Success for Monica in Michigan

Brad Dembs

On April 6, 2015, Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS) was successful in terminating the guardianship of a 27-year-old woman in Jackson, MI. The client, who will be referred to by the pseudonym "Monica" to protect her identity, was the victim of a catastrophic automobile accident when she was ten years old that left her paralyzed from the waist down. When she was 16, she was emancipated from her parents' custody and their parental rights were revoked. From that time forward, Monica capably managed her own life and care, until July 2013, when she was placed under guardianship by the Macomb County Probate Court.

While living in a residential treatment facility in the summer of 2013, Monica was approached by a fellow resident who asked her to share her prescription narcotic pain medication with him.  She denied the request, but the man was persistent. She reported what was happening to staff, but they did nothing to assist her. Ultimately, after weeks of requests, she succumbed to the pressure and gave her fellow resident one of her pills. After taking the pill, he suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized.

When it was discovered that the pill came from Monica, the Program Director of the facility filed a petition for appointment of guardian, claiming that Monica's behaviors posed a danger to herself and others in the community. The petition to appoint a guardian was based solely on this incident and cited her spinal cord injury and her use of prescribed pain medication (labeled in the petition as "chronic drug use"). The petition requested that a specific corporate guardian be appointed as full guardian with all powers provided by statute. On the same day the petition was filed, the Court appointed the requested party as temporary guardian without holding a hearing. The judge found that an emergency existed and that by reason of her spinal cord injury, Monica was an incapacitated individual, impaired to the extent that she lacked sufficient understanding or capacity to make informed decisions.

One month later, when the temporary guardianship was set to terminate, the Court held a hearing and determined that the guardianship should continue. The judge issued an order removing the temporary status and subjecting Monica to a full guardianship, again relying on the same flawed reasoning. It is unclear what clear and convincing evidence could have been used to support the determination that Monica's spinal cord injury left her totally without the capacity to care for herself or make her own informed decisions. Monica attended the hearing and spoke on her own behalf, stating that she did not feel that she needed a guardian; however her testimony was not given any weight in the final decision. The Court did not consider any less restrictive forms of support, such as supported decision making or limiting the guardian's powers in any way. The decision to appoint a guardian was ill-informed and discriminatory and had lasting, negative effects on Monica's life for the next two years.

Monica's guardianship was overbroad and restrictive to her liberty. Ultimately, a stranger was given complete authority over all aspects of her life. He forced her to move into another residential treatment facility when she preferred to live independently. Social freedoms such as receiving mail, phone calls, or visitors were limited or denied outright. Decisions regarding medical care were also made strictly by the guardian, who placed Monica on various medications without explaining to her why she was taking them. She was barred from seeing her trusted and preferred psychologist because he was supportive of her desire to regain her independence. The guardian also denied Monica the ability to use her service dog, for which she had a prescription.  

When MPAS sought permission to get an independent evaluation of Monica's capacity for self-management, the guardian indicated that he would not allow an evaluator into the residential facility to conduct an interview with Monica and would not agree to transport her anywhere for such an evaluation. The guardian was obstinate, even when confronted with Michigan law saying that individuals under guardianship have the express right to an independent evaluation. Ultimately, MPAS was forced to file a petition in probate court to secure an evaluation. The judge granted the petition, confirming that Monica was entitled to an independent evaluation under state law.

The independent evaluator met with Monica shortly thereafter to conduct a clinical interview and administer multiple tests. His results directly refuted the Court's finding that Monica was an incapacitated individual who was not capable of making informed decisions. The evaluator's report stated that in his professional opinion, Monica was able to make decisions regarding everyday life, including matters such as living arrangements, healthcare, finances, and the provision of basic needs. He recommended that the Court terminate Monica's guardianship.

Independent of MPAS' efforts, Monica's cousin filed a petition around the same time to transfer guardianship to herself from the corporate guardian. Monica agreed that this was the quickest way to be relieved from the oppression to which she was being subjected. The corporate guardian did not contest the petition and the Court granted the transfer. Monica immediately moved out of the residential rehabilitation facility she had been placed in and started living with her cousin, who was essentially a guardian in name only. Monica began self-management and made all her own life decisions from that point forward without incident.

Six months later, MPAS filed a petition to terminate Monica's guardianship with the Jackson County Probate Court. After hearing testimony in court from Monica and her attorney at MPAS and reviewing the independent evaluator's report, the judge agreed that Monica was capable of making informed decisions on her own behalf and therefore did not need a guardian. The judge ordered that Monica's guardian be removed and her guardianship terminated immediately. Monica left the courtroom that day relieved and excited that her independence had been restored.

Moving forward, Monica has many ideas and plans for her future. She will continue living with her cousin for the time being, along with her service dog, with which she was recently reunited. Eventually, she would like to move into her own house or apartment. She is considering taking the necessary courses to obtain her GED and then finding a job in her community. Monica is a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Now that she has regained her independence, she is free to live that life as she sees fit, without restrictions imposed by an unnecessary guardianship. The future for Monica is bright.