Trusts and Estates

Conservatorship of O.B.

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Cite as B290805
Filed December 2, 2020
Second District, Div. 6

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnote: Conservatorships –Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard –Substantial Evidence

Summary: Substantial evidence supported the imposition of a limited conservatorship, even under the clarified standard of review for findings requiring clear and convincing evidence

O.B. had autism spectrum disorder.  Her mother petitioned for a limited conservatorship, which O.B. opposed. O.B.’s mother testified that O.B. needed significant assistance with daily tasks, could not care for herself, and was susceptible to undue influence by others.  Two doctors also opined that a limited conservatorship was proper and that O.B. lacked capacity.  At trial, O.B. did not testify but was allowed to speak at length about her preferred residence and school.  O.B. relied on the expert testimony to show she had the potential to live independently with support and that the conservatorship would not be beneficial to her.  The trial court found that clear and convincing evidence supported the imposition of the conservatorship, and granted her mother’s petition. The appellate court affirmed, stating the clear and convincing standard disappears on appellate review, and that the appropriate standard of review is the substantial evidence standard. The Supreme Court reversed, and clarified that the standard of review of a finding requiring clear and convincing evidence should be whether the record, viewed as a whole, contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could have made the finding of high probability demanded by the clear and convincing standard of proof.

Held: Affirmed.  On remand the appellate court reevaluated the evidence under the clarified standard and concluded that the mother’s testimony constituted substantial evidence from which a reasonable finder of fact could have found it highly probably that O.B. lacked capacity.  Although evidence to the contrary exists, the appellate court determined that the testimony of one witness may be sufficient and that the mother, having daily contact with O.B., was better situated to evaluate O.B. than the expert witnesses.  Further, the appellate court expressly found that a trial court’s personal observations and conversations with O.B. contributed to substantial evidence that O.B. lacked capacity.  Also, the trial court was not required to accede to O.B.’s wishes with regard to her preferred residence or school, and the trial court’s pretrial statements to counsel did not demonstrate that it had prejudged the case.  An order establishing a limited conservatorship of O.B. was entered.

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