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In re Detention of Johnson

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

February 24, 2014

In the Matter of the Detention of June Johnson, Appellant

Reconsideration denied March 27, 2014.

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Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 12-6-02327-6 SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: August 29, 2012. Superior Court Judge Signing: James Cayce.

Nancy P. Collins (of Washington Appellate Project ), for appellant.

Daniel T. Satterberg, Prosecuting Attorney, and Rebecca M. Vasquez, Deputy, for respondent.

AUTHOR: Appelwick, J. WE CONCUR: Dwyer, J., Becker, J.


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[179 Wn.App. 581] ¶ 1 Appelwick, J.

Johnson was involuntarily committed under Washington's emergent detention statute, RCW 71.05.153. Mental health professionals at Harborview believed that, because of Johnson's mental disorder, she was gravely disabled and presented an imminent risk of serious harm to herself and others. The hospital detained her for an initial 72 hours, then petitioned for another 14 days of involuntary treatment. RCW 71.05.153 does not provide for judicial review of the initial 72 hour emergency detention. Johnson argues that it violated due process to commit her without the opportunity for judicial review of whether she presented an imminent risk of serious harm at the outset of her emergency detention. We affirm.


¶ 2 On August 23, 2012, police transported June Johnson to Psychiatric Emergency Services at Harborview Medical Center after someone at her mother's home called 911. Johnson's mother explained that Johnson said she was going to get her son and he had been crying. However, Johnson's son lives in a foster home. Johnson insisted that a photo of her son was actually her son. She was also extremely upset, yelling, and swearing at her boyfriend and mother.

[179 Wn.App. 582] ¶ 3 Designated Mental Health Professional (DMHP) Gail Bonicalzi evaluated Johnson soon after she was brought to the hospital. Bonicalzi noted that Johnson arrived at Harborview highly disorganized and suffering from bizarre delusions. Johnson disrobed and insisted she was pregnant, even though she was not. She was unable to state how she came to the hospital or where she would go if released. Bonicalzi wrote in her evaluation that Johnson " is gravely disabled demonstrating an imminent risk of harm. She demonstrates a repeated and escalating loss of cognitive and volitional control. She is not receiving such care that is essential for her health and safety."

¶ 4 Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) Angela Buxton also assessed Johnson at Harborview. Buxton explained that Johnson has been diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, but has a history of very poor compliance with outpatient psychiatric treatment. Buxton wrote that Johnson was visibly distraught, extremely agitated, crying, and having difficulty processing any information. Johnson admitted to having racing thoughts, feeling stressed, and not sleeping for several days, but insisted that she did not need psychiatric medication.

¶ 5 Buxton observed Johnson yelling and swearing at other patients and hospital staff. Johnson was placed in safety restraints, because of her " impulsive and unpredictable, hostile behavior." Buxton saw Johnson speaking to herself as if speaking with another person, though no one else was in the room. Buxton expressed concern that Johnson was disrobing and refusing to put her clothes back on, which would make her extremely vulnerable if released into the community. Johnson also had extremely low potassium, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and death. Buxton believed that Johnson was gravely disabled and a danger to others.

¶ 6 DMHP Bonicalzi sought an initial 72 hour emergency detention of Johnson under RCW 71.05.153(1) and (2)(a), Washington's emergent detention statute. The petition stated, [179 Wn.App. 583] " Investigation and evaluation indicate that you present an imminent likelihood of serious harm to yourself or others, or that you are gravely disabled."

¶ 7 On August 27, 2012, after Johnson's initial detention, Harborview petitioned for an additional 14 days of involuntary treatment. Johnson, through her counsel, moved to dismiss the petition for lack of imminence. Johnson argued that there was no evidence that her health and safety were ever in imminent risk of danger, which was necessary to justify her initial 72 hour detention. She

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sought a hearing before a judge on whether she was lawfully detained.

¶ 8 On August 28 and 29, 2012, the trial court held a commitment hearing on the State's petition for further treatment. Johnson's counsel argued that due process requires judicial review to validate the initial 72 hour detention based on imminence. The court could not find any authority for its ability to review imminence, and denied Johnson's motion. The court explained,

So I don't see any procedure for imminence hearings. Certainly the legislature could build that into the statute if they choose to do that. The Supreme Court can also say there is an imminence hearing and at that point tell us how to conduct those. But at this time I will decline to conduct an imminence hearing and find that even if ...

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