DECEMBER 9, 1996 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 23
Margaret Enos, a Florida resident in her nineties, lived at home in St. Petersburg with her dog Molly. Although her daughter lived far away in Massachusetts, Enos’ niece and sister lived nearby. Still, she required more assistance with her care and management of her financial affairs.
In 1994, a Florida private guardianship organization, Adult Comprehensive Protection Services, Inc. (ACPS), applied for guardianship and conservatorship over Ms. Enos. The petition was granted, and ACPS began to manage her life and finances.
Enos’ daughter Katherine Doucette became convinced that ACPS was mistreating her mother, and so traveled to Florida to deal with the problem. While there, she filed a Petition seeking the removal of ACPS and her own appointment. She also took her mother back to Massachusetts with her, and started a new guardianship proceeding in that state.
The Florida court ultimately ruled against Doucette, finding that ACPS’ care was appropriate. The Florida court also ordered Doucette to return her mother to Florida. She refused.
Doucette asked the Massachusetts court to decide whether she or ACPS should be appointed guardian, and planned to put on evidence of the mistreatment by ACPS. The Massachusetts judge, however, ruled that the issues had been decided by Florida, and that Massachusetts did not have jurisdiction over the matter. Doucette appealed, arguing that Massachusetts had better jurisdiction than Florida, since Enos was now residing in a Massachusetts nursing home.
The Appeals Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of ACPS and dismissed the Massachusetts proceedings. In doing so, the court noted that the U.S. Constitution requires each state to give “full faith and credit” to the laws and judicial decisions of all sister states. The court also observed that it would be easier to try the issues in Florida, since all the witnesses (except Ms. Doucette) were present in Florida.
Two practical considerations appear to have been important to the Massachusetts judges. First, most of the evidence seemed to indicate that Ms. Enos preferred to live in Florida and wanted to be near her sister (who lived in a nursing home in St. Petersburg) and her niece. Second, the court was careful to indicate that it did not want to “reward” Ms. Doucette for her behavior in taking her mother from Florida without permission and in the middle of a contested battle for control of her affairs.
It should also be noted that Florida authorities had indicted Ms. Doucette for “interfering with custody.” The charge is a felony, and Florida is apparently seeking extradition of Ms. Doucette so that she can be tried on the criminal charges. Ms Doucette has objected to extradition.Guardianship of Enos, Appeals Court of Mass., September 10, 1996.
Because the decision rests largely on an interpretation of federal constitutional law, the result in theEnos case should be the same in an Arizona court. Surprisingly, there are few cases involving interstate issues surrounding guardianships of adults. There are, however, numerous cases involving the custody of children in interstate divorce proceedings; most of those cases lead to the conclusion that, where proceedings have begun in one state, it should not be possible for an unhappy litigant to move the proceedings to another state by simply taking the child/ward to the other state. After years of abuses in the child custody arena, many states (including Arizona) finally adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which prohibits actions such as Ms. Doucette’s where children are involved. Unfortunately, there is not yet a similar legal development covering parents and other incapacitated adults.