Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Jonathan P. Killeen, Shareholder at Boyle | Shaughnessy Law PC in Manchester, NH

No. 2021-0118

February 8, 2022

Affirmed in part, vacate in part, and remand

 

  • Whether the trial court erred in appointing a guardian over the respondent.

 

The respondent, C.R., suffered from schizoaffective disorder and was involuntarily admitted to the petitioner, New Hampshire Hospital (NHH), for a two-year period beginning in November 2022.  NHH obtained emergency treatment authorization to provide C.R. with psychiatric medication without C.R.’s consent. C.R.’s condition improved but the psychiatric medication caused side effects, requiring C.R. to take a reduced dosage.  C.R. did not believe that she suffered from mental illness or that she required medication. NHH’s emergency treatment authorization expired on January 4, 2021 and, two weeks before a February 2021 guardianship proceeding initiated by NHH, C.R. began exhibiting worsening thoughts giving rise to concerns that her current medication was insufficient. Following a guardianship hearing, the trial court appointed the Office of Public Guardian as the guardian of C.R.’s person.

On appeal, C.R. asserted that NHH failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that C.R. was incapacitated and that the trial court’s findings of incapacity exceeded the scope of the pleadings and evidence such that she was deprived of notice and an opportunity to be heard.

NHH had the burden of showing, by competent evidence, that C.R. was incapacitated. The Supreme Court stated that pursuant to RSA 464-A:2, XI (2018), the term “incapacity” refers to “any person who has suffered, is suffering, or is likely to suffer substantial harm due to an inability to provide for his [or her] personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care or safety or an inability to manage his or her property or financial affairs.”  The Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the trial court to have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that C.R. was incapacitated based on extensive testimony  from C.R.’s psychiatrist who opined at the guardianship proceeding, among other things, that C.R. “needed assistance almost across the board,” and that she was “likely [to] suffer substantial harm because she [could not] provide for her basic needs.” Likewise, the Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support that the guardianship was the least-restrictive means of intervention for C.R., where the psychiatrist testified that a guardianship would be less restrictive than C.R. remaining in the hospital and could possibly lead to independent living.

The Court did agree, however, with C.R.’s argument that she was deprived of notice and an opportunity to be heard relative to various legal rights that were not specified in NHH’s petition for guardianship, of which C.R. was nevertheless deprived.  Specifically, the Court noted that RSA 464-A is designed to provide procedural and substantive safeguards for a ward’s civil liberties and property rights.  Pursuant to RSA 464-A:5, a petition for guardianship must provide the ward with adequate notice of the substance of the proceedings, as well as the nature, purpose, and legal effects of the appointment of a guardian, which the Court reasoned included the “legal rights the proposed ward” is deemed “incapable of exercising,” in order for the proposed ward to prepare a defense. The Court therefore vacated the guardianship order to the extent it deprived C.R. of these rights.

 

John M. Formella, attorney general (Laura E. B. Lombardi, senior assistant attorney general, on the memorandum of law), for the petitioner; Amy B. Davidson, of Contoocook, by brief, for the respondent; Tracy M. Culberson, of Concord, for the Office of Public Guardian, filed no brief.