Humboldt County Adult Protective Services v. Superior Court (Magney)

Filed October 24, 2016, First District, Div. One

Cite as A145981

Dick Magney appointed his wife, Judith Magney, as his agent in a valid advance health care directive in 2011. The directive contained Dick’s health care instructions, expressed his personal values, and gave his agent the power to exercise her discretion to refuse medical treatment on his behalf. In 2015 he was hospitalized with a serious heart infection. After reviewing Dick’s medical history and recent tests, and consulting with Dick and Judith, his primary physician concluded that further treatment would be futile and would greatly diminish Dick’s quality of life. Upon investigation into possible caretaker abuse or neglect, Humboldt County Adult Protective Services filed an ex parte petition without notice to remove Judith as agent and to compel immediate medical treatment. The court granted the petition the same day. After she was served with the order, Judith filed a petition contesting the merits, seeking dismissal, and for statutory attorney fees. When Humboldt withdrew its petition, the court vacated the treatment order and denied Judith’s request for attorney fees.

The court of appeal reversed and remanded to determine and award Judith’s attorney fees. Probate Code section 4771 allows for a discretionary award of attorney’s fees to the agent under a power of attorney for health care if the court determines that the proceeding was commenced without reasonable cause. Reasonable cause is determined under an objective, reasonable person standard, and the petition must be supported by competent evidence. Humboldt’s petition deliberately misled the trial court of the law and facts. Humboldt lacked reasonable cause to commence the proceeding: its allegations of neglect were unsubstantiated and its view of Dick’s best interests was inconsistent with his instructions and personal values expressed in his advance directive. The Health Care Decisions Law (Prob. Code sec. 4600, et seq.) protects the fundamental right of competent adults to control decisions concerning their own health care.

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