IN THE MATTER OF M.W., Alleged to be Seriously Mentally Impaired, M.W., Appellant.
review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Christine
Boyer, Judicial Hospitalization Referee and Marsha Bergan,
District Court Judge.
patient involuntarily committed by a judicial hospitalization
referee's order appeals his commitment.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen Witte Kraemer,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellant State.
E. Townsend, Coralville, for appellee.
State seeks further review following the court of appeals
decision vacating the judicial hospitalization referee's
involuntary hospitalization order. See Iowa Code ch.
229 (2015). The State challenges the court of appeals'
conclusion that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal. We
vacate the decision of the court of appeals and dismiss the
appeal because neither the referee's order issued on
December 8, 2015, nor the district court's order issued
on December 9 are appealable as a matter of right pursuant to
Iowa Rules of Appellate Procedure 6.103.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
an adult who has a history of mental illness. Beginning in
July 2014, M.W.'s guardian had him hospitalized for over
a year at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
(UIHC). In 2015, M.W.'s guardian placed him in Chatham
Oaks, an Iowa City residential care facility. On December 4,
M.W. attempted to return to the UIHC by walking approximately
three miles through freezing temperatures while dressed
unsuitably for the weather. After arriving at the UIHC, M.W.
refused medications. A doctor at the UIHC, who was familiar
with M.W. from the previous hospitalization, began
involuntary commitment proceedings in order to compel
court scheduled a hearing for December 8. M.W. was served
with a notice for the hearing but his guardian was not. The
hearing was held on December 8. M.W.'s attorney moved to
continue the hearing because the guardian had not been
notified and was not present. The judicial hospitalization
referee denied the motion, found M.W. was seriously mentally
impaired, and ordered M.W. committed to the UIHC.
attorney appealed to the district court from the denial of
his motion to continue. On December 9, the district court
held a brief hearing on the appeal and issued a ruling that
same day. The district court determined that the referee did
not abuse her discretion in denying M.W.'s motion to
continue and declined to remand the case to the referee for
another hearing. The district court further concluded Iowa
Code chapter 229 does not require a guardian be served with a
notice before the hearing, explaining such a notice would be
contrary to the purpose of the time requirement in chapter
229 and delay a respondent's return to either liberty or
essential mental health treatment. Finally, the court noted
M.W. had the right to challenge the ruling, as well as all of
the other rulings of the referee at a de novo hearing on the
record before the district court. Accordingly, the district
court scheduled a de novo hearing for December 22.
December 18, however, the UIHC requested M.W.'s release
from involuntary hospitalization. The UIHC stated M.W. was
compliant with his medications, and his guardian agreed with
the new treatment plan. The district court thus dismissed the
case. On December 21, M.W.'s attorney filed a withdrawal
of appeal, stating, "[T]here is no reason to continue
the legal process at the district court level, but will
continue at the appellate court level." The court did
not cancel the December 22 hearing, and when the parties did
not appear, the district court entered an order stating that
"the hearing in this matter [was] not pursued before the
district court, " and therefore, the court would take no
further action in the matter.
December 23, M.W. filed a notice of appeal to the supreme
court indicating he was appealing the December 8 referee
order and the December 9 district court order. On our own
motion, we ordered the parties to file statements on
jurisdiction. We explained that we were "concerned as to
whether [we have] jurisdiction over the respondent's
appeal" because M.W. filed a withdrawal of appeal to the
district court on December 21, and no one appeared at the
December 22 hearing.
receiving the parties' statements, we ordered the appeal
proceed to briefing, but directed the parties to further
develop their arguments on jurisdiction and mootness. We then
transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of
appeals held that it had jurisdiction over the appeal because
the referee's order of commitment was a final appealable
order. The court of appeals also held that, although the case
was moot because the district court had already dismissed the
commitment proceedings against M.W., it found exceptions to
the mootness doctrine. Finally, the court of appeals held
M.W.'s guardian was entitled to notice of the commitment
proceedings and thus vacated the referee's order.
State applied for further review, which we granted.
raises several issues on appeal. Our first duty is to
determine whether we have jurisdiction to consider and decide
the appeal on its merits. Lloyd v. State, 251 N.W.2d
551, 558 (Iowa 1977). We find that jurisdiction is
dispositive of this appeal, and therefore, we do not reach
appeals two separate rulings made in the trial court. First,
he appeals the referee's order of December 8, denying the
motion to continue and committing M.W. to the UIHC after
finding he was seriously mentally impaired. Second, he
appeals the district court's order of December 9,
affirming the denial of the continuance.
State contends appellate jurisdiction is lacking because M.W.
abandoned appellate review when he withdrew his appeal to the
district court on December 21 and failed to appear at the
hearing on December 22. The State argues that the
referee's order is not a final appealable order because
Iowa Code section 229.21(3) provides that respondents are to
appeal such orders to the district court. The State also