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Guardianship of Sebastien Chamberlain

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

June 18, 2015

GUARDIANSHIP OF SEBASTIEN CHAMBERLAIN et al

Argued December 10, 2014.

Page 230

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Judgment vacated. Remanded for the court to apply the standard of proof by clear and convincing evidence.

E. Chris L'Hommedieu, Esq., Lewiston, for appellant Marc Chamberlain.

Aubrey A. Russell, Esq., Lewiston, for appellee grandmother.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

Page 233

SAUFLEY, C.J.

[¶1] In this matter of first impression, we are called upon to address the constitutionality of the process that the Legislature has provided for a Probate Court to establish a guardianship for a child who has been in the care of a " de facto guardian" for an identified period of time without a parent's consistent participation in the child's life. See 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(D) (2014). Marc Chamberlain, the father of two children who have been in the care of their maternal grandmother for a number of years before and following the death of their mother, presents this facial challenge to the constitutionality of a provision of the Probate Code governing the appointment of guardians for minors, 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(D).

[¶2] After a trial, the Androscoggin County Probate Court ( Dubois, J. ) determined, pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(C) (2014), that the grandmother had not proved by clear and convincing evidence--the statutorily designated standard of proof--that Chamberlain had created an " at least temporarily intolerable" living situation for the children. Id. The court did determine, however, applying the lower statutory standard of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, that the grandmother had met her burden pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(D)--the de facto guardian provision. Because we conclude that the appointment of a guardian over a parent's objection upon proof by the lower standard of a preponderance of the evidence violates the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, see U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, we vacate the judgment and remand the matter for the court to apply the constitutionally required standard of proof by clear and convincing evidence when applying section 5-204(D).

I. BACKGROUND

[¶3] The parties agree that Chamberlain has been living apart from the children since 2007. On January 14, 2014, following the December 2013 death of the children's mother, their maternal grandmother, with whom they had been living for several years, and their maternal aunt petitioned the Androscoggin County Probate Court for appointment as the children's co-guardians. The court appointed the grandmother and aunt as temporary co-guardians of the children the next day. The court held a hearing on June 24, June 25, and July 14, 2014, at which Chamberlain opposed the grandmother and aunt's petition. The court entered a judgment appointing the grandmother--but not the aunt--as guardian of the two children.

[¶4] The court analyzed the evidence under two of the four statutory alternatives authorizing the appointment of a guardian of a minor. 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(C), (D). The court first determined that neither the grandmother nor the aunt had met the burden pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(C) to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a living situation had been created that was at least temporarily intolerable for the children. The court then turned to the second alternative and applied the plain language of 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(D), which authorizes the appointment of a guardian without a parent's consent if " the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a de facto guardian and a demonstrated lack of consistent participation by the nonconsenting parent or legal custodian of the unmarried minor," and that " the appointment is in the best interest of the child." Id. ; see also 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(B) (2014).[1] The court found by a preponderance

Page 234

of the evidence that the grandmother--but not the aunt--was a " de facto guardian" and that Chamberlain had not consistently participated in the children's lives. The court entered a judgment appointing the grandmother as the children's guardian.

[¶5] Chamberlain moved for findings of fact and conclusions of law and for the court to reconsider its findings with respect to section 5-204(D) applying the higher standard of proof by clear and convincing evidence. See M.R. Prob. P. 52, 59; M.R. Civ. P. 52(a), (b), 59(e). In his motion to reconsider, Chamberlain argued that the Due Process Clause required the court to apply the higher standard of proof. The court made additional findings, but it denied Chamberlain's motion for reconsideration and did not address the standard of proof further.

[¶6] Chamberlain timely appealed. See 18-A M.R.S. § 1-308 (2014); M.R. App. P. 2. He did not request a transcript of the trial or obtain any substitute for a transcript, see M.R. App. P. 5, and opted instead to mount a facial challenge to the constitutionality of 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204(D).[2] We do not, therefore, summarize the factual findings of the trial court here.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Facial Constitutional Challenges

[¶7] Chamberlain argues that section 5-204(D) is facially unconstitutional because it, and the statutes defining its terms, are unconstitutionally vague and violate due process. With respect to due process, Chamberlain argues that the statutes violate parents' rights to substantive and procedural due process. Regarding each of his arguments, Chamberlain contends that section 5-204(D) is unconstitutional on its face.[3]

[¶8] When we address a facial constitutional challenge, the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people of Maine are entitled to the deference of the courts. " The court is bound to assume that, in the passage of any law, the Legislature acted with full knowledge of all constitutional restrictions and intelligently, honestly and discriminatingly decided that they were acting within their ...


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