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In re J.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 21, 2019

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

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carla T. Schemmel, Judge.

         J.S. appeals two involuntary civil commitment orders.

          Tyler Phelan of Borseth Law Office, Altoona, for appellant.

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

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         In this consolidated appeal of two involuntary civil commitment orders, J.S. contends the district court erred in (1) failing to terminate the proceedings and dismiss the applications on receipt of a physician's report and (2) prohibiting him from possessing firearms.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         An individual filed an application alleging J.S. had a serious mental impairment pursuant to Iowa Code section 229.6 (2018). According to the application, J.S. threatened "he would kill an ex-girlfriend, her children, [and] family, [and] also would kill [the applicant and her] family if [she] turned him in." The applicant characterized J.S. as "delusional, in a state of psychosis." The supporting affidavit stated J.S. had post-traumatic stress disorder based on "multiple blows to the head throughout his 11 years serving in the army." The affidavit further stated J.S. used substances "to try to cope" and was "prone to much anger and rage when substances [were] involved."

         On the same day, another application was filed alleging J.S. to be a person with a substance-related disorder pursuant to Iowa Code section 125.75. The affiant attested that when J.S. used certain substances, he "worked himself up into such anger and rage that he threaten[ed] lethal harm to those he [was] upset with."

         Physicians' reports in both cases found J.S. "capable of making responsible decisions with respect to his . . . hospitalization or treatment."

         A hearing on the applications was held on June 29, 2018, two days before a change in the law governing commitments under chapters 125 and 229. Following the hearing, a magistrate acknowledged the physician's testimony that J.S. possessed judgmental capacity but concluded based on the totality of the record that J.S. had a serious mental impairment and a substance-related disorder. The magistrate committed J.S. to inpatient treatment for his serious mental impairment and ordered outpatient treatment for his substance-related disorder. The magistrate also ordered J.S. not to "ship, possess, receive, transport, or cause the transport of any firearms or ammunition." See 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4). The order was filed on June 29, 2018.

         On July 6, 2018, pursuant to a periodic review, a second magistrate discharged and terminated the involuntary proceedings based on the physicians' reports that J.S. possessed judgmental capacity. The magistrate retained the firearms prohibition.

         J.S. appealed the orders. Following a de novo trial, the district court dismissed the chapter 229 application based on the physician's opinion that J.S. had sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to his hospitalization or treatment. The court retained the firearms prohibition. With respect to the chapter 125 application, the court found J.S. to be a person with a ...


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