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Ex parte South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs

Supreme Court of South Carolina

November 16, 2016

Ex Parte: South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, Appellant,
v.
Rocky A. Linkhorn, Respondent. In re: State of South Carolina, Respondent, Appellate Case No. 2013-002208

          Heard December 3, 2015

         Appeal From Lexington County J. Michael Baxley, Circuit Court Judge

          Andrew F. Lindemann and William H. Davidson, II, both of Davidson & Lindemann, P.A., of Columbia; General Counsel Tana G. Vanderbilt, of South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Deputy Solicitor General J. Emory Smith, Jr., and Assistant Attorney General T. Parkin Hunter, all of Columbia, and Public Defender Elizabeth C. Fullwood, of Lexington, for Respondents.

          BEATTY, JUSTICE.

         Rocky A. Linkhorn was arrested and charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor in the First Degree, Lewd Act on a Minor, and Disseminating Obscene Material to a Minor. After finding Linkhorn was incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future, the circuit court ordered the solicitor to initiate judicial admission proceedings in the probate court to have Linkhorn involuntarily committed to the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs ("DDSN"). Before the probate court determined whether Linkhorn was intellectually disabled, the solicitor filed a motion for a rule to show cause in the circuit court, requesting DDSN be ruled into court "to show just cause for services being denied to [Linkhorn] as previously ordered." The circuit court granted the solicitor's motion and ordered DDSN to, inter alia, take custody of Linkhorn and house him in a secure facility until the probate court determines whether Linkhorn is intellectually disabled. Additionally, the court prohibited DDSN from refusing involuntary commitment of individuals similarly situated to Linkhorn. DDSN appealed. We certified the appeal pursuant to Rule 204(b), SCACR. For reasons which will be discussed, we reverse.

         I. Discussion

         This case concerns the application of the South Carolina Intellectual Disability, Related Disabilities, Head Injuries, and Spinal Cord Injuries Act[1]("Act") and certain provisions under Title 44, Chapter 23 of the South Carolina Code. The Act and Title 44, Chapter 23 contain competing definitions of the term "intellectual disability." The crux of the issue before the Court is which definition is applicable to Linkhorn.

         A long recitation of the facts and the tortured procedural history of this case are unnecessary to determine the resolution of the ultimate issue presented. The uncontroverted evidence shows that Linkhorn suffers from dementia caused by an anoxic brain injury resulting from Linkhorn's attempt to hang himself. Linkhorn has numerous cognitive and intellectual deficits in addition to slow speech and difficulty performing certain motor activities. It is noteworthy that Linkhorn's disability did not manifest until he was twenty-three years of age.

         A. Statutory Overview

         Title 44, Chapter 23 outlines, inter alia, the procedures for individuals found unfit to stand trial. These provisions apply to both the mentally ill and persons with intellectual disabilities.[2] Under this Chapter, "person with intellectual disability" is defined as:

a person, other than a person with a mental illness primarily in need of mental health services, whose inadequately developed or impaired intelligence and adaptive level of behavior require for the person's benefit, or that of the public, special training, education, supervision, treatment, care, or control in the person's home or community or in a service facility or program under the control and management of the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

S.C. Code Ann. § 44-23-10(21) (Supp. 2015). This definition does not have an age limitation. The General Assembly limited the application of this definition to Title 44, Chapters 9, 11, 13, 17, 23, 24, 27, 48, and 52. Id. § 44-23-10 (Supp. 2015). Notably absent from this list is Title 44, Chapter 20.

         The Act sets forth specific procedures applicable to judicial admission proceedings concerning the involuntary commitment of an individual to DDSN once the individual is found unfit to stand trial. S.C. Code Ann. § 44-20-450 (Supp. 2015). Under section 44-20-450(A)(8) of the Act, if an individual is found unfit to stand trial, the solicitor responsible for the criminal prosecution pursuant to section 44-23-430 is authorized to initiate judicial admission proceedings for the involuntary commitment of the individual to DDSN as long as the individual has an "intellectual disability" or "related disability." "Intellectual disability" is defined under the Act as "significantly sub average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive ...


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