The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear argument on whether the lower court had jurisdiction to review a case involving the ramifications that an involuntary commitment had on a mental health patient’s ability to own a gun.
The justices granted allocatur on a limited basis in In re Petition of J.M.Y. on Sept. 17. The petitioner had brought the case claiming his due process rights had been violated when a trial court declined to expunge his mental health records because his commitment was not valid under the law. The Superior Court en banc ultimately reversed that decision 8-1.
In its grant for allowance of appeal, the Supreme Court said it would address a single question: “Did the Pennsylvania Superior Court err when it exercised jurisdiction to review a commitment under 50 P.S. Section 7303, when no timely appeal was filed, and the challenge was brought years later under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, 18 Pa.C.S. Sections 6111.1(g)(2) & 6105(f)(1)?”
According to Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Shogan’s majority opinion, J.M.Y. got drunk at a fraternity party at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. He was on medication for depression and anxiety, and he was apprehended by the police after he attempted to harm himself, Shogan said.
The police took him to Western Psychiatric Hospital, where he was involuntarily committed under Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act, according to Shogan. He was discharged after spending four days there. Section 302, 303 and 304 prohibit the ownership or use of firearms, which is problematic given the plaintiffs’ interest in law enforcement as an occupation. J.M.Y. sought to have the record of his commitment expunged.
During proceedings over the course of 2015, the trial court held that J.M.Y.’s commitment was valid under Sections 302 and 303. However, the Superior Court held that the certification of involuntary commitment was improper and that J.M.Y. was not made aware of the proceedings immediately following his commitment.
“Upon review of the certified record, we conclude that the certification was not proper and, therefore, the Section 303 commitment was not valid,” Shogan said. ”At the expungement hearing, appellant testified that, although he spoke with a public defender prior to his release from the hospital, he was unaware of any 303 commitment hearing held on September 25, 2012. Appellant testified that he merely ‘was told that there could be a hearing.’”
She added, “As indicated by appellant in his appellate brief, our review of the certified record reflects that the trial court failed to address whether there was sufficient evidence to support appellant’s Section 302 commitment. Rather than address the underlying Section 302 commitment, the trial court made a determination regarding the validity of appellant’s Section 303 commitment.”
Judge Judith Ference Olson penned a dissent, arguing that she did not believe the court had jurisdiction to review the commitment.
“Simply stated, no statute provides our courts with jurisdiction to review the sufficiency of appellant’s Section 303 commitment or to expunge the record of such commitment—indeed, 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5571(b) forbids our exercise of jurisdiction,” Olson said.
Terry Despoy of Despoy and Robertson in Holidaysburg represents J.M.Y. and did not return a call seeking comment. Nor did Carlton Smith of the Pennsylvania State Police.