IN THE MATTER OF M.L., Alleged to be Seriously Mentally Impaired, M.L., Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Paul D.
prison inmate appeals an order for involuntary
R. Hart of Hart Law, North Liberty, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen W. Kraemer,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor,
Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) successfully sought an
involuntary hospitalization order against M.L. after the
offender engaged in a series of aggressive acts toward prison
staff. On appeal, M.L. contends the record does not support
the district court's finding he would be likely to injure
others if allowed to remain at liberty (within the prison
system) without treatment. See Iowa Code §
229.1(20) (2017). Because the State offered clear and
convincing evidence M.L. suffered from a serious mental
impairment, we affirm the involuntary hospitalization order.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
was incarcerated after his 2012 conviction for theft in the
first degree. While in DOC custody, M.L. has been diagnosed
and treated for bipolar disorder type I and antisocial
personality disorder. In February 2016, M.L. refused to take
prescribed medications and attempted to assault a DOC staff
member. As a result, the DOC transferred M.L. to the Iowa
Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) and treating
physician Gary Keller initiated the civil commitment
process. M.L. showed signs of improvement and
expressed a willingness to take his medication. Although M.L.
spit on and struck a correctional officer in April 2017, M.L.
had made enough progress that Dr. Keller recommended the
civil commitment process terminate in May 2017.
just a few weeks later, M.L. claimed he overdosed on
medication he hoarded in his cell. And then he stopped taking
his medication altogether. He again spit on a DOC officer.
Following these events, M.L. was transferred back to IMCC for
evaluation and treatment. The next day, he threatened to kill
a nurse over a disagreement about a nail clipper. Due to
M.L.'s erratic behavior and unwillingness to take his
medication, the DOC again initiated civil commitment
proceedings. Then, a few days later, M.L. made sexual
comments to a nursing student prompting the supervising nurse
to instruct the student to leave. Angry over the supervising
nurse's decision, M.L. threatened the supervising nurse.
2017, following a hearing and after considering Dr.
Keller's written report, a judicial hospitalization
referee determined M.L. was seriously mentally impaired,
dangerous, and should be involuntarily hospitalized. M.L.
appealed to the district court claiming he did not suffer
from mental illness and was willing to take his medication to
avoid commitment. In his testimony, Dr. Keller expressed
concern about M.L.'s willingness to comply with
mental-health treatment, noting M.L. previously had the
chance to regulate his own medication and he stopped taking
it, resulting in his aggressive behavior. M.L. asserted his
troubling behavior was the result of his conscious choices
and would not be mitigated by medication. The district court
concluded M.L. was mentally impaired to the extent he is not
able to make responsible decisions regarding his treatment
and is likely to physically injure others, making involuntary
hospitalization appropriate. M.L. now appeals the district
Scope and Standard of Review
review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting civil commitment proceedings for legal error.
In re B.B., 826 N.W.2d 425, 428 (Iowa 2013). Claims
asserted in the involuntary hospitalization application must
be shown through clear and convincing evidence. Iowa Code
§ 229.13(1) (2017); In re J.P., 574 N.W.2d 340,
342 (Iowa 1998). 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." J.P., 574 N.W.2d at 342 (quoting
In re L.G., 532 N.W.2d 478, 481 (Iowa Ct. App.
1995)). The district court's factual findings are binding
on this court if supported by clear and convincing evidence.