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City of Madison v. State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District IV

March 9, 2017

City of Madison, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Kitty Rhoades, Defendants-Respondents.

         APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Dane County No. 2014CV3246: JAMES R. TROUPIS, Judge. Affirmed.

          Before Kloppenburg, P. J., Lundsten and Blanchard, JJ.

          KLOPPENBURG, P.J.

         ¶1 The emergency detention statute in Wisconsin's Mental Health Act sets out a statewide process for providing, on an emergency basis, treatment to individuals who are mentally ill, drug dependent, or developmentally disabled, and who meet certain other criteria set out in the statute. WIS. Stat. §51.15(1) (2015-16).[1] Under Wis. STAT. §51.15(2), local law enforcement officers may transport an individual for emergency detention and treatment to only two types of facilities: "a treatment facility approved by the [Department of Health Services] or the county department [of community programs], if the facility agrees to detain the individual, or a state treatment facility." The State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services has designated the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh as the state treatment facility that will accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment under the statute. The City of Madison argues that, under the statute, the Department must also accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison because Mendota is also a "state treatment facility" as that term is used in §51.15(2).

         ¶2 As we explain, we conclude that under the only reasonable meaning of the statute, the Department has acted within its statutory authority to designate Winnebago as the state treatment facility that will accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment under WIS. STAT. § 51.15(2). Accordingly, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In November 2014, the City filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services.[2]The City alleged that the Department acted in violation of and beyond its authority under Wisconsin's emergency detention statute by refusing to accept custody of individuals transported by City police officers to the Mendota Mental Health Institute for emergency detention and treatment, and instead requiring that the City transport all individuals to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute for emergency detention and treatment. In its amended complaint the City alleged that the Department's action resulted in increased costs for the City.

         ¶4 The circuit court dismissed the City's complaint on cross-motions for summary judgment, concluding that the Department has not exceeded its authority under the statute because it has made at least one state treatment facility available to accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment under Wis.Stat. § 51.15(2). The City appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5 The City argues that Wis.Stat. § 51.15(2) does not authorize the Department to designate Winnebago as the only state treatment facility that will accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment. More specifically, as clarified at oral argument, the City argues that the statute provides that individuals may be transported for emergency detention and treatment to any of the state treatment facilities; therefore, Mendota, as one of six "state treatment facilities, " cannot refuse to accept custody of such individuals. Following well-established rules of statutory construction, we disagree. In the sections that follow, we state those rules, review the relevant statutory scheme, and conclude that WIS. STAT. § 51.15(2), read in the context of that statutory scheme, authorizes the Department to designate Winnebago as the state treatment facility that will accept custody of individuals transported for emergency detention and treatment. In the course of our discussion, we address and reject the City's arguments to the contrary.

         I. Standard of Review

         ¶6 We review a circuit court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Chapman v. B.C. Ziegler and Co., 2013 WI.App. 127, ¶2, 351 Wis.2d 123, 839 N.W.2d 425. Here our review turns on the interpretation of a statute, which is a question of law that we also address de novo. Juneau Cty. v. Associated Bank, N.A., 2013 WI.App. 29, ¶15, 346 Wis.2d 264, 828 N.W.2d 262.

         ¶7 The purpose of statutory interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature. Id., ¶16. When we interpret a statute, we begin with the statute's plain language, because we assume that the legislature's intent is expressed in the words it used. Id.; State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty., 2004 WI 58, ¶45, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. "Statutory language is given its common, ordinary, and accepted meaning, except that technical or specially-defined words or phrases are given their technical or special definitional meaning." Kalal, 271 Wis.2d 633, ¶45. We interpret statutory language in the context in which it is used, in relation to the language of surrounding or closely related statutes, and in a reasonable manner, to avoid absurd or unreasonable results. Id., ¶46. If this process of interpretation yields a plain meaning, the statute is unambiguous and we apply its plain meaning. Id. If a statute "is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed persons in two or more senses, " the statute is ambiguous, and extrinsic sources of statutory interpretation, such as legislative history, may be consulted to resolve the ambiguity. Id., ¶¶47, 50.

         II. Wisconsin's Emergency Detention and Treatment Statutory Scheme

         ¶8 Wisconsin's Mental Health Act states that, as the policy of the state, "There shall be a unified system of ... provision of services which will assure all people in need of care access to the least restrictive treatment alternative appropriate to their needs, and movement through all treatment components to assure continuity of care, within the limits of available state and federal funds ...." WIS. Stat. § 51.001 (emphasis added). Consistent with this policy, the purpose of Wisconsin's emergency detention statute, WIS. STAT. § 51.15, "is to provide, on an emergency basis, treatment by the least restrictive means" to individuals who "[a]re mentally ill, drug dependent, or developmentally disabled, " "[a]re reasonably believed to be unable or unwilling to cooperate with voluntary treatment, " and meet certain other criteria, such as evidencing a substantial probability of harm to the individual or others. WIS. STAT. § 51.15(1)(ag) and (ar) (emphasis added).

         A. The emergency detention ...


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