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Doe v. Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 12, 2019

MARY DOE ET AL.
v.
DEPARTMENT OF MENTALHEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES ET AL.

          Argued December 10, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for the defendants' alleged violations of the patients' bill of rights in connection with the named plaintiff's treatment and confinement at a forensic psychiatric hospital, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield and tried to the court, Schuman, J.; judgment in favor of the defendants, from which the plaintiffs appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Lisa M. Vincent, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Ralph E. Urban, assistant attorney general, for the appellees (defendants).

          Elgo, Bright and Moll, Js.

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         The plaintiffs, Mary Doe and her conservator Jane Doe, [1] appeal from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a trial to the court, in favor of the defendants, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Connecticut Valley Hospital, and Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital (Whiting). On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the court improperly (1) concluded that the commitment of Mary Doe, as the only woman in an otherwise all male maximum security unit at a forensic psychiatric hospital, was not a per se violation of the statutory bill of rights for psychiatric patients (patients' bill of rights); see General Statutes §§ 17a-540 through 17a-550; and (2) applied the standard outlined by Mahoney v. Len-sink, 213 Conn. 548, 565-68, 569 A.2d 518 (1990), to determine that the defendants' treatment of Mary Doe while she was committed to the maximum security unit had not violated her right to ‘‘humane and dignified treatment'' under § 17a-542. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. Mary Doe was born in 1970, and she was raised by her great aunt because her parents essentially were absent from her early life. Mary Doe's childhood and adolescence were ‘‘chaotic, unpredictable, and dangerous, often requiring intensive mental health treatment and containment.'' She was raped when she was eleven or twelve years old, and she may have been subject to another incident of sexual abuse thereafter. Between the ages of twelve and nineteen, Mary Doe committed physical acts of violence against a male student, two teenage girls, and her family members. She subsequently was diagnosed with ‘‘schizophrenia, paranoid type, '' and, at age nineteen, she was admitted to Connecticut Valley Hospital for the first time. Over the next twenty years, Mary Doe committed seventy-nine reported assaults, some of which were ‘‘very serious, '' involving ‘‘dangerous instruments, '' such as ‘‘knives, plastic utensils, a broken CD, and broken radio antennae.'' In connection with these incidents, Mary Doe was arrested numerous times ‘‘and then examined and treated for lack of competency to stand trial.'' In 2007, Jane Doe became Mary Doe's conservator.

         Between 1992 and 2008, Mary Doe intermittently was committed to Whiting, which is the only forensic psychiatric hospital in Connecticut. Whiting has a capacity of ‘‘somewhere between [ninety-one] and 110 beds.'' While committed between 1992 and 2008, Mary Doe ‘‘exhibited difficult behaviors such as paranoid delusions, resistance to taking medications, poor hygiene and lack of showering, making crude comments and accusations about sex, urinating in common areas, throwing liquids and other items, hoarding of items, and, at least at one point, expressing a suicidal intent.''

         In 2008, Mary Doe involuntarily was committed pursuant to an order of the Probate Court and, consequently, she was placed in unit 6 at Whiting on December 24, 2008. Unit 6 is a maximum security unit with an approximate capacity of twelve persons. Unit 6 is a ‘‘highly specialized section for patients, '' like Mary Doe, ‘‘who had a history of trauma, psychotic episodes, and serious impairment. No other unit at Whiting could provide such treatment.'' Her admission diagnosis included, among other things, ‘‘schizophrenia, paranoid type, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, type two diabetes, [and] seizure disorder . . . .'' Mary Doe resided in unit 6 until January 30, 2011, when she was discharged from Whiting and began living in Jane Doe's residence with supervision from the staff of Community Systems, Inc. (Community Systems). After she assaulted Jane Doe's husband and two Community Systems staff members, Mary Doe involuntarily was committed pursuant to an order of the Probate Court. Mary Doe then resided in unit 6 from April 6, 2011 through May 18, 2012. Thereafter, Mary Doe again was discharged from Whiting and, after approximately four years, she returned to Whiting, where she currently resides.[2] Mary Doe was the only female who resided in unit 6 during the operative periods between 2010 and 2012.

         On April 23, 2013, the plaintiffs, pursuant to § 17a-550, [3] filed the present civil action against the defendants seeking monetary damages. In the operative amended complaint, dated June 15, 2014, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were responsible for the ‘‘diagnosis, observation, or treatment of persons with psychiatric disabilities . . . .'' They also alleged, in relevant part, that from April 25, 2010 through January 29, 2011, [4] and from April 6, 2011 through May 18, 2012, the defendants' placement of Mary Doe in the otherwise all male unit 6, as well as the defendants' treatment of Mary Doe while in unit 6, caused the ‘‘dehumanization and degradation'' of Mary Doe in violation of § 17a-542.

         On February 17, 2017, after a three day trial, the court issued a memorandum of decision in which it rendered judgment in favor of the defendants on the plaintiffs' complaint. The court concluded that the placement of Mary Doe in the otherwise all male unit 6 was not a per se violation of her right to humane and dignified treatment pursuant to the patients' bill of rights. The court also concluded, pursuant to the standard set forth in Mahoney v. Lensink, supra, 213 Conn. 565-68, that the treatment of Mary Doe while she was confined in unit 6 was not inhumane and undignified in violation of § 17a-542.[5] This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         Before turning to the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, we briefly set forth the applicable standard of review.

         ‘‘The scope of our appellate review depends upon the proper characterization of the rulings made by the trial court. To the extent that the trial court has made findings of fact, our review is limited to deciding whether such findings were clearly erroneous. When, however, the trial court draws conclusions of law, our review is plenary and we must decide whether its conclusions are legally and logically correct and find support in the facts that appear in the record.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Sun Val, LLC v.Commissioner of Transportation, 330 Conn. 316, 325-26, 193 A.3d 1192 (2018); Hartford v.CBV Parking Hartford, LLC, 330 Conn. 200, 214, 192 A.3d 406 (2018) (‘‘[w]hether the trial court applied the proper legal standard is subject to plenary review on appeal''). On appeal, the plaintiffs do not contest any ...


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