Trusts and Estates

Conservatorship of the Person of S.A.

Cite as B302038
Filed November 3, 2020
Second District, Div. Eight

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
https://www.sheppardmullin.com

Headnote:  LPS Conservatorships – Form of Findings Required – Qualifications of Experts

Summary:  There is no statutory requirement that the court make an express finding of a conservatee’s decisional incapacity if substantial evidence exists to support the need for involuntary medication, and psychologists may opine on the need for medication. 

S.A.’s mother, Y.A., petitioned to be reappointed as S.A.’s conservator of the person pursuant to the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, and to have the power to force S.A. to take psychotropic medications against her will.  S.A. objected.  Two witnesses testified at trial, Dr. Alete Arom, a psychologist, and S.A.  Dr. Arom testified that S.A had symptoms of schizophrenia, that she believed her true name was something other than S.A., that she denied having a mental illness and instead believed she had anemia, that she believed her parents were movie stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton, that she denied her Indian ethnic heritage, and that she denied the need to take medication.  Dr. Arom opined that if S.A. were not under conservatorship she would not have a viable plan to provide for her own food, clothing, and shelter.  S.A. did not object to any of Dr. Arom’s testimony.  S.A. also testified, confirming to the court Dr. Arom’s views. The court found beyond a reasonable doubt that S.A. remained gravely disabled, reappointed Y.A. as S.A.’s conservator and granted Y.A. authority to require her daughter to take psychotropic medications.

Held: Affirmed.  Sufficient evidence supported the court’s findings that S.A. was gravely disabled, and that S.A. was unable to make informed treatment decisions. To determine if a conservatee is incompetent to give or withhold informed medical consent, the court considers whether the conservatee lacks mental capacity to understand the nature of the medical problem, the proposed treatment, and its attendant risks.  There is no statutory requirement that the court make an express finding of decisional incapacity if substantial evidence exists to support the need for involuntary medication.  Dr. Arom and S.A.’s testimony demonstrated that S.A. lacked insight about her mental illness, would not take medication without the support of a conservator, could not provide for herself without a conservatorship and without medication, and could not provide shelter for herself without a conservatorship.  Dr. Arom’s lack of medical training as a psychologist, and her inability to prescribe medications herself did not preclude her from rendering an opinion on whether S.A. could understand her mental illness and medication.  Lastly, Dr. Arom’s opinions were not speculation and were based on her own observations of S.A.    

https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B302038.PDF

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