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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Dakota K (8/28/2015) sp-7041

In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Dakota K (8/28/2015) sp-7041

         Notice:  This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC REPORTER .  

         Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts,  

         303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, email  


In the Matter of the Necessity                      )  

for the Hospitalization of                          )        Supreme Court No. S-15428  


DAKOTA K.                                           )        Superior Court No. 3AN-13-03006 PR  


                                                    )        O P I N I O N  


                                                    )        No. 7041 - August 28, 2015  

_______________________________  )  

                 Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third  


                 Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Guidi, Judge.   

                 Appearances:    Sharon  Barr,  Assistant  Public  Defender,  

                  and   Quinlan   Steiner,   Public   Defender,   Anchorage,   for  

                 Appellant         D akota      K.        Jonathan        A.     Woodman,  


                  Senior     Assistant      Attorney       General,      Anchorage,        and  

                  Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee  

                  State of Alaska.  

                 Before:  Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and  


                 Bolger, Justices.  

                  STOWERS, Justice.  


                 Dakota   K.1  

                                    appeals   a   30-day   involuntary   psychiatric   commitment.  

Although his appeal is moot, Dakota argues the collateral consequences exception to the  

mootness  doctrine  applies.    Under  that  exception  we  have  presumed  collateral  

         1       Pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy of the parties.  

----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

consequences from a respondent's first involuntary commitment. In this case the parties                                                              

dispute whether the State or the respondent has the burden to prove the existence of prior         

involuntary commitments.   We hold that this burden rests on the respondent, who must                                                      

make some evidentiary showing that the commitment was his first in order to raise the   

presumption of collateral consequences.  


                               In December 2013 two Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) mental health  

professionals petitioned the superior court for a 30-day commitment of Dakota K.                                                                                                            The  

following day Magistrate Judge Una S. Gandbhir held a hearing at API.  During the                                                                             

hearing Dakota's father, Daniel, testified that Dakota had gone to graduate school in   

Iceland and had been living with him since Dakota's return in August 2012.  By the   

following year their relationship had become contentious, and shortly after Thanksgiving  

Daniel told Dakota that he would have to make alternative living arrangements.  


                              Daniel testified that Dakota then went on a "reign of terror."  According to  

Daniel, Dakota came to his apartment several times, knocked on the door, and before  


Daniel answered - Daniel uses a mobility scooter and it took time to cross the room -  


Dakota rammed the door with a heavy metal tool or a cart.  In another incident Dakota  

                                                                                              2  Dakota once removed the key from Daniel's  

threatened Daniel with a crescent wrench. 

mobility scooter, leaving him immobilized.  Finally, Dakota sent Daniel "a hundred . . .  


texts" asking Daniel whether he wanted to die and saying that Daniel did not deserve to  



                              Daniel obtained a restraining order against Dakota.  Nevertheless, Dakota  


repeatedly returned to Daniel's apartment in violation of that order.  The police arrested  


               2              Dakota denies this, though the superior court apparently found Daniel's  

testimony more credible and found that this event had occurred.  

                                                                                                -2-                                                                                               7041  

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------


Dakota after one of these visits.  Daniel testified that Dakota's recent behavior had been  


"extremely abnormal" and was "downright scary."  He further testified that Dakota had  


psychiatric issues as an adolescent, once threatening Daniel with a piece of broken glass  

and once threatening to kill himself.  


                    In December 2013 Dakota was admitted to API, where he was evaluated  

by a psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Blanford.  The first evaluation occurred the day after  


Dakota's admission - which was two days before the commitment hearing - and two  


other evaluations followed, as well as regular observations.  Although Dr. Blanford did  


not  make  a  formal  diagnosis,  he  testified  that  Dakota's  behavior  at  API  was  "very  

consistent  with  irritable  mania  and  bipolar  disorder."    He  explained  that  Dakota  


"demonstrated pressured speech, frequent interruption, . . . would derail easily, . . . would  


frequently change the subject, declined to answer questions, [and] was very loud."  He  

further stated that there was "an aggressive aspect" to Dakota's behavior:  Dakota had  

threatened to "shove soap down a staff member's throat" and warned another that he  

would  cause  "a  blood  bath  on  this  unit"  if  he  did  not  receive  his  medication.  


Dr. Blanford recommended that Dakota remain at API until he was "able to control his  

behavior" and was less prone to "assaultive behavior."  


                    After the hearing Magistrate Judge Gandbhir orally granted the 30-day  


commitment petition.  Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi signed the written order one  


day later.  The court found that Dakota was "mentally ill and as a result is likely to cause  

harm to others."  It noted his "aggressive and threatening behavior leading up to the  


restraining order," as well as his "subsequent arrest for violation of that order."  It further  


noted Dr. Blanford's testimony regarding Dakota's "lack of impulse control" and "the  


threats and behavior culminating in crisis medication at API."  The court found "clear  


and convincing evidence" that Dakota posed a risk to others and that "[n]o less restrictive  


facility would adequately protect [Dakota] and the public."  Dakota was committed to  

                                                                -3-                                                         7041

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API for a period not to exceed 30 days.  He appealed the commitment order after his  

release, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence.  



                    "Mootness is a matter of judicial policy and its application is a question of  



law."   "We adopt the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason,  

and policy."4  



                    Mootness is a judicially created doctrine meant to promote expediency and  



judicial economy.            "A claim is moot if it is no longer a present, live controversy, and the  

                                                                                                             6  "Mootness  

party bringing the action would not be entitled to relief, even if it prevails." 

can also occur when a party no longer has a personal stake in the controversy and has,  


in essence, been divested of standing."7  

                    In  Wetherhorn  v.  Alaska  Psychiatric  Institute we  held  that  appeals  of  


commitment  orders  based  on  insufficient  evidence  are  generally  moot  after  the  

          3         In re Joan K. , 273 P.3d 594, 595-96 (Alaska 2012).  

          4         Id . at 596 (quoting Olson v. State, 260 P.3d 1056, 1059 (Alaska 2011))  

(internal quotation marks omitted).  

          5         See  In   re  Mark  V.,  324   P.3d  840,  849  (Alaska  2014)  (Stowers,  J.,  

dissenting);  see  also  Honig   v.  Doe,  484  U.S.  305,  330-32  (1988)  (Rehnquist,  C.J.,  




                    Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d 371, 380 (Alaska 2007)  


(quoting Fairbanks Fire Fighters Ass'n, Local 1324 v. City of Fairbanks , 48 P.3d 1165,  

 1167 (Alaska 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted).  



                    Fairbanks Fire Fighters Ass'n , 48 P.3d at 1167 (quoting 15 MARTIN  H.  


   EDISH , MOORE 'S FEDERAL PRACTICE  101.90 (3d ed. 1998)) (internal quotation marks  


                                                              -4-                                                       7041

----------------------- Page 5-----------------------


commitment period has passed.   But In re Joan K. established a collateral consequences  


exception to this general principle.   We noted that involuntary commitment carries  

various   collateral   consequences,   including   "social   stigma,   adverse   employment  

restrictions,  application  in  future  legal  proceedings,  and  restrictions  on  the  right  to  


possess firearms."             This exception to mootness had already been recognized in other  


contexts and "allows courts to decide otherwise-moot cases when a judgment may carry  


indirect consequences in addition to its direct force, either as a matter of legal rules or  

as a matter of practical effect."11  


                    In Joan K. we held that collateral consequences could be presumed to flow  


                                                            In reaching this conclusion, we reasoned that  

from a first involuntary commitment. 


"some  number  of  prior  involuntary  commitment  orders  would  likely  eliminate  the  

          8         Wetherhorn,   156   P.3d   at   380   ("[T]he   thirty-day   period   for   which  

Wetherhorn was committed has long since passed, and the question is thus moot.").  

                    Wetherhorn  also  established  a  public-interest  exception  to  this  general  

rule.  Id .    Under  this  exception,  the  court  considers  three  factors:    "(1)  whether  the  

disputed issues are capable of repetition, (2) whether the mootness doctrine, if applied,  


may cause review of the issues to be repeatedly circumvented, and (3) whether the issues  

presented are so important to the public interest as to justify overriding the mootness  

doctrine."  Id. at 380-81 (quoting Akpik v. State, Office of Mgmt. & Budget , 115 P.3d  


532, 536 (Alaska 2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted).  Dakota concedes that his  


appeal is based on a claim of insufficient evidence and that the public interest exception  


to mootness does not apply.  

          9         273 P.3d 594, 598 (Alaska 2012).  

          10       Id . at 597 (footnotes omitted).   



                   Id.  at 597-98  (quoting Peter A. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs.,  

Office of Children's Servs., 146 P.3d 991, 994-95 (Alaska 2006)) (internal quotation  

marks omitted).  

          12       Id. at 598.  

                                                             -5-                                                        7041

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possibility       of    additional        collateral      consequences,           precluding         the    [exception's]  



                    At issue in this appeal is who bears the burden of establishing whether the  


involuntary commitment order is Dakota's first; this question has not yet been decided  



in Alaska.         Dakota contends that this burden falls on the State because:  (1) "the [S]tate  

has  access  to  the  information  concerning  prior  involuntary  commitments";  (2)  "the  

[S]tate  bears  the  burden  of  proof  at  an  involuntary  commitment  hearing";  and  

(3) "[g]iven that it is the [S]tate who is trying to commit the respondent, it should also  

be the party responsible for proving any prior involuntary commitments."  

                    The State contends that the burden should fall on Dakota.  The State notes  


that Dakota "has not even alleged, much less established, that he has no prior involuntary  



commitments."              It contends that Dakota should "at least affy that the commitment being  


appealed is his first."  And it notes that if Dakota "had been involuntarily committed in  

another  jurisdiction  .  .  .  ,[the  State]  would  have  no  way  of  proving  whether  this  

commitment was [his] first, or just one of many."  

          13        Id .  

          14        See In re Stephen O           ., 314 P.3d 1185, 1192 n.18 (Alaska 2013) ("While  

Stephen and the State agree that we should consider the merits of Stephen's challenge,  

they disagree about which party should bear the burden of establishing whether a patient  


has  previously  been  subject  to  involuntary  commitment.    But  because  the  parties  


stipulated that Stephen's previous hospitalization was voluntary, we do not decide this  


issue."); In re Jeffrey E. , 281 P.3d 84, 86 (Alaska 2012) ("[B]ecause this was Jeffrey's  


first involuntary commitment we consider his appeal under the collateral consequences  


exception to mootness recently adopted in . . . Joan K.").  

          15        Daniel testified that Dakota went to API as an adolescent and escaped by  


climbing over a 17-foot fence.  The record does not reflect whether his term there was  

voluntary or involuntary.  

                                                              -6-                                                        7041

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                    This issue has not received much treatment in other jurisdictions.  Dakota  

points to In re McCaskill , in which the Minnesota Supreme Court held that collateral  

consequences  should  be  presumed  if  "real  and  substantial  disabilities  attach  to  a  

                 16                                                                                                 17 


judgment."          But  Joan K  applied this presumption only to first commitments.                                    The  

Iowa  Supreme  Court  cited  Joan  K.  in  holding  that  "we  believe  prior  involuntary  


commitments  are  better  used  as  evidence  to  rebut  the  presumption  of  collateral  


consequences, rather than to deny the existence of collateral consequences."                                        This is  


consistent with Joan K. , which holds that prior involuntary commitments "would likely  


eliminate  the  possibility  of  additional  collateral  consequences,"                              leaving  open  the  


possibility that in a given case, multiple involuntary commitments might be shown to  

give rise to collateral consequences.  

                    Other  jurisdictions  have  held  that  the  respondent  bears  the  burden  of  


establishing that the collateral consequences exception applies, but those holdings have  


generally not been within the involuntary commitment context.                                   The Illinois Supreme  

          16        603   N.W.2d   326,   329   (Minn.   1999)   (quoting  Morrissey   v.   State ,  

 174 N.W.2d 131, 133 (Minn. 1970)) (internal quotation marks omitted).  

          17       Joan K. , 273 P.3d at 597-98.  

          18        In re B.B. ,   826 N.W.2d 425,  431 (Iowa  2013) (citing Joan K., 273 P.3d  

at 597).  

          19       Joan K. , 273 P.3d at 598 (emphasis added).  

          20        See, e.g., DeFoy v. McCullough, 393   F.3d   439, 442 n.3 (3d Cir. 2005)  

(Stating the habeas corpus context, "[i]t is a petitioner's burden to demonstrate that  

collateral consequences exist to avoid having a case dismissed as moot"); Holton v.  

Dep't of Emp't & Training , 878 A.2d 1051, 1057 (Vt. 2005) (Stating the employment  


context,  the appellant "has not met its burden of establishing that its case fits within a  

recognized exception to the mootness doctrine; we cannot, therefore, review its appeal  



                                                             -7-                                                       7041

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Court  held  that  the  burden  falls  on  the  respondent,  but  this  holding  is  somewhat  

inapposite insofar as Illinois - unlike Alaska - does not have the presumption that  

collateral consequences apply, even to the first involuntary commitment.21  

                     We agree with the State that the burden to establish the fact of collateral  

consequences should be on the respondent.  In  Wetherhorn we concluded that appeals  



challenging the sufficiency of the evidence in involuntary commitment cases are moot. 

In these kinds of appeals, it is the State that typically seeks dismissal of the appeal based  


on mootness.  The State need do nothing more than assert its reliance on our holding in  


Wetherhorn to make its prima facie case that the appeal is moot.  A respondent wishing  


to oppose the State, would have to allege, and make some evidentiary showing at least  


raising a genuine issue of material fact, that the commitment was a first involuntary  

commitment - or make an evidentiary showing attempting to establish some factual  


basis for a finding of collateral consequences.  This is because it is the respondent who  

is seeking to invoke the exception to the mootness doctrine.23  


on the merits").  

          21        In re Alfred H.H. , 910 N.E.2d 74, 85 (Ill. 2009) ("Respondent's case is             

moot and he has failed to establish that any exception to the mootness doctrine applies   

in this case."); see also In re Hays, 465 N.E.2d 98, 100 (Ill. 1984).  



                     Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d 371, 380 (Alaska 2007).  



                     Dakota  argues  that  "the  [S]tate  itself  is  alleging  that  the  respondent  is  


mentally ill" and, therefore, he "will not be competent to sign such an affidavit."  But  


under Alaska Evidence Rule 601, mental illness is not necessarily a bar to competency:  


                     A person is competent to be a witness unless the court finds  

                     that (1) the proposed witness is incapable of communicating  

                     concerning the matter so as to be understood by the court and  


                    jury either directly or through interpretation by one who can  


                                                                 -8-                                                          7041

----------------------- Page 9-----------------------


                     Involuntary commitment proceedings are necessarily expeditious.  There  


is a limited amount of time for the respondent's attorney to meet the client, obtain legal  

and  medical  records,  and  marshal  a  defense  to  the  underlying  allegations  of  mental  


illness and risk of harm to self or others.  It is therefore unrealistic to expect that the  

attorney would also present evidence during the commitment proceedings to establish  


collateral consequences for the purposes of a potential appeal.  But after the trial court  

proceedings have concluded it would be entirely appropriate for the respondent to seek  


an evidentiary hearing in the superior court on the issue of collateral consequences.  This  

evidentiary hearing would be for the limited purpose of obtaining findings from the court  


that the commitment was the first involuntary one or, if it were not the first, that there are  

other collateral consequences flowing from the commitment that would be avoided if it  

were reversed on appeal.   


                     If the respondent does not obtain a hearing in the superior court and files  

an appeal challenging the commitment order on sufficiency of evidence grounds, the  


 State can file a motion to dismiss based on mootness, and the respondent would then  


                     understand the proposed witness, or (2) the proposed witness


                     is incapable of understanding the duty of a witness to tell the



While this rule has not been interpreted with regards to the present context, many other  

jurisdictions have specifically held that "persons suffering from mental disorders often  


satisfy . . . competency standards [for testifying]."  4 K 

                                                                                   ENNETH S.  BROUN , MCCORMICK  

ON  EVIDENCE    62 (7th ed. 2013);                   see also Dorsey v. Chapman , 262 F.3d 1181, 1183  

(11th Cir. 2001) (multiple personality disorder);                        Andrews v. Neer , 253 F.3d 1052, 1062-  

63 (8th Cir. 2001) (schizophrenia); People v. Rensing , 199 N.E.2d 489, 490 (N.Y. 1964)  

("The mere fact that one is insane or mentally ill does not per se disqualify him from  


testifying."); People v. Gipson , 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 478, 483 (Cal. App. 2004) ("The fact  

that [a prospective witness] may have suffered from mental disorders does not by itself  


support the claim that he is incapable [of being a witness].").  

                                                                -9-                                                          7041

----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

have  the  burden   of  making  some  evidentiary  showing  either  that  this  was  the  first  

involuntary commitment or that there is some other factual basis for claiming collateral   

consequences.  The burden would then shift to the State to dispute the respondent's  


showing.  If the State does not dispute the respondent's showing, then this court could  

reach  the  merits  of  the  respondent's  challenge  to  the  commitment  order.    If  an  

evidentiary hearing were necessary to resolve the dispute, remand to the superior court  

for an evidentiary hearing and findings might be appropriate.  

                 In this case, Dakota has never even alleged, much less made an evidentiary  


showing suggesting, that his involuntary commitment at API was his first and therefore  

gives rise to a presumption of collateral consequences.  Nor has he alleged that the  

exception should apply because of any actual collateral consequences.  We therefore  

decline to apply the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine.   


                 We  conclude  that  Dakota's  appeal  from  the  superior  court's  order  of  

involuntary commitment is MOOT.  The appeal is DISMISSED.  

                                                      -10-                                                7041

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