A federal judge on Tuesday gave a man the go-ahead to pursue a lawsuit alleging he was kept in a mental health facility past his release date for refusing to take psychotropic drugs.

In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland did not rule on the merits of Denzil Lawrence’s contention that a senior administrator at the Elgin Mental Health Center violated his constitutional rights.

But Rowland declined to dismiss the suit.

She held Lawrence adequately stated claims of false imprisonment and denial of due process against James P. Corcoran, a psychiatrist who is statewide forensic medical director for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The procedure for evaluating and committing individuals set out in the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code has enough “checks and balances against inappropriate detention” to protect the right to due process, Rowland wrote, quoting McKinney v. George, 556 F. Supp. 645 (N.D. Ill. 1983), aff’d, 726 F.2d 1183 (7th Cir. 1984).

She noted both sides agree that the code’s facial requirements were followed when Lawrence’s confinement was extended by 90 days.

But Lawrence contends his caregivers — his social worker, his psychiatrist and Corcoran — sought the extension in an involuntary civil commitment petition that they knew contained false statements.

Those false statements included the assertion that he was still mentally ill, Lawrence alleges.

Citing cases that included Villanova v. Abrams, 972 F. 2d 792 (7th Cir. 1992), Rowland wrote the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and judges in the Northern District of Illinois “have analogized the emergency commitment procedures of the Illinois Code to the constitutional requirements for a lawful arrest” when determining if a commitment complied with the U.S. Constitution.

“Just as a warrant cannot pass constitutional muster if it relies on knowing or reckless false statements,” Rowland wrote, citing Knox v. Smith, 342 F.3d 651 (7th Cir. 2003), “a deliberately false certification of mental illness is inconsistent with the Code and, by extension, due process.” 

Both Lawrence’s due process claim and his unlawful seizure theory are based on the contention that false information — the assertion that he was still mentally ill — was intentionally included in the petition, Rowland wrote.

That contention, she wrote, is sufficient to state a claim for relief.

Rowland denied Corcoran’s motion to dismiss Lawrence’s suit.

In September 2017, Lawrence was found incompetent to stand trial on charges of arson and criminal damage to property.

He was found not guilty by reason of insanity on those charges in February 2018.

Lawrence was committed to the Illinois Department of Human Services for inpatient mental health treatment after he was found incompetent and he continued to receive treatment following the verdict of not guilty.

Lawrence initially was placed in the Chester Mental Health Center. He was moved to Elgin in August 2018.

Because of negative side effects, Lawrence stopped taking psychotropic drugs while he was at Chester. His doctor agreed to that move.

Lawrence started taking psychotropic drugs again after he moved to Elgin, but stopped in September 2018.

Lawrence maintains his symptoms went into a “substantial remission” while he was at Chester and he continued to recover at Elgin. 

Lawrence’s so-called  Thiem date, or the date his commitment was to expire, was March 20, 2019.

Expiration dates for defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are determined under the rule set out in People v. Thiem, 403 N.E.2d 647 (1980). The commitment period may not be longer than the maximum time the patient could have been required to serve if convicted of the most serious crime charged.

Lawrence’s father arrived at Elgin on March 20, but was not allowed to take his son home.

That day, the involuntary civil commitment petition alleging Lawrence was mentally ill and a danger to himself or others was filed in Kane County Circuit Court.

Lawrence was forced to stay at Elgin for another 90 days. He was released on June 20, 2019.

Lawrence filed his suit against Corcoran the following month, alleging the administrator sought the 90 extra days of commitment as a punishment for Lawrence’s refusal to take psychotropic medication.

Lawrence contends Corcoran has created an environment at Elgin that leads medical personnel under his supervision to fear losing their jobs if they do not coerce patients into taking psychotropic medication.

In her opinion, Rowland held Lawrence sufficiently alleged Corcoran was personally involved in the purported violation of his rights.

Such an allegation is needed to state a claim for supervisory liability under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rowland wrote.

The case is Denzil Lawrence v. James P. Corcoran, No. 19 C 5078.

Lawrence is represented by S. Randolph Kretchmar and Joseph J. Cecala of Kretchmar & Cecala P.C. in Wilmette.

Kretchmar described Corcoran as “one of the prime movers in this psychiatric fiasco.” 

“For years we have been aware of multiple, consistent complaints by patients and their families that staff and administrative officials in the [Illinois Department of Human Services] falsify medical records and lie to courts to keep patients hospitalized and force them to accept debilitating drugs,” Kretchmar said in a statement.

“Illinois taxpayers foot the bill for $800 plus per patient per day, and get no benefit of medical help for anyone, or of improved community safety.” 

Corcoran is represented by Illinois Assistant Attorney General Hal Dworkin.

A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services could not be reached for comment.