S. § 7303(a)-(c). The Crimes Code provides for the expungement of a commitment under Section 302.  Expungement is not available under Section 303, however.  Rather, a Section 303 commitment is considered a formal adjudication; if a person seeks to challenge it, he must appeal the determination within 30 days. A person committed under either Section 302 or Section 303 is prohibited under state and federal law from possessing, using, controlling, selling, transferring, or manufacturing a firearm. J.M.Y. was hospitalized for 4 days and released.

Two years later, J.M.Y. filed a petition to expunge his involuntary commitment so as to free himself from the firearms ban, which the trial court denied. The trial court concluded that J.M.Y. had received a valid Section 303 commitment hearing on the day he was released from custody and he failed to timely appeal from that adjudication.  Reviewing the record of J.M.Y.’s commitment hearing and the record of the expungement hearing, the Superior Court majority found irregularities in the Section 303 commitment proceeding that abridged J.M.Y.’s due process rights and rendered the adjudication invalid.  In particular, J.M.Y. was entitled to counsel at the Section 303 hearing, but was unaware that any hearing was held, and though he spoke to a public defender before he was released, did not attend a hearing himself, was not formally represented, and was not advised of his right to appeal. At the expungement hearing, the public defender appeared as a witness and confirmed that J.M.Y. was not present at the commitment hearing and a campus policeman testified that he had no recollection of a hearing being held.  The Superior Court majority concluded:

In summary, because the certified record reflects that the dictates of the MHPA mandating a valid 303 certification were not met, we conclude that Appellant’s due process rights were violated and fundamental fairness requires that his section 303 certification records be expunged. Accordingly, we vacate the certification for involuntary treatment pursuant to section 303, and we direct that those records be expunged. In re Ryan, 784 A.2d at 807. Once that is accomplished, the trial court is to hold a hearing addressing the expungement of Appellant’s section 302 commitment.

Slip Op. at 14.

Judge Olsen, in dissent, opined that J.M.Y.’s failure to timely appeal the Section 303 commitment within 30 days deprived the court of jurisdiction to review the Section 303 commitment or to expunge it.

The Supreme Court granted the Pennsylvania State Police’s allocatur petition, and will address the following question:

Did the Pennsylvania Superior Court err when it exercised jurisdiction to review a commitment under 50 P.S. § 7303, when no timely appeal was filed, and the challenge was brought years later under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 6111.1(g)(2) & 6105(f)(1)?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.