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In re MH 2007-001236 - 8/26/2008

Arizona Court ofAppeals Division One Holds That a Petition for Involuntary Treatment Requires Two Physicians to Submit Affidavits and Give Testimony Concerning the Patient’s Mental Health and Need for Treatment.

Appellant J.O. was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation.  Two days later a physician atDesertVistaHospital, Appellee Dr. Cyriac, filed a petition for court-ordered treatment alleging that J.O. was a danger to herself and others, and was persistently or acutely disabled.  Affidavits from Dr. Cyriac and another physician were attached to the petition, as required by A.R.S. § 36-533(B).  Dr. Cyriac’s affidavit, however, explained that he did not perform a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and could not render a professional opinion about J.O.  At the hearing on the petition Dr. Cyriac supplemented his affidavit with testimony.  He testified that he could try to give a professional opinion about J.O. based on his brief review of her chart.  J.O.’s counsel argued for dismissal of the petition because Dr. Cyriac did not actually evaluate J.O., and his in-court testimony was based on an inadequate review of J.O.’s records.  The court rejected these arguments and ordered treatment for J.O.  J.O. appealed.

The ArizonaAppeals Court vacated.  The Court first explained that there was no question that Dr. Cyriac’s petition did not satisfy the requirements of A.R.S. § 36-533(B), because only one of the two affidavits submitted with the petition complied with the statute’s requirements.  Dr. Cyriac’s affidavit was not prepared after conducting an examination in the evaluation of J.O., and did not present a professional opinion.  The Court then explained that Dr. Cyriac’s testimony at the hearing could have cured his defective affidavit, as long as it satisfied all of the statutory requirements for involuntary treatment by clear and convincing evidence. 

Based on its review of the record, the Court found that Dr. Cyriac’s testimony did not cure the deficiency in his affidavit because it did not satisfy the requirements of A.R.S. § 36-539(B).  That statute requires, among other things, that a physician testify: (1) after a “personal evaluation” of the patient; (2) about the physician’s “opinion[] concerning whether the patient is, as a result of mental disorder, a danger” to herself or others; and (3) about “whether the patient requires treatment.”  Dr. Cyriac’s testimony failed to satisfy all of these requirements. 

In addition to holding that Dr. Cyriac’s petition and testimony were legally insufficient, the Court expressed its doubt that the evidence presented by Dr. Cyriac could have satisfied the clear and convincing evidence standard because his opinion was given equivocally, was not given within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

Presiding Judge Kessler authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Gemmill concurred.


Posted On: 9/9/2008