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Man entitled to damages following excavation of home without notice

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In reviewing a case in which an attorney appointed guardian of an adult male unilaterally decided to tear down his home without providing notice to the man, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the attorney violated the man’s due process rights and damages were necessary.

In David L. Stalker v. Mary C. Pierce, No. 61A04-1008-GU-562, Mary Pierce, a Parke County attorney and appointed member of the Parke County Board of Health, was appointed permanent guardian over David Stalker and his property at Stalker’s consent. The two originally had a good relationship as they had worked together when Pierce helped organize his finances so he could work on his home. Stalker has a mental disability and is unable to care for his personal needs or manage his home. His home had fallen into disrepair and needed a lot of work inside and out, but it was never condemned by the board of health.

After a few months, Stalker asked the court to end the guardianship, as he was unhappy with Pierce’s oversight. He repeatedly asked the court to remove her as his guardian, but the court refused. At some of these hearings he had a court-appointed attorney. Pierce had taken away the keys to his home and relocated him to an apartment 10 miles away. He only had a bike for transportation, so it made getting back to his house to fix it up difficult. He worked on the outside and made progress, which Pierce acknowledged. But a week after telling the court that she was willing to keep an open mind about returning the house keys to Stalker, Pierce ordered the home excavated. She did not tell Stalker, who came upon the process after he rode his bike to the house to mow the lawn. He was devastated because he wanted to move back into the home and many family photos and items were destroyed in the excavation.

Pierce never told Stalker that his home was going to be demolished and she didn’t petition to the court for permission. Stalker never was able to collect any items out of his home. The trial court later allowed her to sell the vacant land, which was purchased for $37,500. She used the proceeds to buy Pierce a scooter and prepaid funeral plan, although he wanted the money spent on a car and an attorney so he could have his brother appointed his guardian.

As a result of the demolition of the home, Stalker went to Indianapolis and opted to live homeless. He objected to the amended accounting, alleging Pierce breached her fiduciary duty, failed to act in his best interest, and denied his due process rights. The trial court denied his objection and motion to correct error.

Pierce violated her fiduciary duty to protect, preserve, and manage Stalker’s property, the appellate court determined. There was no evidence that his home had to be destroyed because it was a threat to his well being or that tearing down the house actually improved the value of the land, as she had argued.  

“We find the degree of care and prudence displayed by Pierce in her decisions as a guardian was well below that which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise in her own affairs. We are dismayed at her callousness to demolish Stalker’s property without getting a formal appraisal, without notifying Stalker or the court, and most importantly without providing him with an opportunity to, at the very least, collect his sentimental possessions. We are convinced that Pierce would not have made similar choices with respect to the management of her own property,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The judges also found that Pierce breached her fiduciary duty of loyalty to him because she used information she gleaned as his guardian to fulfill her duties as a member of the board of health. By disclosing information she got about Stalker’s house without prior court approval or notice, her duty as guardian conflicted with her personal obligations as a member of the board of health.

Pierce also violated Stalker’s due process rights as she never informed him that his home was going to be torn down or gave him the chance to retrieve items from the home. As a result, Stalker is entitled to damages, which the trial court will determine on remand.
 

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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