IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP AND CONSERVATORSHIP OF LORI FEISTNER, Ward-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Peter A.
Feistner appeals from an order establishing an involuntary
guardianship and conservatorship. REVERSED AND
REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.
M. Northfield, Urbandale, for appellant.
Kenneth Michael Steffen, Moline, pro se guardian/conservator.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
case arises out of the appointment of a guardian and
conservator for Lori Feistner. On appeal, Feistner contends
the district court erred in appointing her a guardian and
petitioner in this case is Lori's brother, Kenneth (Mike)
Steffen. Steffen filed this petition for guardianship and
conservatorship because of his concern for his sister's
well-being. At the time of trial, Feistner was fifty-six
years old. She was married to her husband of twenty-six
years, Roger Feistner. However, Roger was in the process of
seeking a divorce due to Feistner's erratic and
aggressive behavior. Roger had communicated his intent to
seek a divorce to Feistner and to Steffen. Steffen testified
he sought the guardianship and conservatorship primarily to
help Feistner transition during the period of divorce and
help her with her financial situation.
erratic and aggressive behavior is a symptom of her
mental-health condition. Approximately fifteen years prior to
trial, Feistner begin to display symptoms of mental illness.
Her symptoms increased over time, including mania that would
keep her up at nights and result in aggressive or
confrontational behavior toward others. Eventually, Feistner
was diagnosed with bipolar, type I, disorder. She was
prescribed medication for her condition, but she frequently
failed to take her prescribed medication because of the way
it made her feel and its adverse side effects, including
weight gain. In the decade prior to trial, Feistner had been
civilly committed on six occasions. The duration of her
commitments ranged from several days to several weeks.
review of this case is for the correction of legal error.
See Iowa Code § 633.555 (2017) (providing
actions shall be triable at law); In re Conservatorship
of Leonard, 563 N.W.2d 193, 195 (Iowa 1997) (stating
conservatorship actions are reviewed for errors at law);
In re Guardianship of S.K.M., No. 16-1537, 2017 WL
5185427, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2017) (concluding
guardianship proceedings are reviewed for errors at law). The
district court's findings are binding on us if supported
by substantial evidence. See Leonard, 563 N.W.2d at
195. Evidence is substantial if a reasonable person
"would accept it as adequate to reach the same
findings." In re Conservatorship of Deremiah,
477 N.W.2d 691, 693 (Iowa Ct. App. 1991). We note the
district court in this case made no specific findings of fact
on any of the issues. Instead, the district court stated it
reviewed the evidence and found "by clear and convincing
evidence that the allegations of the said Petition are true
and material and have been fully sustained by the evidence
petitioner has the burden of proving the guardianship and/or
conservatorship is necessary and must do so by clear and
convincing evidence. See Iowa Code §
633.551(1), (2). "Clear and convincing evidence is more
than a preponderance of the evidence and less than evidence
beyond a reasonable doubt." In re L.G., 532
N.W.2d 478, 481 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995). "It is the highest
evidentiary burden in civil cases." In re M.S.,
889 N.W.2d 675, 679 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016). "It means
there must be no serious or substantial doubt about the
correctness of a particular conclusion drawn from the
evidence." Id. Because of the ward's
significant interest in managing her own affairs, we cannot
merely rubber stamp what has come before; it is our task as a
court of review to ensure the petitioner came forth with the
quantum and quality of evidence necessary to prove his case.
Cf. In re Guardianship of Hedin, 528 N.W.2d 567, 573
(Iowa 1995) ("Recently, several courts have agreed with
commentators that a guardianship 'involves significant
loss of liberty similar to that present in an involuntary
civil commitment for treatment of mental illness.'"
(quoting In re Guardianship of Reyes, 731 P.2d 130,
131 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1986)).
first address the question of whether the petitioner proved
the grounds necessary to establish an involuntary
guardianship. The district court may establish an involuntary
guardianship for an adult "whose decision-making
capacity is so impaired that the person is unable to care for
the person's personal safety or to attend to or provide
for necessities for the person such as food, shelter,
clothing, or medical care, without which physical injury or
illness might occur." Iowa Code § 633.552(2)(a);
accord Hedin, 526 N.W.2d at 581. This requires
showing that the ward or proposed ward is unable to think or
act for himself or herself as to matters concerning the
ward's personal health, safety, and general welfare. In
addition, the district court's findings of fact based
upon this evidence should support the powers conferred on the