State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Todd Thomas Malley, Appellant.

This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C9-01-464

 

In Re: John Raymond Janning,
Appellant.

 

Filed July 31, 2001

Affirmed

Stoneburner, Judge

 

Mower County District Court

File No. P601156

 

Brandon V. Lawhead, Lawhead Law Offices, 301 South Main Street, Austin, MN 55912 (for appellant)

 

Patrick Oman, Mower County Attorney, Jonathan P. Olson, Assistant Mower County Attorney, 201 First Street Northeast, Austin, MN 55912 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

STONEBURNER, Judge

 

John Raymond Janning appeals from his commitment as mentally ill, claiming that (1) the state failed to present clear and convincing evidence that he posed a substantial likelihood of physical harm to himself or others; and (2) the district court erred by failing to consider the least-restrictive treatment alternative.  Because the evidence supports the district court's finding that Janning posed a substantial likelihood of physical harm to himself or others and that St. Peter Regional Treatment Center was the least-restrictive alternative, we affirm.

FACTS

 

On February 1, 2001, Austin police went to appellant John R. Janning's apartment to serve a harassment restraining order requested by Janning's roommate.  The order had the effect of evicting Janning from the apartment, and police remained with Janning for approximately 20 minutes while he collected his belongings.  As Janning packed, he told the officers that the media and the government were harassing him, spying on him, and attempting to control him.  Janning claimed that television sets were equipped with technology that allowed them to "[s]ee in[to] the people watching them," and that radios could "talk to you and monitor[] everything you do."  Janning also claimed that Hillary Clinton performed lesbian acts on television, and that Bill Clinton was sending signals to him through the television by raising his leg. 

In addition to these comments, Janning stated that all the little kids and young women in Austin were "witches" who forced him to do things.  Janning then proceeded to discuss K.A.T., a woman with whom he has had a romantic fixation for several years.  In 1999, K.A.T. then a juvenile petitioned for a harassment restraining order against Janning.  In her affidavit, K.A.T. alleged that Janning (who was about 40 years old at the time) had followed her to work and to a friend's house.  On one occasion, Janning called K.A.T. at her home around 1:30 a.m. to notify her that her photograph was in his pornography magazines.  Janning suggested that the two of them should sue the magazine over publication rights and asked her to go to Hollywood with him to make a movie.  K.A.T. claimed that Janning told her that he had seen her on his television and that he knew she could crawl through his television to get into his apartment.  In September 1999, the Mower County district court granted K.A.T.'s request for a restraining order against Janning. 

On the night Austin police removed Janning from his apartment, Janning told the officers that K.A.T. used to undress for him and that other people had placed her face on pornographic pictures.[1]  While Janning discussed his perceived relationship with K.A.T., he stated: "I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see this erupt into a big violent murder between myself and her all controlled by the media."

            Concerned over Janning's disturbing statements and unstable behavior, the police officers took Janning to the Austin Medical Center, where he was held for 72 hours.  The next day, a psychiatrist examined Janning and filed a report stating that Janning "is incapable of reality-based decision making," and his "[d]elusions may lead to decisions and behaviors which endanger [himself] and others," and therefore "[r]isk for further, similar acting out [i.e., assaultive behavior] is high."

            After a preliminary hearing, the district court appointed psychologist Dr. Rosemary Linderman to examine Janning.  Dr. Linderman concluded that Janning satisfied the statutory criteria for commitment as mentally ill and recommended that Janning be committed involuntarily to St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. 

            The district court also appointed psychologist Dr. Albert Asper to conduct a second examination.  Dr. Asper's opinions differed from Dr. Linderman's.  While Dr. Asper acknowledged that Janning "certainly does have significant symptoms of mental illness," he opined that there was no evidence that Janning "meets the second requirement for commitment, which is that he is really impaired in such a way that he would be dangerous to himself or to others."  Based on his inability to find evidence of assault or aggression in Janning's past, Dr. Asper reported that he did "not believe [Janning] meets the legal requirement for mental illness and, therefore, is not commitable."

            At Janning's commitment hearing, both Drs. Linderman and Asper testified that Janning had a substantial psychiatric disorder.  Dr. Asper, however, maintained that Janning did not pose a substantial likelihood of physical harm to himself or others.  By contrast, Dr. Linderman testified that Janning posed a substantial likelihood of harm to others because of his delusional preoccupation with K.A.T. and his belief that the women of Austin were witches who controlled him.  In addition, Dr. Linderman characterized Janning's demeanor as that of a man who "was not going to take no for an answer."  She further noted that he was agitated and angry, and he exhibited delusional thinking, which bolstered her diagnosis that he posed a substantial likelihood of physically harming himself or others. [2]

            Based on all the evidence, the district court ruled that Janning was mentally ill and that he satisfied the statutory criteria for commitment.  The district court found Janning's commitment necessary "specifically for the safety of young females."  In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the district court considered several less-restrictive alternatives to judicial commitment, but ultimately rejected these alternatives and committed Janning to the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.  Janning appeals.

D E C I S I O N

 

1.      Commitment as Mentally Ill

 

To judicially commit a person, the district court must have clear and convincing evidence that the person is mentally ill.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1 (2000).  Minnesota statute defines mentally ill persons as:

[A]ny person who has an organic disorder of the brain or a substantial psychiatric disorder * * * [which] poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others as demonstrated by:

 

(1) a failure to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical care as a result of the impairment; or

 

(2) a recent attempt or threat to physically harm self or others.

 

Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 13(a) (2000) (emphasis added).  The district court's determination will be overturned only if the findings of fact are insufficient to support commitment.  In re McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d 621, 624 (Minn. 1995).  These findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the district court to assess the credibility of the witnesses.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; see In re Duvick, 497 N.W.2d 311, 312-13 (Minn. App. 1993) (reviewing commitment determination to ascertain whether district court followed statutory requirements and whether the findings were clearly erroneous).  We view the record in the light most favorable to the district court's decision, but whether the evidence is sufficient to meet the standard for commitment presents a question of law, reviewed de novo.  In re Knops, 536 N.W.2d 616, 620 (Minn. 1995).  Our task on appeal, however, is not to reweigh the evidence, but instead to determine if the evidence as a whole sustains the district court's findings.  In re Salkin, 430 N.W.2d 13, 16 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Nov. 23, 1988).

Janning argues that the district court clearly erred in finding that he posed a substantial likelihood of physical harm to himself or others.  We disagree.  In its commitment order, the district court set forth detailed findings of fact based on all the oral and documentary evidence before it.  Substantial evidence in the record supports the district court's finding.  This evidence includes Dr. Linderman's conclusions in her report on Janning:

 

Substantial psychiatric disorder;

Mr. Janning meets the first prong of the statutory criteria for commitment as mentally ill in his floridly psychotic symptoms which were still active at the time of his evaluation.  He is grossly delusional with many of his beliefs focusing on sexual issues, persecutory beliefs and grandiose attributes that he applies to himself.  His judgment and reasoning ability precludes his showing any awareness of his perceptual distortions or his tenuous contact with reality. 

 

* * * * .

 

Substantial likelihood of harm;

Mr. Janning meets this prong of the statutory criteria in his having recently made statements to the effect that his perceived relationship with a young teenage female would erupt into a violent murder. * * *

 

Overall, he is very psychotic which precludes his caring for his own fundamental needs and attending to his own personal safety and being accountable for behavior toward others.

 

The district court also took note of Dr. Linderman's testimony that Janning behaved in a manic and agitated fashion, exhibiting aggression toward others.  Cf. In re Martin, 458 N.W.2d 700, 705 (Minn. App. 1990) (holding clear and convincing evidence to support commitment where appellant occasionally threatened hospital staff, thought he was being persecuted, was verbally abusive and hostile, and was easily provoked); In re Terra, 412 N.W.2d 325, 327-28 (Minn. App. 1987) (concluding likelihood of harm established where individual was hostile, aggressive, and intrusive).  The record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the district court's findings.

Janning argues that his statement, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see this erupt into a big violent murder between myself and [K.A.T.] all controlled by the media," was misconstrued, and therefore the evidence does not demonstrate that he made a recent threat to physically harm himself or others.  Janning asserts that the true meaning of his remark is that the media would somehow orchestrate K.A.T.'s murder and blame Janning, or that the media was going to harm Janning or K.A.T.  Janning's own testimony, however, undermines his benign interpretation: 

I asked [the police officer] if he thought that * * * if maybe he thought the many corporations, the TV and corporations maybe egged people on to murder them or her so they would have something to print in the newspaper like the O.J. Simpson trial * * * .

 

(Emphasis added.)  Although the precise meaning of Janning's statement is uncertain, it nevertheless illustrates his preoccupation with K.A.T., as well as the nexus between Janning's obsession with K.A.T. and his paranoia concerning the media's control over him.  The district court reasonably determined that Janning's statement constituted a threat of physical harm against K.A.T.  See generally McGaughey, 536 N.W.2d at 623 (noting that the statute does not require that the person must either come to harm or harm others before commitment is justified); cf. In re Anderson, 367 N.W.2d 107, 109 (Minn. App. 1985) (finding that when danger of patient's condition is evident, court is not compelled to wait until irreparable harm is suffered).

Because clear and convincing evidence sustains the district court's finding that Janning poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to himself or others, the factual findings are not clearly erroneous and they cannot be set aside.  See In re Schaefer, 498 N.W.2d 298, 300 (Minn. App. 1993).

2.      Least-Restrictive Alternative

 

Next, Janning argues that the district court erred by finding that commitment to St. Peter Regional Treatment Center was the least-restrictive alternative.  After determining that there is no suitable alternative to judicial commitment, the district court must "commit the patient to the least restrictive treatment program or alternative programs which can meet the patient's treatment needs."  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 1.  The district court must make specific findings as to least-restrictive alternatives and its reasons for rejecting them.  Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 2 (2000).  This court will not reverse the district court's decision unless clearly erroneous.  In re King, 476 N.W.2d 190, 193 (Minn. App. 1991).

Here, the district court carefully considered a number of less-restrictive alternatives, including voluntary outpatient care; voluntary inpatient care; informal admission to a treatment facility; appointment of a guardian; and either release before commitment or stayed commitment.  The district court ultimately rejected these less-restrictive alternatives:

[Janning] denies being aware of any problems in his thinking.  Although [Janning] admits he has a mental illness, his denial of the possibility of posing a danger to himself or others makes it unlikely that he would follow through with recommended psychiatric treatment and take prescribed medication.

 

* * * * .

 

[N]o suitable alternative to Judicial Commitment exists because of [Janning]'s lack of insight into the danger his mental illness poses to others, particularly young women.

The record demonstrates that the district court complied with the statutory requirement by considering less-restrictive alternatives and providing reasons for rejecting such alternatives.  Nothing convinces us that the district court clearly erred in determining that the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center constituted the least-restrictive alternative to meet Janning's treatment needs.

            Affirmed.

 


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The pre-petition screener for Mower County Human Services testified that Janning told her that he had known K.A.T. since she was seven years old and that he believed he had been watching her undress since she was 16.  Janning claimed that they had a relationship in which they communicated through their eyes via the windows of their respective residences.

[2] Dr. Linderman opined that even if the allegations by K.A.T. were not true, Janning remained a danger to himself and others because of his delusions and his aggressive behavior during her interview with him.