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Guardianship of Sanders

Supreme Court of Maine

July 7, 2016

GUARDIANSHIP OF HAROLD SANDERS

          Submitted On Briefs: May 26, 2016

         Cumberland County Probate Court docket number 2013-1425

         On the briefs:

          Jeremy Pratt, Esq., and Ellen Simmons, Esq., Camden, for appellant Harold Sanders

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Christopher C. Leighton, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services

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

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] Harold "Danny" Sanders appeals from a judgment of the Cumberland County Probate Court (Mazziotti, J.) appointing the Department of Health and Human Services as his public guardian. He contends that the Probate Court did not have jurisdiction to appoint a guardian. Because we conclude that the applicable statute did not vest the Probate Court with jurisdiction to appoint a nontemporary guardian for Sanders, we vacate the judgment.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts were found by the Probate Court and are supported by competent record evidence, see Kilborn v. Carey, 2016 ME 78, ¶ 3, --- A.3d ---, or are undisputed. Sanders, sixty-four at the time of his guardianship hearing, has lived most of his life in California. In 2012, Sanders suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. At some point after the sale of his home in California, Sanders left that state and traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was referred to state services and placed in a nursing home. After leaving New Mexico, he traveled in the course of ten days, in some order, to Arizona, Washington, Georgia, and, finally, Maine with the goal of entering Canada, where he holds dual citizenship, to seek treatment for his paralysis. After Sanders arrived in Maine on October 15, 2013, he checked into a hotel in the Portland area where he relied on the staff to "assist with his transfer from his wheelchair for toileting and bed." The next day, hotel staff notified the Portland police, who transported Sanders to Maine Medical Center (MMC), where he was admitted to the psychiatric unit.

         [¶3] MMC initiated civil commitment proceedings that resulted in Sanders being involuntarily committed on October 30, 2013, for a maximum period of fifty days. On November 6, 2013, the Department filed a petition for appointment of a guardian of an incapacitated person for Sanders in the Cumberland County Probate Court, pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. § 5-303(a) (2015).[2] On November 22, 2013, the Department petitioned for a temporary guardianship, and the court granted the petition the same day. Counsel was appointed for Sanders on December 5, 2013. In January 2014, Sanders was discharged from MMC and transferred to the geropsychiatric unit at an assisted living facility in Freeport.[3]

         [¶4] The hearing on the Department's petition for guardianship was continued, and the temporary guardianship was extended by agreement on April 2, 2014. The Probate Court held a hearing on the Department's petition for appointment of a guardian on July 17, 2014. Two Department caseworkers, a social worker at the assisted living facility, and Sanders testified, and the court admitted multiple medical evaluations that Sanders had undergone since his admission to MMC.

         [¶5] On September 23, 2014, the court issued an adjudication of incapacity and appointed the Department as Sanders's guardian. The court found, pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-304(b) and 5-602 (2015), that Sanders is incapacitated, that no suitable private guardian is available, and that the appointment of a public guardian is necessary or desirable as a means of providing continuing care and supervision for him. The court ordered conditions on the guardianship allowing Sanders some freedom to make personal decisions and to have accompanied daylight outings from whatever facility he resides in. The court also ordered the Department to (1) review his case within six months of the order, and annually thereafter; (2) contact Sanders's children in California on a yearly basis to inquire whether they or other adults known to Sanders would agree to serve as his guardian because "Sanders has no family or friends in Maine and he wishes to return to California"; and (3) "check, on an annual basis, as to whether the State of California wishes to serve as the Public Guardian of Harold Sanders so that he can return to the state as he wishes to do." Finally, the court revoked a durable power of attorney and a California advance health care directive, both executed by Sanders in 2012.

         [¶6] On September 30, 2014, Sanders moved for findings of fact and conclusions of law. In November 2014, an annual guardianship plan review was submitted to the court. After an unexplained delay of almost a year, the court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law in an order dated August 21, 2015. The court restated its findings, by clear and convincing evidence, that Sanders is an "incapacitated person" within the meaning of the adult guardianship statute because "he is impaired by reason of mental illness, and physical illness to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning his person" and that "[t]here is no suitable private guardian available and willing to assume responsibilities for the protective services" Sanders requires. See 18-A M.R.S. ยงยง 5-304(b), 5-602. The court specifically found, inter alia, that (1) Sanders has been diagnosed with multiple physical and mental conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia, dementia, hypothyroidism, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, seizure disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, partial incontinence, left-side paralysis, and insomnia; (2) he is unable to independently perform activities of daily living, including grooming, bathing, toileting, and meal preparation, and generally lacks the ability to care for himself and make responsible decisions; (3) he has been periodically noncompliant with taking his medications; and (4) if ...


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