State’s Compliance With Mental Health Code A Public-Interest Exception To Mootness Doctrine

Nicholas L. had been living at the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital for about a month when the State of Illinois filed a petition to administer electroconvulsive therapy and psychotropic medication. The trial court heard testimony on the State’s petition, then ruled in favor of the State.

Nicholas appealed, arguing that the State did not comply with the Mental Health and Disabilities Code because it did not give Nicholas written notification of alternative treatments. The State first argued the appeal was moot because the trial court’s order allowing the State’s petition already had expired. Nicholas argued the appellate court should consider the case anyway because the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine applied. Because the question in the case involved the State’s compliance with the Mental Health Code, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court agreed with Nicholas and heard the appeal. Here is the appellate court’s rationale.

[T]he question presented by respondent [Nicholas] involves the issue of statutory compliance and thus qualifies as a matter of a public nature. Moreover, the vast number of cases addressing the issue of compliance with section 2-102(a-5) [requiring the State to give the patient information about alternative treatments] … indicates both a need for an authoritative determination for the future guidance of public officers and the likelihood of future recurrence … We also confirm respondent’s assertion that no published opinion in our state has addressed the specific issue of failure to provide written notification solely of alternative treatment options. Accordingly, the public-interest exception is applicable to respondent’s contention regarding statutory compliance.

The appellate court ultimately reversed the trial court because “psychotropic medication is invasive and includes possibly significant side effects, and because involuntary administration implicates important liberty interests, courts must exercise caution in entering such orders and require “firm proof” of the necessary statutory elements.”

Read the whole case, In re Nicholas L., No. 2-09-1181 (2/16/11), by clicking here.