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In re Conservatorship of Taylor

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 10, 2017

IN RE CONSERVATORSHIP OF SOPHIA ELAINE TAYLOR

          Assigned on Briefs December 2, 2016

         Appeal from the Probate Court for Davidson County No. 14P1510 Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr., Judge

         This appeal arises from the removal of a conservator. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ("the Department") filed a petition in the Probate Court for Davidson County ("the Probate Court") seeking removal of Cheryl R. Russell ("Russell") as conservator for Sophia Elaine Taylor ("Taylor"). Russell, Taylor's mother, was alleged to have interfered repeatedly with Taylor's medical treatment. After a hearing, the Probate Court removed Russell as Taylor's conservator and named ComCare, Inc. ("ComCare") as temporary conservator. Russell appeals to this Court. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Probate Court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Cheryl R. Russell, pro se appellant.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and, Brian A. Pierce, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

          Barbara E. Futter, Nashville, Tennessee, Attorney Ad Litem for Sophia Elaine Taylor.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         Taylor, born in 1968, suffers from a variety of health problems both mental and physical. In the interest of her privacy and as it is unnecessary to the resolution of this appeal, we will avoid disclosing the precise details of her illness where possible. Suffice it to say, Taylor's illnesses have required hospitalization and frequent medication. In September 2014, Russell, Taylor's mother, petitioned to be appointed Taylor's conservator. In October 2014, the Probate Court entered an order appointing Russell as Taylor's conservator. In February 2016, the Department filed its own petition, this one seeking to remove Russell as Taylor's conservator. At this time, Taylor resided at the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute ("MTMHI"). The Department's petition alleged that Russell had interfered with Taylor's medical treatment by many means, including making excessive phone calls to MTMHI, behaving abusively toward MTMHI staff, and, most critically, refusing to consent to the medical regimen recommended by Taylor's doctors. Both a Guardian Ad Litem and Attorney Ad Litem were appointed in this case. This matter was tried over three days in April and May of 2016.

         Dr. Don Elazar ("Dr. Elazar"), Taylor's treating psychiatrist, testified. Dr. Elazar stated that Taylor's condition could be treated with anti-psychotic medications. According to Dr. Elazar, Russell refused to allow doctors to give anti-psychotic medications to Taylor. Dr. Elazar testified that Russell was concerned that adopting the recommended treatment would negatively impact Taylor's white blood cell count. Dr. Elazar stated that this was not a well-founded medical concern. Dr. Elazar testified:

Q. Dr. Elazar, while Sophia Taylor's been here under your care, has she made any progress toward being discharged from this hospital?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. She's still psychotic, violent. She was in . . . 4 point restraints a few days ago.
Q. And why is it that she's not making any progress?
A. I feel it's because we don't have her on antipsychotics.
Q. Why isn't she on antipsychotics?
A. Because her mother refuses to let us put her on antipsychotics. And she refuses to let us communicate to other doctors to address our concerns.

         Dr. Barbara Snell ("Dr. Snell"), Taylor's medical doctor, testified. Dr. Snell testified that while Taylor's white blood cell count was low at times, this was being monitored and was not necessarily significant. Dr. Snell stated that Russell cancelled an appointment the hospital had set up for Taylor. Dr. Snell testified:

Q. You testified earlier that you thought ComCare would be a better conservator than Ms. Russell. What are you basing that on?
A. I'm basing it on the fact that Ms. Russell has obstructed her psychiatric care for the year plus that she's been hospitalized here.
Q. By refusing antipsychotics?
A. Refusing to even attempt them. And, in the one attempt, stopping it while it was still within the parameters given by the hematologist that would be fine to continue.

         Mary Corbitt ("Corbitt"), a social worker at MTMHI, testified. Corbitt testified as follows regarding certain of Russell's behavior:

Q. Okay. I believe there was a time period where you were the designated contact for Ms. Russell with regard to Sophia Taylor; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. And do you know how that came about where you were the designated contact?
A. I'm not for sure how. They said that the treatment team -- Ms. Russell was making too many phone calls and that they wanted one particular person to handle all of her calls.
Q. Okay. And once you became the designated contact, do you know approximately what month that took place?
A. Maybe July of last year. I'm not for sure.
Q. Okay. And so approximately how many phone calls would you get a day from Ms. Russell?
A. Average?
Q. Average.
A. About five to ...

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