Argued: February 11, 2016
County Probate Court docket number 2014-1193
the briefs and at oral argument:
Melissa L. Martin, Esq., Pine Tree Legal Assistance,
Portland, for appellant mother
Kristina M. Kurlanski, Esq., Ranger & Copeland, P.A.,
Brunswick, for appellees paternal grandparents
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
The mother of sixteen-year-old Hailey M. appeals from a
judgment entered by the Cumberland County Probate Court
(Mazziotti, J.) granting Hailey's paternal
grandparents' petition for guardianship. The mother
challenges the court's findings and argues that the award
of full guardianship-rather than a limited guardianship-to
the paternal grandparents, with no arrangement for transition
back into the mother's home, unreasonably infringed on
her fundamental right to parent her daughter in violation of
her substantive due process rights. We affirm the judgment.
In September 2014, Hailey's mother petitioned the
Cumberland County Probate Court for Hailey's paternal
grandparents to be appointed as guardians so that Hailey
could attend school in Freeport, where the grandparents live.
The mother withdrew the petition in November 2014 because the
petition had been sought "for an educational purpose
that [was] no longer needed." The court dismissed the
On December 12, 2014, the grandparents petitioned to have
themselves appointed as the guardians of the child on the
grounds that the child needed a safe and supportive
environment, and had threatened to run away from her
mother's house if she could not stay at her
grandparents' house. The child began to live with her
grandparents in January 2015. The child's father
consented to the guardianship, but her mother did not.
A trial was held on July 9, 2015, at which the court heard
testimony from the child, who was then fifteen years old; her
parents; her grandmother; and a clinician who had provided
home and community treatment services to the child and her
mother. The parties also stipulated that the grandfather
agreed with the grandmother that the two of them should
become guardians for the child.
The court entered a judgment finding, by clear and convincing
evidence, that the mother had created a living situation that
was at least temporarily intolerable for the child and that a
guardianship with the paternal grandparents was in the
child's best interest. It found that the mother had shown
an inability to meet the child's needs that threatened
the child's well-being and could result in trauma to the
child if she remained with the mother. The court also found
that the grandparents were qualified and able to care for the
child, and that the appointment was necessary and in the best
interest of the child, who agreed with the creation of a
guardianship. The court ordered that contact between the
mother and the child not be obstructed or restricted if the
child desires contact, and that the grandparents
"encourage and facilitate a healthy relationship between
mother and daughter."
The mother moved for additional findings of fact and for a
conclusion that the grandparents had failed to prove the
mother's unfitness by clear and convincing evidence. In
that motion, the mother also asked the court to indicate
whether it had considered ordering a limited guardianship or
a reunification plan with the mother.
The court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law on
August 27, 2015. The court ultimately found that a full
guardianship in the grandparents was warranted. In its order,
the court did not make extensive findings of fact but instead
primarily summarized the witnesses'
testimony. Apart from noting an inconsistency in the
mother's testimony about how many times the child had run
away, the court did not indicate which testimony it found
credible. We therefore focus on the following findings that
the court did make in support of its conclusion that
the mother had created an at least temporarily intolerable
The court explicitly found that the mother had created an
abusive environment in which the child was hurting herself
and running away, and that the mother was unable to meet the
child's mental health needs. The court further found that
the mother's conduct toward the child had caused, or at
least exacerbated, the child's unsafe behaviors,
resulting in a home environment that was unfit and not suited
to meeting the child's needs.
Supporting these findings, the record includes evidence of
the following facts. When the child lived with her mother,
the mother took out her aggressions on the child and would
swear, scream, and yell at her. The child inflicted harm on
herself, as evidenced by slash marks on her arms and calls
the father received from the school nurse. The child
threatened to hurt herself if she had to stay with the
mother, and she underperformed at school in hope that she
would be allowed to leave the mother's home. The child
has given up on her relationship with her mother after
repeated attempts to repair it with the help of counselors.
The child's interactions with her mother exacerbated the
child's symptoms of anxiety, depression, and isolation.
If she were forced to live with the mother, the child would
run away again.
[¶10] The child, her clinician, her father, and her
grandmother all agreed that the child is doing much better
since leaving the mother's home. She is not hurting
herself, is happy, is no longer depressed and hiding in her
room, no longer takes anti-depressant medication, and is
putting effort into school and extracurricular activities.
In entering its judgment after the mother's motion for
findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court did not
alter its appointment of the grandparents as full guardians.
Nor did it articulate its reasons for deciding not to limit