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In re Estate of Hanson

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

October 17, 2019

IN RE ESTATE OF KEVIN LEE HANSON

          MCFADDEN, C. J., MCMILLIAN, P. J., and SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE PHIPPS

          PHIPPS, SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE.

         The trial court appointed Randy Joe Hanson and Terry Sue Hanson (the "parents") as co-guardians and co-conservators of their adult son, Kevin Lee Hanson ("Kevin"). Kevin's girlfriend, Kimberly Babbitt (the "girlfriend"), appeals several of the trial court's orders, arguing, among other things, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the trial court's order appointing the parents as Kevin's co-guardians and co-conservators and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         "In reviewing an order on a petition for guardianship, we will not set aside the probate court's findings unless they are clearly erroneous, and when such findings are supported by any evidence, they will be upheld on appeal." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) In the Interest of M.P., 338 Ga.App. 696, 697 (791 S.E.2d 592) (2016). "The probate court's application of the law, however, is subject to de novo review." (Footnote omitted.) Id. at 698.

         The record shows that Kevin lived in Florida when he was catastrophically injured in Miami on March 15, 2018. Kevin was treated first in Florida and was then transported to Atlanta for treatment at the Shepherd Center in either late March or early April 2018. On June 26, 2018, while Kevin remained in Georgia, the parents filed a petition in the Probate Court of Fulton County seeking to be appointed as Kevin's emergency co-guardians and co-conservators. The trial court granted the petition on June 29, 2018, to last "for 60 days, or until the effective date of the appointment of a permanent guardian/conservator." On July 3, 2018, the parents filed a petition seeking to be appointed Kevin's permanent co-guardians and co-conservators. On August 23, 2018, prior to the expiration of the first emergency appointment and before the trial court ruled on their permanent petition, the parents filed a emergency petition.

         On August 28, 2018, the girlfriend filed a petition to be appointed Kevin's permanent guardian and conservator in probate court in Hillsborough County, Florida. On August 31, 2018, the trial court granted the second emergency petition. The trial court held a hearing on the petition for permanent conservatorship and guardianship on October 12, 2018, at which the parents, the girlfriend, and Kevin's guardian-ad-litem testified. Also at this hearing, the parents' attorney stated that the girlfriend's Florida petition had been dismissed.[1] On October 15, 2018, the trial court entered an order naming the parents as the permanent co-guardians and co-conservators for Kevin, and the girlfriend appealed.

         1. The girlfriend first asserts that the trial court erred in finding that it had jurisdiction to appoint a guardian and issue a conservatorship over Kevin because it failed to consider the factors necessary to establish that Kevin had a significant connection with Georgia. We agree.

         In reviewing a lower court's ruling on the existence of personal jurisdiction, this Court resolves all disputed issues of fact "in favor of the party asserting the existence of personal jurisdiction," and the party asserting the lack of jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that Georgia courts lack personal jurisdiction. In the Interest of M.P., 338 Ga.App. at 698 (1).

         Here, the trial court's order finding that Georgia had jurisdiction over this matter did not specify which subsection of OCGA § 29-11-12 applied to this case. Nonetheless, the trial court's findings that "Georgia [is] not [Kevin's] home state" and that Kevin "had a significant connection to Fulton County, Georgia due to receiving life altering treatment from the Shepherd Center[, ]" appear to show that the trial court found jurisdiction under OCGA § 29-11-12 (2) (B). OCGA § 29-11-12 (2) (B) requires that:

(2) On the date the petition is filed, this state is a significant-connection state and . . . .
(B) The respondent has a home state, a petition for an appointment or order is not pending in a court of that state or another significant-connection state, and, before the court makes the appointment or issues the order:
(i) A petition for an appointment or order is not filed in the respondent's home state;
(ii) An objection to the court's jurisdiction is not filed by a person required to be notified of the proceeding; and
(iii) The court in this state concludes that it is an appropriate forum under the factors set forth in Code ...

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