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In re Detention of D.V.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

October 23, 2017

In the Matter of the Detention of D. V., Appellant.

          Appelwick, J.

         The trial court committed D.V. for 14 days after determining that he presented a likelihood of serious harm to others due to a mental disorder. D.V. argues that the trial court misinterpreted the relevant statute. He argues that statutory language of RCW 71.05.020(27)(a)(ii) requires that the person threatened with harm must actually be in fear of such harm. We reverse.

         FACTS

         D.V. posted comments on Facebook that threatened his soon-to-be ex-wife and her boyfriend. Fairfax Hospital petitioned to have him involuntarily committed for 14 days. The State presented one witness, Dr. Lugo-Steidel, a clinical psychologist at the hospital who evaluated D.V. He testified that D.V. suffered from bipolar disorder and presented a danger to others as a result. He further testified that D.V. acknowledged that he had threatened harm to his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and that he was fearful that D.V. would in fact harm them.[1]

         After the State rested its case, D.V. moved to dismiss on the grounds that the State failed to present evidence that anyone was personally in fear of harm. The trial court denied this motion. D.V. testified in his own behalf.

         The trial court concluded that the State had shown probable cause that D.V., as a result of his mental disorder, presented a likelihood of serious harm to others. It entered a 14 day order of commitment. D.V. appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         D.V. makes a single argument: his commitment was erroneous because the trial court misinterpreted the definition of "likelihood of serious harm" found in RCW 71.05.020(27).

         This presents a question of statutory construction. The purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. State v. Evans, 177 Wn.2d 186, 192, 298 P.3d 724 (2013). Legislative intent is first determined by looking at the language of the statute. State v. Hansen, 122 Wn.2d 712, 717, 862 P.2d 117 (1993). When statutory language is unambiguous, "legislative intent is apparent, and we will not construe the statute otherwise." State v. J.P., 149 Wn.2d 444, 450, 69 P.3d 318 (2003). Because the involuntary treatment act[2] impacts liberty interests, it must be strictly construed. In re Pet, of D.W., 181 Wn.2d 201, 207, 332 P.3d 423 (2014).

         A court shall order a person be detained for involuntary treatment if it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that that person, as a result of a mental disorder, presents a likelihood of serious harm. RCW 71.05.240(3)(a). A "likelihood of serious harm" is defined as:

(a) A substantial risk that: (i) Physical harm will be inflicted by a person upon his or her own person, as evidenced by threats or attempts to commit suicide or inflict physical harm on oneself; (ii) physical harm will be inflicted by a person upon another, as evidenced by behavior which has caused such harm or which places another person or persons in reasonable fear of sustaining such harm; or (iii) physical harm will be inflicted by a person upon the property of others, as evidenced by behavior which has caused substantial loss or damage to the property of others; or
(b) The person has threatened the physical safety of another and has a history of one or more violent acts.

RCW 71.05.020(27).

         The definition of "likelihood of serious harm" addresses harm to self, others, and property. See RCW 71.05.020(27). Under every option in the definition, risk of harm must be evidenced by a corroborating factor. Id. Only in the case of harm to oneself is a mere ...


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