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In re Uwazih

May 08, 2003

IN RE ADLINE UWAZIH, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (IntvP-96-00) (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

Before Ruiz, Reid and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued February 19, 2003

Appellant Adline Uwazih appeals from the trial court's dismissal of her petition for appointment of a guardian and a conservator. Ms. Uwazih contends that the trial court erred in dismissing her petition on the ground that she was not a domiciliary of the District of Columbia. We reverse the judgment of the trial court in part and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We hold that the guardianship provisions of the District of Columbia Guardianship, Protective Proceedings, and Durable Power of Attorney Act, D.C. Code § 21-2001 et seq. (2001) confer jurisdiction on the Superior Court if the incapacitated person for whom guardianship is sought, even if not a domiciliary, is physically present in the District of Columbia. Furthermore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to appoint a conservator for Ms. Uwazih since the record reveals that she neither owned nor had control over any property located in the District.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Ms. Uwazih, a citizen of Nigeria who earlier had been admitted to the United States as a result of an immigration lottery, was crossing Jefferson Davis Highway in Dumfries, Virginia in September 1999, when she was struck by an automobile and severely injured. She was transported by air to the Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia where she was treated for a brain injury and other serious internal injuries. By March 2000, the Washington Hospital Center was ready to discharge Ms. Uwazih. On March 10, 2000, the hospital sent a letter to her husband, who was still residing in Nigeria. The letter stated in part:

[Ms. Uwazih] has been receiving occupational and physical therapy 6 days a week which has given her improved cognition, and allowed her to assist in her own activities of daily living and functional mobility. [She] is now able to feed herself with assistance and perform activities of daily living with assistance. Due to her head injury, [she] has near total left sided paralysis. She will forever be confined to a wheelchair and will require assistance moving from her bed to the wheelchair, and in moving about the house in her chair.

On May 1, 2000, counsel for Ms. Uwazih filed a petition for a general proceeding in which he sought the appointment of a guardian and a conservator for her due to her "partial brain damage and paralysis." The guardian would assist with decisions regarding the place to which Ms. Uwazih would be discharged. *fn1 The Washington Hospital Center filed an emergency motion to dismiss Ms. Uwazih's petition for lack of jurisdiction, asserting that she was not domiciled in the District but was a resident of Virginia and had no property in the District. The hospital added that the delay caused by the petition would prevent the release of Ms. Uwazih and her return to Nigeria since her travel documents to Nigeria would be good only through May 27, 2000.

The trial court held a hearing on Ms. Uwazih's petition on May 9, 2000. The central focus of the hearing, resulting in the dismissal of the petition, was the domicile of Ms. Uwazih and whether her attorney had manufactured diversity to enable her negligence lawsuit in Virginia to be filed in the federal court. *fn2 On June 5, 2000, the trial court issued a written order dismissing the petition for lack of jurisdiction, stating in part:

First, for Constitutional reasons, this Court cannot exercise its authority to impose any fiduciary upon anyone unless and until the person who is the Subject is proved to be a domiciliary of the District or a person who holds property inside the District. Neither set of facts has been established. This is not a close question.

The Subject is not in any way a domiciliary of the District of Columbia. . . .

It is clear that the Subject's presence in the District of Columbia is pure happenstance. . . .

The trial court also asserted: "[I]t does not appear that there is a need for a court-appointed fiduciary at all. . . . There is no need for court intervention if community resources can be applied to insure the personal welfare of an incapacitated person." *fn3 The trial court expressed the view that even if funds were contributed, they "would not be used personally by the ...


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