In re Guardianship of Cornelius, 30985-1-III

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Writing for the CourtSIDDOWAY
Docket NumberNo. 30985-1-III,30985-1-III
PartiesIn the matter of the Guardianship of: KENYON CORNELIUS, An Incapacitated Person.
Decision Date17 April 2014

In the matter of the Guardianship of: KENYON CORNELIUS, An Incapacitated Person.

No. 30985-1-III


Filed: April 17, 2014


SIDDOWAY, C.J. — Christina Baldwin appeals the trial court's order appointing Leslie Cloaninger as full guardian of Ms. Baldwin's daughter, Kenyon Cornelius, a developmentally delayed adult. Although Ms. Baldwin had earlier served as a co-guardian of her daughter's person and estate, neither that earlier role, nor the parent-child relationship, gives rise to the constitutional interest or procedural rights that she claims should have been recognized in the trial court. We find no error and affirm the trial court's order.


Kenyon Cornelius, presently age 43, has Down's Syndrome and suffers from a frontal lobe brain injury sustained in a bicycle accident as an adult. As a result of her moderate developmental delay, she needs protection and assistance in providing informed consent for medical decisions, in making personal decisions, and in managing her

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property and financial affairs. Her parents, Christina Baldwin and Scott Cornelius, were appointed as co-guardians of her person shortly before Ms. Cornelius turned 18.

In March 2010, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, acting upon a report from its Adult Protective Services, petitioned the Whitman County Superior Court to appoint a guardian ad litem to review Ms. Cornelius's guardianship based on concerns about Ms. Cornelius's relationship with her mother. The court appointed Jill Wahl as guardian ad litem and appointed a lawyer for Ms. Cornelius. In May, Ms. Baldwin filed a response to the State's petition, denying any problems and making clear that she wished to continue to serve as her daughter's guardian.

In late May and early June, Ms. Wahl filed her report and noted the State's petition for hearing on June 18. Her report, which was based on interviews and extensive investigation, concluded that the current situation with the parents serving as co-guardians was detrimental to Ms. Cornelius. She reported that Ms. Cornelius loves her mother but wanted her removed as co-guardian. According to Ms. Cornelius, she had lost caregivers with whom she was satisfied when they were either fired, or driven to quit, by her mother. While Ms. Wahl recognized that Ms. Baldwin loved her daughter and acted out of concern, she reported that Ms. Baldwin's approach was disruptive. There was consensus that Ms. Cornelius and her mother had conflicts; even Ms. Baldwin admitted problems in their relationship, but she attributed them to service providers "badmouthing" her when Ms. Baldwin refused to tolerate unsatisfactory performance of

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services by her daughter's providers. Report of Proceedings (RP) at 140. Ms. Wahl ultimately did not accept that explanation because the common denominator in the conflict scenarios was Ms. Baldwin; she concluded that Ms. Baldwin was the problem. Ms. Wahl also reported that Ms. Baldwin was over-involved. By way of example, Ms. Baldwin had provided her and other service providers with so much information and so many requests for participation and input that because the providers' time was limited, the result was time taken away from clients and a lower level of service

Ms. Wahl recommended that a professional third party serve as guardian while allowing Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Cornelius to be as involved in Ms. Cornelius's life as much as appropriate, writing that the mother '"has relevant information to share and plays an important role in Kenyon's life,'" and that '"Kenyon deserves to have parents who are able to act just as parents.'" Br. of Appellant at 3.

The court granted Ms. Wahl's request for temporary appointment of a professional guardian. Its decision and order suspended the authority of Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Cornelius as guardians of Ms. Cornelius's person1 and appointed Ms. Cloaninger as temporary interim guardian, finding that "[s]ubstantial evidence has been presented that leads the court to believe that Tina Baldwin's service as guardian of the person of

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Kenyon Cornelius, while being carried out diligently and in good faith, is having a severe adverse impact on Kenyon's physical, emotional, and psychological well-being." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 252-53. It set a final hearing on the State's petition for September 29 and 30, 2010.

Following the court's order, the State agreed to mediate with Ms. Baldwin over how she might resolve the State's concerns and be reinstated as a guardian. Shortly before the date for the final hearing, the State moved for a continuance, reporting that the parties had been trying to settle the matter, so far without success, and requested a "short continuance, not to exceed 6 months . . . in order to continue working on a potential settlement, or to allow time for the parties to adequately prepare for a contested trial." CP at 258. The trial court granted the motion and continued the date for the final hearing to January 26 and 27, 2011.

On January 26, the parties appeared for what the trial court anticipated would be the final hearing. They reported instead that the petition had been settled. The State, Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Cornelius, Ms. Cloaninger, Ms. Wahl, and the attorney for Ms. Cornelius had executed a "Memorandum of Agreement" that they filed with the court at that time— by then, a year after the State had filed its petition.

The settlement agreement provided that an agreed order would be entered naming Ms. Cloaninger as the guardian of Ms. Cornelius's person but that the parents could be reinstated as co-guardians if, by May 2011, Ms. Baldwin (1) demonstrated an ability to

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work cooperatively with agencies and professionals and (2) submitted to a psychological evaluation and demonstrated follow-through with the psychologist's recommendations. The agreement provided that whether the conditions for reinstatement had been met would be "determined by a judicial officer through a hearing in consultation with a [guardian ad litem]." CP at 267. The guardian ad litem for this purpose would be "a new neutral . . . as agreed by the parties." CP at 268. In the event conditions for reinstatement of the parents as co-guardians were not met, Ms. Cloaninger would continue to serve and any further changes to the guardianship would have to meet the statutorily defined cause for replacement.

Consistent with the settlement, the court entered an "Order Appointing Substitute Guardian of Person," finding that Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Cornelius had "resigned as agreed to pursuant to the mediation agreement filed with this court." CP at 269. It issued letters of full guardian of the person to Ms. Cloaninger.

The May 2011 deadline for Ms. Baldwin to complete the conditions for reinstatement came and went. It was almost a year after Ms. Cloaninger's appointment as full guardian and almost two years after the State's petition was filed that the State moved for the appointment of James Woodard to serve as a neutral guardian ad litem to assist the court in determining whether Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Cornelius could be reinstated as guardians of the person. By Mr. Woodard's own admission, he became involved after the time frame within which the conditions to Ms. Baldwin's and Mr.

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Cornelius's reinstatement were to take place had passed. He described himself as having been appointed to make a recommendation by agreement of the parties. The State presented and the trial court signed an ex parte order appointing Mr. Woodard. CP at 307.

On January 27, 2012, Ms. Cloaninger filed a statutorily required initial personal care plan for Ms. Cornelius. By that time, the relationship between Ms. Cloaninger and Ms. Baldwin had become increasingly adversarial. Ms. Cloaninger told Ms. Baldwin to have no contact with Kenyon until the court rules otherwise, warning that she would seek a restraining order if Ms. Baldwin did. Ms. Cloaninger's care plan made reference to this problem and incorporated her proposal that Ms. Baldwin's "time and contact with Kenyon be limited." CP at 342.

Ms, Cloaninger's care plan was set by the court for an April 10 hearing. In proceedings taking place before that, on March 23, Ms. Cloaninger reported to the trial court that Mr. Woodard expected to file his recommendation before the April 10 hearing on the care plan and she believed his report would be a critical piece of information in reviewing the care plan. The trial court agreed and asked that the parties pass along to Mr, Woodard the court's desire to see his report before the April 10 hearing.

Ms. Cloaninger also made clear during the March 23 proceedings that she would like to see any issue of Ms. Baldwin's possible reinstatement resolved at the April 10 hearing. She expressed her view that the settlement agreement, to which she was a party,

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"doesn't even apply any longer. The time deadlines that were contemplated in [the] agreement have long since passed." RP at 49. Ms. Baldwin's lawyer disagreed and expressed concern that she and the State might not have time to be prepared for "a full-blown hearing on the guardianship, in quotations, by the 10th." RP at 64. The trial court responded that it did not have a motion to continue pending and, "I'll hear all this argument only if that does become an issue." RP at 65.

On April 3, Mr. Woodard filed his...

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