argument: December 11, 2018
Circuit Court Portage county Thomas T. Flugaur Judge.
of a decision of the Court of Appeals. Affirmed.
the respondent-appellant-petitioner, there were briefs filed
by Katie R. York, assistant state public defender. There was
an oral argument by Katie R. York.
the petitioner-respondent, there was a brief filed by Briana
L. Sweeney and Interim Deputy Corporation Counsel, Stevens
Point. There was an oral argument by Briana L. Sweeney.
REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J.
An issue is moot when its resolution will have no practical
effect on the underlying controversy. In this review of a
Chapter 51 recommitment order, we consider whether
J.W.K.'s sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge to the
2016 order extending his commitment is rendered moot because
the 2016 order expired after the court extended his
commitment in 2017 under a separate order. Reversing the
expired 2016 order for insufficient evidence would have no
effect on subsequent recommitment orders because later orders
stand on their own under the language of the statute. We
therefore hold that J.W.K.'s sufficiency challenge is
moot, and we affirm the court of appeals' decision
dismissing the appeal.
J.W.K. was originally committed in February 2016 for six
months under Wis.Stat. § 51.20 (2017-18). In July 2016,
Portage County filed a petition seeking to extend
J.W.K.'s commitment for twelve months. The petition
alleged J.W.K.: (1) was "currently committed for
involuntary treatment" at an inpatient facility; (2) was
a proper subject for commitment; (3) had the mental illness
of schizophrenia; (4) was "presently dangerous as set
forth in Sec. 51.20(1)(a) or based on [J.W.K.'s]
treatment record . . . would be a proper subject for
commitment if treatment were withdrawn as evidenced by: in
the past when commitment has expired, [J.W.K.] has
discontinued psychotropic medications and became a danger to
self or others or demonstrated inability to care for
self"; and (5) was "not competent to refuse
psychotropic medication or treatment."
The circuit court held a hearing on the extension petition in
August 2016. At the hearing, the County presented only the
testimony of Dr. James Persing, who testified J.W.K. was
suffering from schizophrenia, and the symptoms included
"most prominently . . . delusional thinking and
paranoia." Persing said that J.W.K. was being treated
with medication, and this medication helped "organize
[J.W.K.'s] thought processes" and clear his
delusional thinking and hallucinations. Persing also opined
that J.W.K. would be a proper subject for commitment if
treatment were withdrawn. On cross-examination, Persing
clarified that he based his opinion on J.W.K.'s
"history" and "overall struggles with chronic
mental illness for many years with variable levels of
compliance with treatment, and leading up to a point of [a]
variety of altercations." The doctor made clear
J.W.K.'s "need for mental health
J.W.K. testified on his own behalf. When his attorney asked
whether he understood the hearing was to determine whether
his commitment would be extended, J.W.K. responded that the
hearing "involve[d] more than that," and proceeded
to tell the circuit court that his family was stealing his
money by "breaking and entering into" his
"private property and . . . private home . . . and
removing" his important "documents." When his
attorney interrupted to redirect him, J.W.K. told the circuit
court he would continue treatment on an outpatient basis and
take his medication even if he were not committed.
At the conclusion of the testimony, the circuit court found
the statutory dangerousness standard was satisfied because
"there is a substantial likelihood that [J.W.K.] would
be a proper subject for commitment if treatment were
withdrawn." Accordingly, the circuit court extended
J.W.K.'s commitment for twelve months, ending on August
J.W.K. did not timely appeal this order, but filed a pro se
motion asking for an extension "due to the lack of
exchange of information due to conflicting interest."
The court of appeals granted the motion, reinstated
J.W.K.'s postconviction rights and gave J.W.K. until
April 24, 2017 to seek postcommitment relief. The State
Public Defender's office appointed counsel for J.W.K. On
April 3, 2017 his counsel filed a notice of intent to seek
postcommitment relief and on August 7, 2017 filed a notice of
Meanwhile, with J.W.K.'s 2016 extension order expiring on
August 2, 2017, the County filed a petition seeking another
twelve-month extension of J.W.K.'s commitment, which the
circuit court granted after holding a hearing on July 21,
In September 2017, the court of appeals ordered J.W.K. to
file a memorandum addressing whether his appeal of the August
2016 order was moot, given he filed his notice of appeal
after a new order extending his commitment had been
entered in July 2017. After considering submissions
addressing mootness from J.W.K. and the County, the court of
appeals dismissed the appeal as moot "because J.W.K. is
no longer subject to the order being appealed." The
court of appeals acknowledged that "exceptions to
dismissal based on mootness exist, as for example, when an
issue is of great public importance or arises frequently but
evades review," but it did not consider the mootness
exceptions because J.W.K. did "not argue that any of the
exceptions appl[ied] in this case."
J.W.K. petitioned for review, arguing his appeal was not moot
and asserting the evidence presented at the August 2016
extension hearing was insufficient to prove he was dangerous.
We granted the petition.
Standard of Review
Mootness is a question of law we review de novo. PRN
Assocs. LLC v. DOA, 2009 WI 53, ¶25, 317 Wis.2d
656, 766 N.W.2d 559. J.W.K.'s argument requires us to
interpret Wis.Stat. § 51.20; statutory interpretation is
a question of law we review de novo. Waukesha Cty. v.
J.W.J., 2017 WI 57, ¶14, 375 Wis.2d 542, 895 N.W.2d
783. "[S]tatutory interpretation 'begins with the
language of the statute.'" State ex rel. Kalal
v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty., 2004 WI 58, ¶45,
271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110 (quoted source omitted) . We
give statutory language "its common, ordinary, and
accepted meaning, except that technical or specially-defined
words or phrases are given their technical or special
definitional meaning." Id. If this process
yields a plain meaning, our inquiry ends. Id.
Before addressing J.W.K.'s substantive claim on
sufficiency of the evidence, we must first consider the
threshold issue of whether J.W.K.'s appeal is moot. If
the appeal is moot, then we do not reach J.W.K.'s
sufficiency argument. "An issue is moot when its
resolution will have no practical effect on the underlying
controversy." PRN Assocs. LLC, 317 Wis.2d 656,
¶25; see also City of Racine v. J-T Enters, of Am.,
Inc., 64 Wis.2d 691, 700, 221 N.W.2d 869 (1974)
("This court has consistently adhered to the rule that a
case is moot when 'a determination is sought which, when
made, cannot have any practical effect upon an existing
controversy.'" (quoted source omitted)).
A moot case has been defined as one which seeks to determine
an abstract question which does not rest upon existing facts
or rights, or which seeks a judgment in a pretended
controversy when in reality there is none, or one which seeks
a decision in advance about a right before it has actually
been asserted or contested, or a judgment upon some matter
which when rendered for any cause cannot have any practical
legal effect upon the existing controversy.
Fort Howard Paper Co. v. Fort Howard Corp., 273 Wis.
356, 360, 77 N.W.2d 733 (1956) (quoted source omitted);
see also State ex rel. Ellenburg v. Gagnon, 76
Wis.2d 532, 535, 251 N.W.2d 773 (1977) .
Appellate courts generally decline to reach moot issues, and
if all issues on appeal are moot, the appeal should be
dismissed. See id.; PRN Assocs. LLC, 317
Wis.2d 656, ¶¶25, 29. We may, however, choose to
address moot issues in "exceptional or compelling
circumstances." J-T Enters., 64 Wis.2d at 702.
There are several established exceptions under which this
court may elect to address moot issues: (1) "the issues
are of great public importance;" (2) "the
constitutionality of a statute is involved;" (3) the
situation arises so often "a definitive decision is
essential to guide the trial courts;" (4) "the
issue is likely to arise again and should be resolved by the
court to avoid uncertainty;" or (5) the issue is
"capable and likely of repetition and yet evades
review." G.S ...