IN THE SUPREPlE COURT OF THE STATE OF I"I0NTANA
[End Page 1984]
IN THE biATTER OF THE PETITION OF
Petitioner and Respondent,
DEPARTMENT OF INSTITUTIONS, et a1 . ,
Respondents and Appellants.
APPEAL FROf4: District Court of the Third Judicial District,
In and for the County of Deer Lodge,
The Honorable Arnold Olsen, Judge presiding.
COUNSEL OF RECORD:
Nick A. Rotering, Dept. of Institutions, Helena,
James Dorr Johnson, Warm Springs, Montana (argued)
Submitted: zaarcl~15, 19 84
Decided: June 2 8 , 1984
Mr. Justice L. C. Gulbrandson delivered the Opinion of the
This case comes on appeal from an order of the
District Court, Third Judicial District, Deer Lodge County,
holding that Section 53-21-130, MCA is unconstitutional. We
reverse that part of the order declaring Section 53-21-130,
MCA, unconstitutional. However, we also hold the State did
not adhere to the procedural safeguards set forth in Section
53-21-130, MCA, and affirm the issuance of the writ of
habeas corpus by the District Court.
M.C. is a sixteen-year-old juvenile who was committed
to the custody of the Department of Institutions under the
Youth Court Act on December 16, 1982. M.C. was initially
placed at the Pine Hills School for boys. On February 17,
1983, he was transferred from Pine Hills School to Warm
Springs State Hospital pursuant to his signing a voluntary
admission to that facility. In early March of 1983, M.C.
gave notice to the Warm Springs staff that he wanted to be
released from his voluntary admission. At that time, the
Department of Institutions filed a petition for an
involuntary commitment under the Mental Health Act. When
the matter came on for hearing on March 25, 1983, the
Department of Institutions failed to file a professional status report. As a result, the District Court dismissed
the petition and ordered M.C. returned to Pine Hills School.
On May 24, 1983, the Superintendent of Pine Hills
School asked the Department of Institutions to return M.C.
to Warm Springs State Hospital under the provisions of
Section 53-21-130, MCA, (ten-day transfer statute). It was
not until mid-June, 1983, that M.C. was actually transferred
to Warm Springs. On June 29, 1983, M.C. filed a petition
for habeas corpus alleging that his transfer from Pine Hills
School to Warm Springs under the ten-day transfer statute
was an unconstitutional violation of his right to due
After a hearing on the matter, the court concluded
that the habeas corpus remedy was proper and the parties stipulated to application of the Montana Uniform Declaratory
Judgment Act. The District Court held the ten-day transfer statute was unconstitutional because the statute allowed
M.C. to be transferred for ten days to Warm Springs without
a prior due process proceeding finding serious mental
illness. The District Court also held that the full due
process protections of Title 53, Chapter 21 applied to M.C.
From the order of the District Court the Department of
Institutions appeals arguing the ten-day transfer statute is
not violative of either the federal or state constitutional
right to due process.
The statute at issue in this case is Section
53-21-130, MCA, which provides:
"Transfer or commitment to mental health
facility from other institutions. No
person who is in the custody of the
department for any purpose other than
treatment of severe mental illness may be
transferred or committed to a mental
health facility for more than 10 days
unless the transfer or commitment is
effected according to the procedures set
out in this part. However, proceedings
for involuntary commitment may be
commenced in the county of the mental
health facility where the person is, in
the county of the institution from which
the person was transferred to the mental
health facility, or in the county of the
person's residence. Notice of a transfer
shall be given immediately to any
assigned counsel at the mental health
facility and to the parents of minors,
g u a r d i a n s , f r i e n d s of respondent, or
c o n s e r v a t o r s , a s t h e c a s e may b e . "
The S u p e r i n t e n d e n t o f Pine H i l l s utilized this statute to
transfer M.C. to Warm Springs. Nothing in the record
indicates the transfer was made because of an emergency
s i t u a t i o n or for any c o m p e l l i n g reason. Also, the record
does not show that M.C. was afforded any due process
p r o t e c t i o n s upon e x p i r a t i o n o f t h e t e n d a y p e r i o d .
The extent of the procedural safeguards due an
i n d i v i d u a l d e p e n d s upon t h e e x t e n t t o w h i c h h e w i l l s u f f e r a
grievous loss. Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v.
McGrath ( 1 9 5 1 ) , 3 4 1 U.S. 123
, 7 1 S.Ct. 624, 9 5 L.Ed. 817.
T h u s , t h e c o u r t d e c i d e s w h a t p r o c e s s i s d u e by b a l a n c i n g t h e
individual's i n t e r e s t i n avoiding t h e detriment against t h e
state's interest i n summary i n f l i c t i o n of that detriment.
G o l d b e r g v. Kelly ( 1 9 7 0 ) , 397 U.S. 254
, 90 S . C t . 1 0 1 1 , 25
I n holding the s t a t u t e unconstitutional, the District
C o u r t r e l i e d upon V i t e k v . J o n e s ( 1 9 8 0 ) , 445 U . S . 480, 100
S.Ct. 1 2 5 4 , 63 L.Ed.2d 552. The d e c i s i o n i n V i t e k a r o s e o u t
of l i t i g a t i o n c o n c e r n i n g t h e 1974 c o n v i c t i o n o f L a r r y J o n e s
on a c h a r g e o f robbery. J o n e s was s e n t e n c e d t o a t e r m o f
t h r e e t o n i n e y e a r s a t t h e N e b r a s k a P e n a l and C o r r e c t i o n a l
Complex i n L i n c o l n . E i g h t months l a t e r , while i n s o l i t a r y
c o n f i n e m e n t , J o n e s s e t h i s m a t t r e s s on f i r e s e v e r e l y b u r n i n g
h i s hands. A s a r e s u l t of t h e i n c i d e n t , h e was t r a n s f e r r e d
pursuant t o a p r o v i s i o n of t h e N e b r a s k a Code t o t h e s t a t e
mental hospital. The provision under which Jones was
transferred provided that if a designated physician found
t h a t a p r i s o n e r s u f f e r e d from a " m e n t a l d i s e a s e o r d e f e c t "
that could not be given proper treatment in prison the
Director of Correctional Services could transfer the
prisoner to a mental hospital. Jones challenged the
constitutionality of the transfer statute and the United
States Supreme Court held that the due process clause
guarantees a state prisoner certain procedural safeguards,
including timely notice and an adversary hearing, before a state may subject him to the "grevious loss" resulting from
civil commitment. Vitek, supra, 445 U.S. at 494. The
Court, however, did not recognize as a matter of due process
the right to appointed counsel at every commitment hearing.
Vitek, supra, 445 U.S. at 497. In making its determination,
the Court in Vitek employed the traditional due process
balancing test, weighing the interests of the individual
a.gainst those of the state. The test requires consideration
of three factors: (1) the individual's interest affected by
the state action; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation of
the interest; and ( 3 ) the government's interest in
maintaining its fiscal and administrative objectives.
Mathews v. Eldridge (1976), 424 U.S. 319
, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47
Applying the traditional due process balancing test to
the facts of this case indicates Section 53-21-130, MCA, is
not unconstituional under either state or federal
(1 The individual's interest affected by the state
action. Under the provisions of the ten-day transfer statute a transfer to a mental institution cannot exceed ten
days. At that time one of three things has to occur; first,
the individual is returned to the original institution, or, second, the individual voluntarily admits himself to the
mental institution, or third, the Department of Institutions
may request a ninety-day involuntary commitment proceeding.
In contrast, the Court in Vitek was faced with a situation
in which a prisoner could possibly remain at a mental
institution for the duration of his prison sentence without
any procedural safeguards. Thus, Montana's ten-day transfer statute does not present the type of "grevious loss"
contemplated by the Court in Vitek because procedural safeguards must be implemented after ten days. However, as
previously stated, nothing in the record indicates M.C. was
afforded any due process procedural safeguards upon the
expiration of the ten-day period.
(2) The risk of erroneous deprivation of the
individual ' s interest. Under the provisions of the ten-day
transfer statute there is a risk that an individual will be
erroneously transferred for ten days to a mental
institution. However, that fact must be weighed against
the State's interest in maintaining the capability to
transfer individuals in emergency situations.
Significantly, at the end of ten days the individual is
afforded procedural safeguards set forth in Title 53.
(3) The state's interest in maintaining its fiscal and
administrative objectives. Clearly, one of the purposes of
the ten-day transfer statute is to segregate individuals who
present an immediate danger to themselves or others. As such, the State's interest in transferring inmates for ten
days is compelling.
Under the statute at issue in Vitek, the State's
foremost concern was the speed with which it could transfer
mentally disturbed inmates to a mental institution. The
N e b r a s k a D i s t r i c t C o u r t had c h a r a c t e r i z e d t h i s i n t e r e s t a s
one d e s e r v i n g "primacy." Miller v. Vitek (D. Neb. 1977),
437 F.Supp 567.
Similarly, Montana has a strong interest in speedy
transfers of mentally disturbed i n d i v i d u a l s who may cause
injury. Moreover, a speedy t r a n s f e r of an inmate f o r ten
d a y s may be necessary for another reason: transferring a
potentially dangerous, mentally ill inmate to a mental
hospital may prevent a lawsuit against prison officials
should a mentally disturbed inmate i n j u r e another inmate.
See generally Fox v. Sullivan (5th Cir. 1976), 539 F.2d
A c o n s i d e r a t i o n of t h e t h r e e f a c t o r s d i s c u s s e d above
i n d i c a t e s t h e i n t e r e s t s of t h e S t a t e outweigh t h e i n t e r e s t s
o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l t r a n s f e r r e d p u r s u a n t t o S e c t i o n 53-21-130,
MCA, a s long a s t h e procedural s a f e g u a r d s m a n d a t e d by t h e
s t a t u t e a r e followed.
We reverse the District Court's order declaring
Section 53-21-130, MCA, unconstitutional, and affirm the
D i s t r i c t C o u r t ' s i s s u a n c e of t h e w r i t of habeas c o r p u s .
W e concur:
Chief J u s t i c e