A fourteen-year-old boy was diagnosed with bone cancer. As practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, his parents pursued a course of treatment that would not involve blood transfusions, a procedure inconsistent with the family’s religious beliefs. On several occasions, hospital employees called the superior court via an emergency hotline to seek an order authorizing blood transfusions over the objections of the minor and his parents. The superior court granted several of the requests, despite the fact that the hospital never filed a complaint or a petition to initiate the proceedings. The parents sought special action review of the superior court’s orders.
The Court of Appeals accepted special action jurisdiction. The issue of whether the superior court has subject matter jurisdiction to authorize medical treatment via an emergency hotline is a matter of first impression and is an issue of statewide importance that may be resolved as a matter of law. The Court accepted jurisdiction over the hospital’s mootness objection on the grounds that the issue is one that is likely to evade review in future cases.
The Court concluded that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to authorize medical treatment via the emergency hotline. A superior court obtains subject matter jurisdiction in the ordinary case upon the filing of a complaint or petition. There are, however, two exceptions to this general rule: the legislature has authorized oral, ex parte requests for relief in the case of telephonic search warrants and emergency orders of protection. In both cases, there is a detailed set of statutes and rules to satisfy due process concerns. The Court held that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction when it authorized medical procedures via an emergency hotline despite the fact that no complaint or petition had been filed and the emergency hotline procedure is not specifically authorized by statute or rule. The Court therefore vacated the superior court’s orders.
Judge Jones authored the opinion; Judges Thompson and Howe concurred.
Posted by: Phillip W. Londen