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Baptist Health Medical Center v. First Community Bank of Batesville

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

December 6, 2017

BAPTIST HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER APPELLANT
v.
FIRST COMMUNITY BANK OF BATESVILLE AND ESTATE OF WILLIAM SCOTT MUELLER APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE POPE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 58PR-14-175] HONORABLE GORDON W. "MACK" MCCAIN, JR., JUDGE.

          Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP, by: David P. Glover, Gary D. Marts, Jr., and David C. Jung, for appellant.

          Jon R. Sanford, P.A., by: Jon R. Sanford, for appellee First Community Bank.

          Dugger Law Firm, P.A., by: Terry Dugger; for appellee William Scott Mueller.

          Brian G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks, for appellees.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, JUDGE.

         Appellant Baptist Health Medical Center (BHMC) appeals the Pope County Circuit Court's denial of its motion to vacate the court's previously issued guardianship order appointing First Community Bank of Batesville (the Bank) as the guardian of William Scott Mueller's estate for the purpose of prosecuting a medical-negligence action on his behalf and managing any assets obtained therefrom. BHMC claims that deficiencies in the original guardianship petition rendered the guardianship void ab initio. We disagree and affirm.

         Mueller was severely injured in a motor vehicle accident on June 21, 2012. He was treated at BHMC. Mueller was rendered a quadriplegic, and on July 11, 2012, Mueller executed a durable power of attorney to Amanda Chavers. Chavers then engaged an attorney to prosecute Mueller's personal-injury claims. On May 29, 2014, Chavers petitioned the circuit court for an order appointing the Bank as permanent guardian of Mueller's estate for the sole purpose of prosecuting a medical-negligence action on his behalf and managing any assets obtained therefrom. The petition alleged that Mueller was incapacitated by virtue of his quadriplegia. Attached to the petition was a life-care plan prepared by Tanya Rutherford Owens, a certified life-care planner and rehabilitation counselor.

         The court granted the guardianship petition, and the Bank was then substituted as the plaintiff in the medical-negligence suit. During the medical-negligence trial, Mueller testified that he was the primary caregiver for his young son and handled his own finances, which prompted BHMC to challenge the Bank's standing as guardian, arguing that Mueller was not incapacitated and that the guardianship was invalid. The Bank voluntarily nonsuited the medical-negligence action before it was submitted to the jury.

         In March 2016, BHMC moved to intervene in the probate case in order to challenge the validity of the guardianship. In its motion to vacate the court's February 26, 2015 guardianship order, BHMC argued that (1) the original order was not supported by an oral or sworn written statement by a "qualified professional" as that term is defined in the probate code; (2) pursuant to the trial testimony of Mueller and Chavers in the medical-negligence case, Mueller was not "incapacitated"; and (3) there was no evidence that a proper medical evaluation had been conducted before the appointment of a guardian.

         In response, the Bank filed an amended guardianship petition and attached the report of Dr. Kristi Ketz, a licensed psychologist. The amended petition provided that Mueller and his sister agreed that the guardianship should be continued. On April 22, 2016, the court entered an amended guardianship order, again appointing the Bank as Mueller's guardian. The amended order indicated that there had been a hearing on the amended petition and that BHMC had been present, although the court had not yet ruled on its motion to intervene.[1]

         On July 27, 2016, Mueller filed a motion to terminate the guardianship, claiming that it was no longer necessary. On August 17, 2016, the court held a hearing on BHMC's motion to vacate the original guardianship order and Mueller's motion to terminate the guardianship. The circuit court orally granted the motion to terminate and denied the motion to vacate. An order granting the motion to terminate the guardianship was filed on August 31, 2016. No appeal was taken from this order.

         An order denying BHMC's motion to vacate the original guardianship order was entered on October 21, 2016. That order stated that the original guardianship order was voidable, rather than automatically void, due to deficiencies in the original petition seeking the appointment of a guardian. The order noted that Dr. Tanya Owen, author of the life-care plan attached as supporting evidence for the original petition, lacked the necessary qualifications required by Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-65-101(8) (Repl. 2012). The court's order then stated that the amended guardianship petition, which met the statutory requirements, cured the deficiencies in the original petition and that the amended order "relates back" to the time that the original petition was submitted. The order further held that any actions taken by the Bank as guardian in reliance on the original order were valid from the date of the original appointment. BHMC appeals from this order.

         We review probate proceedings de novo, but we will not reverse a finding of fact by the circuit court unless it is clearly erroneous. Donley v. Donley, 2016 Ark. 243, at 6, 493 S.W.3d 762, 766 (citing Graham v. Matheny, 2009 Ark. 481, 346 S.W.3d 273). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. at 6, 493 S.W.3d at 766. When reviewing the proceedings, we give due regard to the opportunity and superior position of the circuit court to determine the credibility of the ...


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