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In re T.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 11, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF T.J., Alleged to Be Seriously Mentally Impaired, T.J., Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lucas County, Martha L. Mertz, Judge.

         T.J. appeals from the district court's order finding him to be seriously mentally impaired. REVERSED.

          John C. Audlehelm of Audlehelm Law Office, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen W. Kraemer, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Judge.

         A magistrate found T.J. seriously mentally impaired and ordered him committed for inpatient treatment and, subsequently, for outpatient treatment. T.J. appealed the order to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate's decision following an evidentiary hearing. The court ordered T.J. to "remain[] under an out-patient commitment until further order." On appeal, T.J. challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the district court's finding of a "serious mental impairment."

         Iowa Code section 229.1 (2016) defines "seriously mentally impaired" as follows:

"Seriously mentally impaired" or "serious mental impairment" describes the condition of a person with mental illness and because of that illness lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to the person's hospitalization or treatment, and who because of that illness meets any of the following criteria:
a. Is likely to physically injure the person's self or others if allowed to remain at liberty without treatment.
b. Is likely to inflict serious emotional injury on members of the person's family or others who lack reasonable opportunity to avoid contact with the person with mental illness if the person with mental illness is allowed to remain at liberty without treatment.
c. Is unable to satisfy the person's needs for nourishment, clothing, essential medical care, or shelter so that it is likely that the person will suffer physical injury, physical debilitation, or death.

Iowa Code § 229.1(20). This definition contains three elements: (1) mental illness, (2) lack of sufficient judgment, and (3) the criteria labeled (a), (b), and (c), which encompass the threshold requirement of dangerousness. See In re Oseing, 296 N.W.2d 797, 800-01 (Iowa 1980) (analyzing predecessor statute). "[T]he elements of serious mental impairment must be established by clear and convincing evidence and the district court's findings of fact are binding on us if supported by substantial evidence." In re J.P., 574 N.W.2d 340, 342 (Iowa 1998); accord In re B.B., 826 N.W.2d 425, 428, 432 (Iowa 2013).

         T.J. argues the record lacks substantial evidence to support a finding of a mental illness. He notes that the psychiatrist who testified at the district court hearing failed to include a formal diagnosis in his report. The report, completed on a form titled "Physician's Report of Examination pursuant to 229.10(2), " was left blank under ...


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