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State of Tennessee Department of Correction v. Todd

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 31, 2017


          Session March 22, 2017

         Appeal from the Probate Court for Davidson County No. 16P-1162 Randy M. Kennedy, Judge

         A prison inmate appeals the trial court's decision to appoint a limited conservator for healthcare decisions over the inmate and give the conservator the authority to consent to the forcible treatment on behalf of the inmate. Discerning no error, we affirm.

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

          Danny Ross Dickerson, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, George Todd.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andreé S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Eric A. Fuller, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Correction.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Brandon O. Gibson and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.




         Respondent/Appellant George Todd is an inmate in the custody of the Petitioner/Appellee Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC"). In 1995, Mr. Todd entered into a negotiated plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder for a sentence of forty-five years. Mr. George's sentence is currently set to expire in January 2022.

         This is not the first conservatorship case involving Mr. Todd and TDOC. Mr. Todd was previously adjudicated mentally incompetent and placed under a limited conservatorship. This limited conservatorship terminated upon Mr. Todd's parole from prison in 2012, but he soon returned to TDOC custody in November 2013, after violating his parole. Accordingly, TDOC filed a petition in January 2016 to again have Mr. Todd placed under a limited conservatorship in order to make health care decisions. Mr. Todd opposed the petition. Prior to an evidentiary hearing on the petition, Mr. Todd's mental health improved to the point that his treating physician no longer believed that a limited conservatorship was appropriate. The petition was therefore voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.

         Unfortunately, in the opinion of Mr. Todd's physician, his mental health began to seriously deteriorate. Consequently, on July 7, 2016, TDOC filed another petition for a limited conservatorship over Mr. Todd. TDOC specifically requested that the conservator appointed be given authority "to provide consent for medical and psychiatric treatment that [Mr. Todd] may require while he is incarcerated; including the forcible administration of medications if the conservator finds that such is necessary." On the same day the petition was filed, TDOC filed a motion to submit a report from two evaluations performed on Mr. Todd: one by Mr. Todd's treating physician, prison physician Dr. Molly O'Toole, and one by the independent Treatment Review Committee. Dr. O'Toole noted in her evaluation that Mr. Todd currently suffers from schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Dr. O'Toole opined that Mr. Todd's condition had deteriorated since he stopped taking psychotropic medication, making him unable to be an informed participant in decisions about his healthcare. Dr. O'Toole further noted that Mr. Todd admitted to having split personalities and once informed Dr. O'Toole that he "could kill [Dr. O'Toole] because [she is] a witch." Similarly, the psychiatrist who performed the independent evaluation noted that Mr. Todd "exhibit[ed] active signs of mental illness, " despite his refusal to acknowledge his disorder, and recommended involuntary administration of medication.

         The trial court appointed Mr. Todd both a guardian ad litem and an attorney ad litem. The guardian ad litem filed a detailed report after meeting with Mr. Todd, his family members, and his former co-worker, who reported conflicting views of Mr. Todd's mental health.[1] According to Mr. Todd's mother and sister, Mr. Todd often experiences periods of stability followed by mental breakdowns, especially while incarcerated. Mr. Todd's sister insisted that Mr. Todd could not be trusted, that he does not have a firm grasp on reality, and that he has claimed to be God, Jesus, or other religious figures. According to Mr. Todd's sister, he had "gone off the deep end" after his parole was revoked and his father passed away. Mr. Todd's sister also indicated that Mr. Todd suffers from paranoia and believes that "everyone is out to get him." In November 2015, Mr. Todd met with his sister in prison; Mr. Todd's sister indicated that he "acted very strangely and was alternating between extreme emotions, crying one moment and laughing the next." Mr. Todd's mother likewise stated that Mr. Todd once claimed to be the devil and that he suffers from delusions.

         In contrast, Mr. Todd's co-worker while he was on parole testified to Mr. Todd's stability when not incarcerated. According to the co-worker, Mr. Todd helped her give presentations at work, maintained his own clean apartment, paid all his bills, and otherwise did "extremely well adjusting to life outside of prison." According to the co-worker, Mr. Todd was not taking medications while on parole because "he wanted his mind to be clear." Mr. Todd's co-worker also believed that the revocation of Mr. Todd's parole was wrongful and that he was fully capable of managing his own affairs without a conservator.

         The medical records detailed in the guardian ad litem's report, however, told a starkly different picture of Mr. Todd's mental health after he was incarcerated in November 2013. According to the record, Mr. Todd engaged in a planned hunger strike from September 9th to September 12th, 2015 to protest the revocation of his parole. At the time the strike began, the records indicated that Mr. Todd was exhibiting no delusions. By September 12th, however, Mr. Todd was "displaying paranoid behavior and . . . claimed that he had been kidnapped and the Governor was going to pick him up." On October 5, 2015, the records indicated that Mr. Todd was exhibiting odd behavior, such as delusions, confusion as to why he was in custody, and "a decline in the activities of daily living." At this point, Mr. Todd was diagnosed with Schizophrenia Disorder, and the appointment of a conservator was recommended by his physician. On October 15, 2015, Mr. Todd further declined, exhibiting mania, delusions, varying mood, lack of time reality, lack of hygiene, and "refusal of clothes, bedding, and food." The guardian ad litem noted that Mr. Todd was noncompliant "off and on through October, November, and December." The records note, however, that Mr. Todd stabilized once he began taking his medication regularly.

         The guardian ad litem also met in person with Mr. Todd in February 2016. At the time, Mr. Todd was voluntarily taking an anti-psychotic medication to avoid forcible injections. During this meeting, the guardian ad litem found Mr. Todd to be well-spoken, articulate, and well-informed regarding his current incarceration, treatment, diagnosis, and history. Mr. Todd denied that he currently or previously suffered from a mental illness; instead, Mr. Todd claims that his Schizophrenia diagnosis was the result of "false answers he had given on examinations as a way of protecting his incarceration." Mr. Todd explained that although he does not need the medication prescribed and does not wish to take it, he had agreed to voluntarily take his medication rather than receive forcible injections. The guardian ad litem noted that the only time that Mr. Todd exhibited odd behavior was during the discussion of his religious beliefs, when he claimed that "the prison wanted to medicate him specifically to 'train out' his religious beliefs."

         The guardian ad litem's report also discussed Mr. Todd's educational efforts during his period of parole. According to records from National College, Mr. Todd consistently attended classes from Spring 2013 to Spring 2015. During this time, Mr. Todd "seems to have done quite well." In the May term of 2015, however, Mr. Todd attempted only two classes, withdrawing from one, and thereafter withdrew from all classes. The guardian ad litem could find no explanation for Mr. Todd's decision to stop attending classes when he was so close to receiving his Associate's Degree.

         Finally, the guardian ad litem made its recommendation as to whether a conservatorship was needed. The trial court first noted that the case was "extremely difficult and . . . required more investigation and time than typically needed." The guardian ad litem noted that while Mr. Todd appeared to have functioned well outside of prison, he had substantially deteriorated since his return to incarceration, such that he has "serious difficulty managing his mental condition." Because of Mr. Todd's serious mental breakdowns during times of stress, " his delusions, and "the ...

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