In re Phyllis P.

Annotate this Case
In re Phyllis P., No. 84026 (5/21/98)

Docket No. 84026--Agenda 9--March 1998.
In re PHYLLIS P. et al. (The People of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v.
Phyllis P. et al., Appellants).
Opinion filed May 21, 1998.

JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:
At issue is whether a respondent may dismiss his appeal from an order
requiring him to submit to involuntary mental health treatment without first filing
an affidavit from a medical doctor attesting to his competency. Respondents
Phyllis P., Phuong T., and Ande F. moved to dismiss their appeals after their
Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission (GAC) attorneys explained the
appellate process to them, the likelihood of succeeding on their appeals, and the
consequences of dismissing their appeals. The appellate court denied the motions
without prejudice, provided that, upon refiling, the respondents attach a medical
doctor's affidavit attesting that the respondents were competent to dismiss their
appeals. The appellate court further instructed the GAC to file these affidavits in
all future cases. Nos. 2--97--0503, 2--97--0171, 2--97--0113 cons. The appellate
court granted a motion for a certificate of importance on the question of medical
doctor affidavits, and this court allowed the appeal. 155 Ill. 2d R. 316.
Initially, we note that all adults are presumed legally competent to direct
their legal affairs. People ex rel. Drury v. Catholic Home Bureau, 34 Ill. 2d 84,
95 (1966). This presumption extends to the right afforded all appellants to dismiss
their appeals. Vincent v. McElvain, 304 Ill. 160, 163 (1922). Although all three of
the instant respondents were adjudicated mentally ill pursuant to either section 1--
119 or section 2--107.1 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities
Code, they nevertheless enjoy a presumption of competency to direct their legal
affairs. As the Mental Health Code explicitly provides, "[n]o recipient of services
shall be presumed legally disabled ***." 405 ILCS 5/2--101 (West 1996).
Underlying this presumption is the distinction between mental illness and the
specific decisional capacity to exercise or waive legal rights. Indeed, the
presumption of legal competency notwithstanding mental illness attaches even in
the criminal context. See People v. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d 501, 519 (1991) (mental
illness does not, ipso facto, raise a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness to
stand trial). Requiring the instant respondents to file a medical doctor's affidavit
before they may dismiss their appeals is contrary to the competency presumption
to which they are entitled.
Furthermore, the affidavit requirement imposed by the appellate court is
inconsistent with provisions of the Mental Health Code. For example, respondents
to involuntary commitment actions are entitled to have a jury determine whether
they are mentally ill (405 ILCS 5/3--802 (West 1996)), but may waive this right
without first establishing their competence to do so. As this court has previously
held, where a trial court has implicitly found that a respondent had the capacity
to waive the right to a jury trial, as with the instant respondents, there is a strong
indication that the respondent is competent to waive the right to appeal. People
v. Owens, 139 Ill. 2d 351 (1990).
Finally, we note that the doctor affidavit requirement is inconsistent with
the common law rule that the opinion of a medical doctor is entitled to no greater
weight than that of a lay person, especially that of a respondent's lawyer, in
determining whether respondent is competent to make legal decisions. Tyler v.
Tyler, 401 Ill. 435, 441 (1948). Here the GAC attorneys worked directly with the
respondents and were in a unique position to apprise the court of any concerns
regarding respondents' capacity to knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently decide
to dismiss their appeals. That the GAC lawyers did not do so supports the
presumption that respondents were competent to so.
In conclusion, an adjudication of mental illness is not an adjudication of
incompetence to direct one's legal affairs. The appellate court's medical doctor
affidavit requirement is inconsistent with the common law presumption of legal
competency, the Mental Health Code as a whole, and the common law rule that
a lay person's opinion as to a respondent's capacity to make legal decisions is
entitled to as much weight as that of a medical practitioner. Accordingly, we
reverse the appellate court's orders in this case and remand to that court for
proceedings in accordance with our opinion herein.

Reversed and remanded.