Session Date: September 19, 2017
from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. PR-6516 Kathleen
N. Gomes, Judge
a conservatorship dispute. The trial court found that there
was clear and convincing evidence that Appellant was in need
of a conservator. We conclude that the evidence presented at
trial was not clear and convincing as to whether Appellant
was in need of a conservator. Because there is some question
in the record, however, as to whether the parties reached an
agreement to allow the appointment of a conservator, we
vacate and remand this case to determine this issue. Reversed
in part, vacated in part, and remanded.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate
Court Reversed in Part; Vacated in Part; and Remanded
Capparella and Elizabeth Sitgraves, Nashville, Tennessee, for
the appellant, Otto T. Stiefel.
Chasity Sharp Grice, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
case arises from a conservatorship dispute between
Appellee/Petitioner Cyle Woodhouse and his step-grandfather
Appellant/Respondent Otto T. Stiefel. On July 18, 2016, Mr.
Woodhouse filed a petition for the appointment of permanent
conservator over his step-grandfather. The petition alleged
that Mr. Stiefel had been diagnosed with Alzeimer's and
dementia but refused to be further examined. Although Mr.
Stiefel was in good physical condition, the petition alleged
that due to his diminishing mental capacity he could not
manage his affairs. Mr. Woodhouse further requested that
either The Aging Commission or another third party be
appointed as conservator of Mr. Stiefel's estate. On the
same day, Mr. Woodhouse filed an accompanying motion to order
medical and psychological examination of Mr. Stiefel pursuant
to Tennessee Code Annotated section
34-3-105(b). Mr. Woodhouse suggested that the court
appoint Dr. Robert Burns for the examination, as he was a
well-known geriatric specialist.
two days later, on July 20, 2016, Mr. Woodhouse filed his
first amended complaint for the appointment of conservator of
person and estate. In addition to the facts asserted in the
original complaint, the amended complaint (1) identified Dr.
William Stewart Jr. as Mr. Stiefel's treating physician,
(2) requested that Dr. Stewart perform an examination of Mr.
Stiefel, and (3) asked that Mr. Stiefel be moved to Quail
Ridge Alzheimer's Special Care Center, a skilled nursing
home, where Mr. Stiefel's wife resided.
August 11, 2016, an attorney filed a notice of appearance on
behalf of Mr. Stiefel. On August 12, 2016, Mr. Stiefel filed (1)
answers to the petition and amended petition for
conservatorship; (2) an affidavit of Mr. Stiefel's son,
Otto P. Stiefel ("Son"); and (3) motions to dismiss
both the petition and the motion to order a medical
examination. In his answer, Mr. Stiefel denied all
allegations relating to his alleged need for a conservator,
denied that Dr. Stewart was his treating physician, and
claimed that Mr. Woodhouse only wanted control of his
finances to help Mrs. Diana Stiefel. Son's affidavit
further disputed Mr. Woodhouse's allegations that Mr.
Stiefel was in need of a conservator and also alleged that
Mr. Woodhouse's true motive was to gain control of his
assets for the benefit of Mrs. Stiefel. In the motions to
dismiss, Mr. Stiefel argued that because Son, had a durable
power of attorney and also lived with Mr. Stiefel, there was
no need for a court-appointed conservator.
trial court appointed a guardian ad litem for Mr. Stiefel on
August 15, 2016, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section
34-1-107. The court also held a hearing this day. At this
hearing, the trial judge orally granted a thirty day
continuance for Mr. Stiefel to undergo a physician's
examination. A written order, however, was not entered by the
trial court until September 23, 2016.
Stiefel subsequently renewed his motion to dismiss on
September 7, 2016, accompanying his motion with the sworn
Psychologist's Report of Dr. Allen Battle, Jr. In the
report, Dr. Battle opined that Mr. Stiefel was completely
competent to manage his personal, medical, and financial
affairs in a wise manner and did not need a conservator. On
September 12, 2016, in response to Dr. Battle's Report,
Mr. Woodhouse filed a motion to order an independent medical
examination requesting that (1) Dr. Burns perform the
examination and (2) Mr. Stiefel file Dr. Burns's Report.
In this motion he also objected to Dr. Battle's affidavit
on the basis that Dr. Battle is not an expert in geriatrics
and, thus, not qualified to render a professional opinion
regarding Mr. Stiefel. The trial court held another hearing
on September 15, 2016. At this hearing, the trial judge made
several comments regarding Mr. Stiefel's testimony and
mental state at a previous, unrelated hearing, to which Mr.
Stiefel's counsel objected. The trial judge then orally
denied Mr. Stiefel's motion to dismiss and ordered an
independent medical examination of Mr. Stiefel with Dr. Burns
with a report to be filed by November 3, 2016, which ruling
was memorialized by a written order entered on September 23,
2016. On the same day, the trial court entered a written
order appointing an attorney ad litem for Mr. Stiefel.
the September 15 hearing, Mr. Stiefel submitted another Sworn
Medical Examination, this time performed and recorded by Dr.
Randy Villanueva. Dr. Villanueva's report stated that the
focus of his medical practice consisted of geriatrics and
memory care. It further stated that he was Mr. Stiefel's
treating physician since April 1, 2016, and that Mr. Stiefel
had been diagnosed with mild dementia but is competent to
make his medical and financial decisions. Dr. Villanueva also
attached the results of Mr. Stiefel's Mini-Mental State
Examination ("MMSE") to his report, in which Mr.
Stiefel scored twenty-nine out of thirty.
November 16, 2016, Mr. Stiefel's counsel filed Dr. Robert
Burns's Sworn Medical Report and an amended answer. In
his report, Dr. Burns stated that Mr. Stiefel was in need of
a conservator to manage his person and affairs and that his
disability is permanent with no hope of improvement. The
amended answer claimed that (1) Mr. Stiefel does suffer from
dementia, but can still manage his own personal and financial
affairs; (2) Dr. Randy Villanueva is Mr. Stiefel's
treating physician; (3) Dr. Burns's report was inaccurate
because Dr. Burns had only seen Mr. Stiefel one time; (4) due
to Mr. Stiefel's biological son's durable power of
attorney for financial management, Mr. Stiefel has no need of
a conservator. Additionally, on the same day, the guardian ad
litem also filed her report, stating that Mr. Stiefel was
affectionate and loving when visiting his wife, "reveled
in showcasing his custom built home . . . [and] functions
well in the familiarity of his environs." The guardian
ad litem specifically found that "[Mr. Stiefel] does
need assistance maintaining his finances" and "also
requires help with some aspects of daily living."
Overall the guardian ad litem concluded that "[Mr.]
Stiefel can function semi-independently. [H]owever, Mr.
Stiefel needs some assistance with his affairs."
November 17, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the
amended petition. At this hearing, the trial court first
engaged in an extended discussion regarding Mrs. Stiefel and
her assets before hearing Mr. Woodhouse's testimony. Mr.
Woodhouse was the sole witness in this hearing. Mr. Woodhouse
testified that he filed the petition for conservatorship
because he noticed that funds were being taken from Mr.
Stiefel's account and he became worried since those funds
were intended to be used to pay for Mrs. Stiefel's care.
He further testified that he was worried about Mr.
Stiefel's mental state because Mr. Stiefel would often
call him disoriented and sometimes crying, not able to find
his way back home. Mr. Woodhouse, however, stated that these
calls ceased approximately five to six months prior to the
date of the hearing. Mr. Woodhouse further expressed that his
only concern about Mr. Stiefel was in regard to the finances.
his examination, the trial judge along with counsel, had an
unrecorded conversation and then the court took a recess.
Court subsequently resumed, and the attorneys approached the
bench again. After another discussion, the trial judge stated
that she understood that counsel had reached an agreement.
After which, Mr. Stiefel's attorney stated, "[y]es,
your honor. We're agreeable to allow Mr. Otto P. Stiefel
[Mr. Stiefel's son] to serve as conservator of the person
with the Aging Commission serving as conservator of the
estate." No further testimony was heard nor was any
additional evidence introduced.
November 23, 2016, the trial court entered an order
appointing Mr. Stiefel a permanent conservator of the person
and estate, with Otto P. Stiefel acting as conservator of the
person and the Aging Commission acting as conservator of the
estate. Mr. Stiefel filed a timely appeal on December 21,