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Guardianship of Hailey M.

Supreme Court of Maine

May 26, 2016


          Argued: February 11, 2016

         Cumberland County Probate Court docket number 2014-1193

         On 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.

         [¶1] The mother of sixteen-year-old Hailey M.[1] 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] 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 petition.

         [¶3] 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.

         [¶4] 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.

         [¶5] 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."

         [¶6] 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.

         [¶7] 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.[2] 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 living situation.

         [¶8] 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.

         [¶9] 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.

         [¶11] 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 the ...

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