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In re J.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 2, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF J.R., Alleged to be Seriously Mentally Impaired. J.R., Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, Timothy J. Finn, Judge.

         J.R. appeals the order denying his writ of habeas corpus to vacate and set aside his involuntary commitment.

          Merrill C. Swartz of Swartz Law Firm, Marshalltown, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., McDonald, J., and Carr, S.J. [*]

          CARR, Senior Judge.

         J.R. has been under commitment as a person with a serious mental impairment since 2004. In 2012, this court affirmed an order continuing his commitment. See In re J.R., No. 11-1180, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 15, 2012). J.R. now appeals the order denying his writ of habeas corpus to vacate and set aside his involuntary commitment. See Iowa Code § 229.37 (2016) (stating that a person who is confined for serious mental impairment may challenge continued involuntary commitment by writ of habeas corpus). He contends there is insufficient evidence that he is seriously mentally impaired.

         We review claims relating to the sufficiency of the evidence in involuntary commitment proceedings for errors at law. See In re B.B., 826 N.W.2d 425, 428 (Iowa 2013). The burden of proving serious mental impairment is by clear and convincing evidence. See id. Clear and convincing evidence "means that there must be no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of a particular conclusion drawn from the evidence." Id. (citation omitted). The district court's finding that J.R. is seriously mentally impaired is binding on us if supported by substantial evidence. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(a). "Evidence is substantial if a reasonable trier of fact could conclude the findings were established by clear and convincing evidence." In re L.H., 890 N.W.2d 333, 339 (Iowa 2016) (citation omitted).

         The court's inquiry in a habeas corpus proceeding is the same as in an original commitment order under chapter 229 for someone who is seriously mentally impaired. See B.A.A. v. Chief Med. Officer, Univ. of Iowa Hosps. & Clinics, 421 N.W.2d 118, 125 (Iowa 1988). Chapter 229 defines "seriously mentally impaired" or "serious mental impairment" as

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 ...

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