Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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The dismissal of the criminal charge pending against Respondent, an incompetent defendant, did not require his release from commitment to Bridgewater State Hospital, where the charge was dismissed after the period of commitment had expired, and a petition to extend the commitment had yet to be decided. After the criminal charge against Respondent was dismissed, Bridgewater moved to file an amended petition to modify its pending Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16(c) petition to a petition for civil commitment pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7 and 8. The district court concluded that Bridgewater had no authority to hold Respondent pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16(c), denied Bridgewater’s petition to amend, and ordered Respondent discharged. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the dismissal of the criminal charges did not require Respondent’s immediate release from commitment, and Bridgewater retained the statutory authority to hold Respondent while the Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16(c) petition was pending; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in denying Bridgewater’s request to amend its pending petition for an extension under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16(c) to a petition for civil commitment under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7 and 8. View "In re E.C." on Justia Law

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The right of an incompetent defendant to raise defenses in a proceeding pursuant to Conn. Gen. Laws ch. 123A, 15, which allows incompetent persons who are unable to stand trial for qualifying sex offenses to be deemed sexually dangerous based on the commission of those offenses, includes that of a lack of criminal responsibility. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial judge’s denial of Defendant’s motion to admit expert testimony that he was not criminally responsible for his criminal acts and the judge’s allowance of the Commonwealth’s motion to preclude the testimony, holding that the statute allows incompetent defendants to raise any defenses that they could raise in a criminal trial, including that of a lack of criminal responsibility. View "Commonwealth v. Curran" on Justia Law

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A patient who qualifies for the medical use of marijuana and has been terminated from her employment because she tested positive for marijuana as a result of her lawful medical use of marijuana may seek a civil remedy against her employer through claims of handicap discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B. The Supreme Judicial Court thus reversed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for handicap discrimination and related claims under chapter 151B but affirmed the allowance of the motion to dismiss as to the counts claiming an implied private cause of action under the medical marijuana act and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, holding that there is no implied statutory private cause of action under the medical marijuana act and that Plaintiff failed to state a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. View "Barbuto v. Advantage Sales & Marketing, LLC" on Justia Law

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Since 2009, AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Inc. (ASGCC) has been operating a free hypodermic needle access program in a village in Barnstable. The Town of Barnstable ordered the cessation of the program, asserting that ASGCC was in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, 27 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, 215. In response to the Town’s cease and desist order, ASGCC filed this action seeking injunctive relief and a declaration that its nonsale needle access program was not statutorily prohibited. The superior court judge reported the question to the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court allowed ASGCC’s application for direct appellate review. The court remanded the matter to the superior court for entry of a declaration that neither statute prohibits ASGCC from engaging in free distribution of hypodermic needles and an injunction permanently enjoining enforcement of the Town’s order to cease and desist, holding that the plain language of the statutes does not proscribe free distribution of hypodermic needs by a private individual or organization such as ASGCC that does not operate a program implemented by the Department of Public Health. View "AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Inc. v. Town of Barnstable" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed a Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition seeking interlocutory relief from an order of the superior court temporarily committing him to the Massachusetts Treatment Center pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A, 12(e) pending a probable cause determination on the Commonwealth’s petition for Appellant’s civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person. A single justice denied relief on the ground that Appellant had an adequate remedy in the ordinary appellate process. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that all of Appellant’s arguments as to the merits of his petition could be raised on appeal from an adverse final judgment in this matter. View "Schumacher v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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After N.L. was admitted to a mental health facility (hospital) the hospital filed a petition for commitment pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7 and 8 and for authorization for medical treatment for mental illness pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 8B. After a hearing on the petitions the judge ordered N.L. to be involuntarily committed to the hospital for a period not to exceed six months and allowed the hospital’s petition to treat N.L. with antipsychotic medication against his will. N.L. appealed. The Appellate Division of the District Court Department dismissed N.L.’s appeal as moot because he had since been discharged from the hospital. N.L.again appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed N.L.’s appeal as moot but exercised its discretion to address the issue before it, holding that where a person or his or her counsel requests a continuance of a hearing pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7(c) or 8B, the grant of the continuance is mandatory where a denial thereof is reasonably likely to prejudice a person’s ability to prepare a meaningful defense. View "In re N.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law
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A district court judge ordered Petitioner committed to the Women’s Addiction Treatment Center pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 35, a statute that authorizes the involuntary civil commitment of a person, for care and treatment, where there is a likelihood of serious harm that could result from the person’s alcoholism or substance abuse. The Appellate Division dismissed Petitioner’s appeal. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking to vacate the order. A single justice reserved and reported the case to the full Court. The Supreme Judicial court dismissed the petition for relief as moot, holding (1) because Petitioner was no longer committed to the facility, her challenge to the order of commitment was rendered moot; but (2) because this case raised important issues concerning the operation of section 35 as well as the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcohol and Substance Abuse scheduled to go into effect on February 1, 2016, the Court decided the case and concluded that the evidence in this case did not appear to satisfy the requirements of section 35 for an order of commitment. View "In re G.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law
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When Samantha Reckis was seven years old, she developed toxic epidermal necrolysis, a life-threatening skin disorder, after receiving multiple doses of Children’s Motrin, an over-the-counter medication with ibuprofen as its active ingredient. Plaintiffs, Samantha and her parents, sued the manufacturer and marketer of Children’s Motrin and its parent company, alleging that Samantha developed TEN as a result of being exposed to ibuprofen in the Children’s Motrin and that the warning label on the medication’s bottle rendered the product defective because it failed to warn consumers about the serious risk of developing a life-threatening disease from it. A jury found in favor of Plaintiffs and awarded Samantha a total of $50 million in compensatory damages and each of Samantha’s parents $6.5 million for loss of consortium. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim of failure to warn was not preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; (2) a pharmacologist who offered the causation evidence essential to Plaintiffs’ case was qualified to testify as to specific medical causation, and the testimony was reliable and admissible; and (3) the damages awarded to each of the plaintiffs were not grossly excessive or unsupported by the record. View "Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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K.I. was committed to Walden Behavioral Care (Walden), a facility for the treatment of mentally ill patients, for a three-day period, during which a psychiatrist provided diagnosis of and treatment to K.I. Walden then brought a petition seeking K.I.’s continuing commitment. K.I. filed a motion in limine to exclude the psychiatrist’s testimony regarding K.I.’s statements, asserting that his statements were protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege, as defined in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233, 20B. A district judge denied the motion, determining that the exception provided by section 20B(b) was inapplicable because the psychotherapist-patient privilege was overcome by the imminent harm exception to the privilege set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233, 20B(a). At the commitment hearing, the psychiatrist was permitted to testify to K.I.’s statements and to his opinion that K.I. was suicidal. K.I. was committed to Walden for six months. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege established in section 20B(a) applied under these circumstances; and (2) the district court judge did not err in permitting the psychiatrist to testify at the involuntary commitment hearing concerning K.I.’s statements. View "Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I." on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law
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After a jury-waived trial, Defendant was found to be a sexually dangerous person and ordered civilly committed. While the judge found that although Defendant was only likely to commit noncontact sexual offenses in the future, the judge concluded that the offenses would instill in Defendant's victims a “reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime,” and thus Defendant was a “menace” as defined in Commonwealth v. Suave. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to prove that Defendant was a menace to the health and safety of others and a sexually dangerous person within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A; and (2) Defendant’s commitment as a sexually dangerous person did not violate his substantive due process rights. View "Commonwealth v. Fay" on Justia Law