Arthur v. Lutheran General Hospital

Annotate this Case
Fourth Division
March 19, 1998

1-97-0859

ALEXANDER J. ARTHUR, ) APPEAL FROM THE
) CIRCUIT COURT OF
Plaintiff-Appellant, ) COOK COUNTY.
)
v. )
)
LUTHERAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, INC., )
an Illinois Not-For-Profit Organization, )
and DR. ANN WALCZYNSKI, ) HONORABLE
) EDWARD J. BURR,
Defendants-Appellees. ) JUDGE PRESIDING.

JUSTICE WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:

The Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities
Code sets out a statutory plan for involuntary admission of
mentally ill persons. This case raises the question of whether a
false imprisonment cause of action exists for a person who is
committed in violation of a time limit in the Code. We conclude
that it does.
FACTS
Some time in 1990, Alexander J. Arthur (Arthur), a 52-year-
old former construction worker, began to develop breathing
trouble, purportedly from years of working with chemicals. He
contacted the Social Security Administration to apply for
disability benefits, but his effort proved fruitless and
frustrating.
On June 12, 1992, Arthur was admitted to Resurrection
Medical Center (Resurrection) with recurrent chest pain and
shortness of breath. The emergency room staff requested a
psychological consultation as part of Arthur's treatment.
Dr. Ann Walczynski (Walczynski) spoke with Arthur.
According to her written consultation summary, Arthur displayed
anxiety over his health and financial situation. Arthur also
voiced aggravation at the Social Security Administration and its
handling of his application for disability benefits. As
Walczynski noted in her consultation summary:
"*** He has become increasingly extremely angry to
the point that he has been thinking about going to
Springfield[, Illinois] and throwing one of the [Social
Security Administration] officers out of the window and
all the papers destroyed [sic]. He also has been
having thoughts of killing another staff member in that
office in Springfield. His behavior has been
progressively escalating; and on the day of this
examination, he did throw a telephone set against the
wall after one of the conversations with officers from
Springfield. The patient says that he will not get
satisfaction unless he 'hurts' these people.
* * *
*** [The patient] says that he actually never had
any problems with depression prior to nine months ago.
'But I think I will have problems once I go to
Springfield and punch these guys and kick him [sic].
They never tell me anything right, but I will get my
satisfaction.' *** The patient admits to feeling
hopeless and helpless but denies suicidal ideation. He
says that he would rather have the other people to die
and he is about to do it once he leaves the hospital.
* * *
*** The patient does admit even on repeated
questioning that he intends to hurt the staff members
of these offices once he leaves the hospital."
Walczynski recommended Arthur's transfer to the mental
health facility at Lutheran General Hospital (Lutheran General),
once his physical condition stabilized. Although Arthur agreed
to voluntary admission, Walczynski drafted a physician's
certificate for involuntary admission pursuant to the Mental
Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (the Code). See 405
ILCS 5/1-100 et seq. (West 1993 & Supp. 1997). Walczynski's
certificate cited Arthur's potential "to inflict serious physical
harm" on Social Security Administration staff members. The
certificate, dated June 12, 1992, at 9 p.m., also said:
"[Patient] has been extremely angry with soc. security
offices staff (Chicago + Springfield) and has been
threatening to harm some staff members - once he leaves
the hospital. Homicidal potential."
On June 14, 1992, at 9 p.m., although his physical condition
had stabilized sufficiently to allow his transfer to Lutheran
General, Arthur chose to remain at Resurrection to complete his
physical treatment with his own physician. Walczynski again
spoke with Arthur. Although the record does not contain any
notes from this meeting, Walczynski read her notes of it during
her discovery deposition. Walczynski observed Arthur's "affect
is still angry when the issue of Social Security office staff is
discussed." Walczynski concluded: "Continue present treatment
***." However, Walczynski did not draft a second physician's
certificate to memorialize this meeting.
On June 16, 1992, Arthur was transferred to Lutheran General
as Walczynski's patient. When Arthur refused voluntary
admission, Martana Ghera, a Lutheran General staff nurse,
completed a petition for involuntary admission based on
Walczynski's certificate, as well as her personal observations of
Arthur's demeanor. The petition, dated June 16, 1992, at 7 p.m.,
said: "Person identified as Alexander Arthur is intensely angry
and making aggressive and threatening statements directed at
Social Security staff." Arthur was involuntarily admitted on
Ghera's petition and Walczynski's certificate, executed 94 hours
earlier.
When Arthur complained about his involuntary admission and
refused any treatment, Ghera telephoned Walczynski. Shortly
thereafter, Walczynski arrived at Lutheran General and initially
observed Arthur remained "potentially homicidal." Later that
evening, as Walczynski spoke with Arthur and his daughter, Arthur
said his threats against the Social Security Administration were
not serious. In an astonishingly quick recovery from his
psychosis, Arthur agreed to outpatient treatment to control his
rage and was discharged the next day.
On June 15, 1994, Arthur filed a one count complaint against
Walczynski and Lutheran General. According to his complaint:
"*** [I]mmediately thereafter entering said hospital,
the plaintiff, ALEXANDER J. ARTHUR, demanded of the
said LUTHERAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, operating by and
through their duly authorized agents, servants and
employees, and the said DR. ANN WALCZYNSKI, and each of
them, that he be released from the said hospital; that
notwithstanding said demand, the said defendants, kept
the plaintiff in a confined area and refused to release
him from that confined area; further, that the
defendant, operating as afore [sic] said, did then and
there refuse plaintiff's demand to be released from
said hospital and the defendant, and each of them,
wrongfully detained and imprisoned the plaintiff
against his will."
Arthur alleged this false imprisonment proximately caused "great
mental anguish, humiliation and shock."
After some preliminary motion practice and discovery,
Lutheran General and Walczynski filed motions for summary
judgment. In his response brief, Arthur also asked for summary
judgment.
On January 27, 1997, the trial court granted summary
judgment to Lutheran General and Walczynski and denied Arthur's
cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court said:
"I'm not able to tell you that I'm altogether satisfied
that the law can be used in this manner to effectuate
the taking of a person's liberty and then cloaking it
in the concept that, well, it was done in accordance
with the judicial procedure without making some
examination as to what, if any were the motives,
whether there was a good faith belief in the certifier
that the individual involved was the appropriate
subject of a commitment or not, but I don't make
policy, and I don't make law and my duty is to follow
the law as best that I understand it, and I think Olsen
v. Karw[o]ski is controlling in this case. Like it,
don't like it, it's irrelevant. Nobody has appointed
me as a court of review, and I don't have the
opportunity to be a judicial anarchist. I have to
follow the law."
This appeal followed.
DECISION
Appellate review of an order granting summary judgment is de
novo. Kotarba v. Jamrozik, 283 Ill. App. 3d 595, 669 N.E.2d 1185
(1996). This court must consider anew the facts and the law
related to a case in determining whether the trial court
correctly decided no genuine issues of material fact were present
and the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Espinoza v. Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Ry. Co., 165 Ill. 2d 107, 649 N.E.2d 1323 (1995); Deloney v. Board of Education of Thornton
Township, 281 Ill. App. 3d 775, 666 N.E.2d 792 (1996). If the
plaintiff fails to establish any element of the cause of action,
summary judgment in favor of the defendant is proper. Flint v.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of DuPage County, Inc., 285
Ill. App. 3d 152, 674 N.E.2d 831 (1996). We may affirm summary
judgment for any grounds which properly appear in the record,
regardless of whether the trial court relied on those same
grounds. Leavitt v. Farwell Tower Ltd. Partnership, 252 Ill.
App. 3d 260, 625 N.E.2d 48 (1993).
The Code provides for involuntary commitment in a mental
health facility. To begin the process of involuntary commitment,
any person 18 years of age or older may present a petition to the
director of a mental health facility, naming a respondent whose
"immediate hospitalization is necessary for the protection of
such person or others from physical harm." 405 ILCS 5/3-601(a)
(West 1997). This petition must include the following: (1) a
detailed statement of the reasons for the respondent's
involuntary commitment, "including a description of any acts or
significant threats supporting [involuntary commitment] and the
time and place of their occurrence;" (2) the name and address of
the respondent's closest relatives; (3) the person's relationship
with the respondent; and (4) any witnesses who may help prove
these facts. 405 ILCS 5/3-601(b) (West 1997).
Additionally, the Code provides:
"The petition shall be accompanied by a certificate
executed by a physician, qualified examiner, or
clinical psychologist which states that the respondent
is subject to involuntary admission and requires
immediate hospitalization. The certificate shall
indicate that the physician, qualified examiner, or
clinical psychologist personally examined the
respondent not more than 72 hours prior to admission."
(Emphasis added.) 405 ILCS 5/3-602 (West 1997).
"Emergency [involuntary] admission to a mental hospital is
an extreme step and it should not be invoked except in true
emergencies." People v. Ralls, 23 Ill. App. 3d 96, 98, 318 N.E.2d 703 (1974). Because involuntary commitment seriously
invades a patient's liberty, the Code requirements should be
strictly construed in favor of the patient. In re Martens, 269
Ill. App. 3d 324, 327, 646 N.E.2d 27 (1995).
However, in another context, the Illinois Supreme Court has
held procedural deviations from the Code do not warrant reversal
of an involuntary commitment order if the defects "could and
should have been objected to immediately, could have been easily
cured if timely objected to, and made no difference anyway." In
re Nau, 153 Ill. 2d 406, 419, 607 N.E.2d 134 (1992)(discussing
the Code's notice of hearing provision in section 3-611).
Additionally, this court has held "any deficiencies in the
petition or accompanying certificates could not affect the
court's power to enter the order of commitment." In re Wheeler,
152 Ill. App. 3d 371, 373, 504 N.E.2d 524 (1987). But see In re
Tiffin, 269 Ill. App. 3d 581, 646 N.E.2d 285 (1995)(finding
deficiencies in certificates could affect the State's ability
under the Civil Practice Act to reinstate a petition for
involuntary commitment).
In Wheeler, a patient challenged her involuntary commitment,
arguing the State used a section 3-602 certificate which violated
the Code's 72-hour rule. Specifically, the patient noted the
certificate stated the doctor had examined the patient "in April
1986" and the certificate was signed on May 29, 1986, a span of
at least 696 hours. We upheld the trial court's jurisdiction to
order the patient's involuntary commitment. Wheeler, 152 Ill.
App. 3d at 373. We found the deficient certificate did not
deprive the trial court of jurisdiction because "it would not
serve the interest of [the patient] or of society to reverse the
trial court's decision because of technical defects in the first
certificate." Wheeler, 152 Ill. App. 3d at 373.
In Tiffin, a patient was arrested for disorderly conduct,
and the State filed a petition for involuntary commitment and
obtained an order for detention and examination under the Code.
On April 15 and 18, 1994, the patient was examined in a mental
hospital, and his physician completed a section 3-602
certificate. On April 21, the patient voluntarily committed
himself. The State voluntarily dismissed the petition, obtaining
leave to reinstate the petition within 21 days. On April 27, at
least 216 hours after the certificate was completed, the trial
court reinstated the involuntary commitment petition. The
reinstated petition was attached to the certificates executed
after the April 15 and 18 examinations.
The court found "section 3-602 anticipates fresh information
will be used as a basis for changing a patient's status from
voluntary to involuntary commitment ***." Tiffin, 269 Ill. App.
3d at 584. The court invalidated the reinstated petition because
it relied on stale certificates, contrary to the Code's 72-hour
rule. Tiffin, 269 Ill. App. 3d at 585.
While Wheeler and Tiffin yield competing interpretations of
this rule, the factual posture of Arthur's appeal creates still
different problems. Arthur was not involuntarily committed
pursuant to a court order which relied on a defective
certificate. Instead, Arthur was committed overnight because of
a defective certificate. In other words, Arthur's complaint did
not challenge a court-ordered commitment, but rather alleged a
false imprisonment claim against the hospital and the certifying
physician.
Contrary to the defendants' contentions, the Code does not
preempt Arthur's common law claim. The Code does not supply a
comprehensive statutory scheme to remedy unlawful admission.
Instead, a common law claim provides Arthur an opportunity to
recover for his overnight detention on a stale certificate.
Additionally, contrary to the defendants' suggestions, a
common law negligence claim conceptually does not provide the
proper vehicle to remedy unlawful admission. Negligence claims
address unintentional malfeasance or nonfeasance. A negligence
claim here would assert the following: in exercising due care,
the defendants could have (or should have) prevented Arthur's
involuntary admission. However, the defendants acted
intentionally here; both Dr. Walczynski and Nurse Ghera intended
to admit Arthur involuntarily. Arthur's admission was not an
avoidable fluke that due care would have prevented.
"The action for the tort of false imprisonment,
sometimes called false arrest, is another lineal
descendant of the old action of trespass [to person].
It protects the personal interest in freedom from
restraint from movement." W. Keeton, Prosser & Keeton
on Torts 11, at 47 (5th ed. 1984)(hereinafter Prosser
& Keeton).
The interest involved is "in a sense a mental one," and false
imprisonment may be maintained without proof of actual damages.
Prosser & Keeton at 47. The tort is complete after "even a brief
restraint on the plaintiff's freedom," and the plaintiff may
recover nominal damages. Prosser & Keeton at 48. In short, the
plaintiff has a dignitary interest in freedom from any restraint.
See generally 19 Ill. L. & Prac., False Imprisonment & Unlawful
Restraint (1991).
In Illinois, "[t]o state a cause of action for false
imprisonment, the plaintiff must allege that his personal liberty
was unreasonably or unlawfully restrained against his will and
that defendant(s) caused or procured the restraint." Vincent v.
Williams, 279 Ill. App. 3d 1, 5-6, 664 N.E.2d 650 (1996). False
imprisonment requires an actual or legal intent to restrain.
Lopez v. Winchell's Donut House, 126 Ill. App. 3d 46, 50, 466 N.E.2d 1309 (1984). However, imprisonment under legal authority
is not false imprisonment. Shelton v. Barry, 328 Ill. App. 497,
66 N.E.2d 697 (1946). False imprisonment claims do not lie for a
detention made by virtue of legal process issued by a court or an
official with jurisdiction to issue such process. See Kay v.
Boehm, 32 Ill. App. 3d 853, 366 N.E.2d 781 (1975); Jacobson v.
Rolley, 29 Ill. App. 3d 265, 330 N.E.2d 256 (1975).
In order to determine the viability of Arthur's false
imprisonment claim, we must determine whether Arthur's
involuntary commitment was a detention under legal process.
Olsen v. Karwoski, 68 Ill. App. 3d 1031, 386 N.E.2d 444 (1979),
addresses this issue. We have found no other Illinois decision
addressing a false imprisonment claim under similar
circumstances.
In Olsen, on October 11, 1974, a patient was brought to the
mental health facility at Mt. Sinai Hospital by the police
pursuant to the Code's involuntary commitment provisions, after
he was arrested for unlawful conduct at his wife's home. The
patient's wife signed the petition, and at her behest without
examining the patient, Dr. Dulin signed the certificate. Dr.
Chun examined the patient at the hospital and signed another
certificate. For unknown reasons, the patient was discharged
that evening. On October 15, the patient was brought to Tinley
Park Mental Health Center by the police pursuant to the Code's
involuntary commitment provisions. Both Dr. Dulin and Dr. Chun
signed certificates dated October 14, but neither examined the
patient on that date.
We noted the petition and the certificate for involuntary
admission are the gateway into the judicial process for
commitment, and thus part of that process. Olsen, 68 Ill. App.
3d at 1036. But, more importantly, we held:
"The limitation upon the plaintiff's freedom of
movement were the result of legal processes and thus
not grounds for an action charging false imprisonment.
*** The emergency admissions of which the plaintiff
complains were the result of two legal police arrests."
(Emphasis added.) 68 Ill. App. 3d at 1038 (citing Kay,
32 Ill. App. 3d at 856 (arrest on order of contempt)
and Jacobson, 29 Ill. App. 3d at 267 (arrest on bench
warrant)).
The court concluded the patient's false imprisonment claim
against his wife and the two doctors must fail. Olsen, 68 Ill.
App. 3d at 1038.
While the court never said whether the petition/certificate
process or the "legal police arrests" made the restraint a result
of legal process, the cases on which the court relies--lawful
arrest cases--clearly indicate the latter. We believe the Olsen
court found the two legal police arrests, and not the defective
certificates, were legal processes which shielded the defendants
from liability for false imprisonment. In other words, the
police arrests in Olsen rescued the defendants from the
plaintiff's false imprisonment claims based on the defective
certificates.
Although we recognize the difficult and delicate balance
between the need for quick involuntary commitment decisions and
the rights of mentally ill patients, we distinguish this case
from Olsen. Like the plaintiff in Olsen, Arthur challenges, and
seeks damages for, his admission by health care providers
responsible for his involuntary commitment. Unlike the plaintiff
in Olsen, Arthur never was lawfully arrested by law enforcement
officers. We are reluctant to place the force of the phrase
"lawful process" behind a statutorily inadequate certificate and
petition, and we read Olsen accordingly.
In this case the time between certificate and admission was
94 hours, well beyond the statutory limit. It should not have
been difficult for Lutheran General to make that calculation. It
would have been easy enough for Walczynski to prepare another
certificate the second time she saw Arthur at Resurrection on
June 14. We do not believe we are imposing an unreasonable
burden on anyone by requiring compliance with the clear terms of
the statute. The liberty interest implicated in matters of
involuntary commitment requires vigilance.
CONCLUSION
Because we believe Arthur's false imprisonment claim raises
fact issues which warrant further proceedings, we reverse the
grant of summary judgment to the defendants and remand this case
to the trial court. We affirm the trial court's order denying
summary judgment to Arthur.
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED AND REMANDED IN PART.
CERDA, P.J. and McNAMARA, J., concur.