Court: Guardianship cannot be imposed due to marriage concerns

a couple holds hands
Court Protects Due Process Rights

D.D., as he is identified in court papers, is saving up money for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Janice.

A social guy living off Supplemental Security Income benefits and income from his part-time position at a Brooklyn restaurant, D.D. requires the support of a representative payee to oversee his finances, due to the impact of his disability, Down syndrome.

Despite his eagerness to live independently, the 29-year-old’s mother does not want him to move out their home. She views Janice as “too pushy”  and doesn’t believe she can independently manage D.D.’s financial and medical affairs.

Accordingly, D.D.’s mother, along with his brother, filed a petition with the Brooklyn Surrogate Court for guardianship over D.D.

In a decision issued October 28, the Court rejected the petition, finding the “extreme remedy” of guardianship to be inappropriate in D.D.’s case.

“There is no doubt that the petitioners deeply love and are devoted to D.D. and are motivated by what they believe is in his best interest,” Surrogate Court Judge Margarita López Torres wrote. “However, the standard here is not whether the petitioners can make better decisions than D.D., it is whether or not D.D. has the capacity to make decisions for himself with the support that he abundantly has.”

In support of their petition, D.D.’s mother and brother submitted reports from two physicians in support of their assertion, which the Court described as “boilerplate.” The case, however, is unusual in the extent that the judge protected D.D.’s due process rights.

After being presented with the petitioner’s arguments, the Judge appointed as guardian ad litem for D.D. the Advocates for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Legal Clinic from Brooklyn Law School. In its 18-page report, the Clinic countered the arguments that D.D. would be unable to manage his financial or medical affairs, and otherwise captured a portrait of him as a “high functioning” adult with Down syndrome.

“There is no requirement that a guardian ad litem be appointed, or even that a hearing be held in the presence of the person…,” Legal Clinic Director Natalie Chin told the New York Law Journal. “But in an Article 17-A (guardianship) the person loses all their autonomy, the right to vote, the ability to marry, to have a say in health care and financial matters.”

In the decision, the Court found that less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, such as the representative payee for D.D.’s financial affairs and a power of attorney and an advanced directive for future medical decisions, would be sufficient to alleviate his mother and brother’s concerns.

“As most recently articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v Hodges, ‘[r]ising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspiration…,'” Judge López Torres wrote, referring to last year summer’s decision establishing the right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states. “This is no less true for D.D., a young man who has expressed that, like his brothers, he wants to marry and have a family.

“The right “to marry, establish a home and bring up children” is a central part of liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.”