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In re Steele

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 27, 2017

IN RE: VICTORIA A. STEELE, ALLEGED INCAPACITATED PERSON APPEAL OF: VICTORIA A. STEELE

         Appeal from the Order Entered January 10, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Warren County Orphans' Court at No(s): O.C. 48 of 2016

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., SOLANO, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          SOLANO, J.

         Appellant Victoria A. Steele appeals from the order entered January 10, 2017, by the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Warren County, which resolved the petition for appointment of a permanent guardian for Steel that was filed by Warren General Hospital ("Hospital"). Steele challenges the orphans' court's denial of her request to have the issues presented by Hospital's petition determined before a jury. We reverse.

         On November 1, 2016, Hospital filed a petition for appointment of an "emergency guardian of the person and estate of Victoria A. Steele." Pet. for Appointment of Emergency Guardian, 11/1/16, at 1 (not paginated). Later that day, a hearing on that emergency petition was scheduled for November 7, 2016. Order, 11/1/16. According to an affidavit of service filed on November 7, 2016, Steele was served with the petition for appointment of an emergency guardian on November 4, 2016.

         The scheduled hearing was held on November 7, 2016, and, in an order dated November 8, 2016, the orphans' court "found Steele to be incapacitated and in need of a guardian of the estate and of the person and appointed HelpMates, Inc. to that position. The emergency order was effective for only thirty (30) days under [20] Pa. C.S.[A.] Section 5513." Orphans' Ct. Op. at 1 (not paginated); see also Order, 11/8/16. The order would expire on December 7, 2016.

         On November 16, 2016, Hospital filed a petition for appointment of a permanent guardian for Steele. The petition claimed that permanent guardianship was required because Steele, among other things, was unable to make informed decisions regarding her medical care and finances. Hospital's Pet. for Appointment of Guardian of Person and Estate of Steele, 11/16/16, at ¶ 7. Later that same day, a hearing on this petition was scheduled for November 29, 2016. Order, 11/16/16. According to a certificate of service filed on November 23, 2016, Steele was served with the petition for appointment of a permanent guardian on November 21, 2016. Certificate of Serv., 11/23/16.

         On November 29, 2016, Hospital filed a new petition for appointment of an emergency guardian, and, later that same day, the orphans' court issued an order changing the subject of the hearing scheduled for that day from Hospital's petition for a permanent guardian to the re-appointment of an emergency guardian. At the conclusion of the November 29 hearing, the orphans' court again appointed HelpMates, Inc., as Steele's emergency guardian. The court rescheduled the hearing on Hospital's petition for appointment of a permanent guardian for December 21, 2016.

         On November 30, 2016, Hospital filed an amended petition for appointment of a permanent guardian. This petition was served on Steele that same day, according to a certificate of service filed on December 5, 2016.

         On December 14, 2016, Steele filed a Request for a Hearing Before a Jury and an Independent Evaluation Pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S. § 5511.[1]Steele's petition acknowledged that a hearing was scheduled for December 21, 2016 and requested a jury trial. Steele's Request, 12/14/16. Steele requested an independent medical evaluation because she believed that (1) her medication "left her in a state of lethargy, numbed mental awareness, sleepiness, and has caused problems with her mobility, " and (2) her doctors had refused to recognize that she could act without a guardian. Id.

         On December 16, 2016, the orphans' court denied Steele's request for a hearing before a jury, "notice not having been submitted to the Court prior to ten (10) days before the scheduled hearing on December 21, 2016 in accordance with 20 Pa.C.S. 777."[2] Order, 12/16/15 (dated December 15, 2015).

         On December 21, 2016, the hearing on the petition for appointment of a permanent guardian was continued to January 9, 2017. N.T., 12/21/16, at 30. On December 28, 2016, Steele again requested a hearing before a jury. On January 5, 2017, the orphans' court again denied this request. Order, 1/5/17 (dated 1/3/17).

         On January 6, 2017, Steele filed a motion for reconsideration alleging that a "Petition for Appointment of Guardian of Person and Estate was filed on December 21, 2016 and the Court personally served Ms. Steele said . . . Petition." Steele's Mot. for Reconsideration, 1/6/17, at ¶ 9. On January 9, 2017, Hospital filed a response in opposition to Steele's request for a hearing before a jury. In an order dated January 9, 2017, and docketed on January 10, 2017, the orphans' court granted reconsideration: "it is hereby Ordered and Decreed that said request is GRANTED, Ms. Steele's right to a trial by jury shall be reinstated." Order, 1/10/17.

         Meanwhile, also on January 9, 2017, a non-jury hearing was held on the petition for appointment of a permanent guardian, and the orphans' court declared Steele to be incapacitated and appointed a permanent guardian of her person and estate. N.T., 1/9/17, at 177. On January 10, 2017, the orphans' court entered a written order finding that Steele "is in need of a permanent guardian, " that "a failure to make such an appointment will result in irreparable harm to her person and estate, " and appointing HelpMates, Inc., as permanent guardian of her person and estate. Order, 1/10/17.

         On January 25, 2017, the orphans' court issued the following sua sponte order:

AND NOW this 24th day of January, 2017, the Court has examined the complete record of the above matter and determined that this Court's Order of January 9, 2017 [docketed on January 10, 2017] was in error. Said Order was based upon an allegation in the Motion For Reconsideration that the Petition For Appointment of Guardian of Person and Estate before the Court was filed on December 21, 2016. A review of the record reveals that there was no new Petition filed in December. The Petition that is now before the Court was filed on November 30, 2016. The first hearing on the Petition now before the Court was scheduled for December 21, 2016. The Request For a Hearing Before a Jury was filed on December 14, 2016, less than ten days prior to the "initial hearing" scheduled on the Petition. No new Petition was filed on December 21, 2016 but only an Order and Citation scheduling a second hearing date of January 9, 2017. The statute, 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 777(d) requires notice ten days prior to the "initial hearing".
THEREFORE, this Court's Order of January 9, 2017 is VACATED; and its Order of December 15, 2016 is REINSTATED.

         Order, 1/25/17 (dated 1/24/17). The court's order did not disturb its prior January 5, 2017 order denying Steele's prior request for a hearing before a jury.

         On February 7, 2017, Steele filed an appeal with this Court "from the Orders entered in this matter on December 1[6], 2016, January [5], 2017, January 10, 2017, and ...


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