June 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over Respondent who Never Received Notice of Protective Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In the Interest of Spohr on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Emergency Guardianship—Non-Emergency GuardianshipPersonal Service of Notice—Jurisdiction—Probate Code.

On July 15, 2016, the Fremont County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition for emergency appointment of a guardian for Spohr in the district court. Counsel was appointed for Spohr and an emergency hearing was held three days later. There was no transcript of the hearing and no indication that Spohr was present or that he received notice of the hearing. On July 19 the magistrate issued an order dispensing with notice under C.R.S. § 15-14-312 stating that Spohr would be substantially harmed if the appointment was delayed. The court appointed the Department as emergency guardian and required notice of the appointment to be personally served on Spohr within 48 hours, as required by C.R.S. § 15-14-312(2). There is no proof that service was made. Despite the C.R.S. § 15-14-312(1) requirement that an emergency guardian appointment may not exceed 60 days, the court did not hold another hearing for more than six months and the emergency guardianship remained in place during that time. A permanent guardian was appointed for Spohr at a February 2017 hearing, but there is no indication that he was served with notice of this hearing. The trial court record includes a finding that the “required notices have been given or waived.”

The court of appeals previously remanded this case to the district court to make findings as to whether any of the required notices were ever sent to Spohr. On remand, the Department presented no further information and the court found that the record remained unclear as to service.

On appeal, Spohr argued for the first time that he did not receive personal service of a notice of hearing on the petition for guardianship. As relevant to this case, the Colorado Probate Code requires personal service on the respondent of a notice of hearing on a petition for guardianship. The Probate Code would have allowed the appointment of an emergency guardian to be made without notice to Spohr only if the court found, based on testimony at the emergency hearing, that he would have been substantially harmed if the appointment were delayed. If the protected person was not present at the hearing, he must be given notice within 48 hours after the appointment. While the magistrate made this finding, the requisite notice within 48 hours of the appointment was never made.

The Probate Code does not contain provisions for how a transition is to be made from an emergency guardianship to a non-emergency guardianship. In the absence of such provision, the court concluded that after the 60-day limit on emergency guardianship, if a guardianship is still sought for the protected person, C.R.S. § 15-14-304, governing judicial appointment of a guardian on a non-emergency basis, must be followed. Among other requirements for this process, C.R.S. § 15-14-309(1) requires that a copy of the petition and notice of hearing on the petition must be served personally on the respondent. Further, the notice requirement is jurisdictional, and the lack of notice may therefore be raised at any time. Here, Spohr was not given notice within 48 hours after the appointment of his emergency guardian, nor did he waive notice of the appointment and the ability to request a hearing on the emergency guardian’s appointment. And the emergency guardian served long after 60 days had passed.

The record also fails to show that Spohr was provided with the required notice before his non-emergency guardianship. The failure to personally serve the respondent 14 days before the guardianship hearing is jurisdictional and respondent cannot waive service. Thus the court lacked jurisdiction to appoint a permanent guardian.

The judgment was vacated.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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