Saadeh v. Connors
Saadeh v. Connors, 166 So.3d 959 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015)
In this portion of the Saadeh guardianship saga, the court was asked to determine whether an attorney representing a court-appointed guardian in a guardianship proceeding owes a duty to the ward under a third-party beneficiary theory. The Court ultimately found that it did.
This case began with an emergency temporary guardianship proceeding, in which a court-appointed attorney was appointed to represent the alleged incapacitated person, a professional guardian was appointed, and that guardian had his own counsel. As part of an "agreed" order to "settle" the guardianship, the court entered an ordered agreeing that the alleged incapacitated person would execute a trust instead of a plenary guardianship. The agreed order did not settle the matter, unfortunately, and the litigation continued.
Eventually, the alleged incapacitated person was found competent and brought suit against multiple players in the guardianship proceeding, including the guardian's attorney for professional negligence. He alleged that the guardian's attorney attempted to improperly advise him about the mechanics of the trust.
The guardian's attorney argued that there was no privity of contract between her and the alleged incapacitated person, and thus she owed him no duty. The trial court agreed.
The Appellate Court reversed, holding that the alleged incapacitated person was, in fact, the intended third party beneficiary of the services provided by the guardian's attorney. The Court first considered the Guardianship Statutes. It held that since the court must appoint counsel to represent an emergency temporary guardian, and that during the temporary guardianship, the emergency temporary guardian is the alleged incapacitated person's fiduciary, even though there is no lawyer-client relationship between the alleged incapacitated person and the lawyer for the emergency temporary guardian, counsel for the emergency temporary guardian owes a duty of care to the temporary ward.
The Court also compared a guardianship proceeding with an adoption proceeding, noting that both involve the protection of an incapacitated person. The Court had held in Rushing v. Bosse that privity of contract was not necessary where a child was the intended beneficiary of an adoption and the defendants were the attorneys for the adoptive parents.
The Court finally explained, through a 1996 opinion of former Attorney General Robert Butterworth, that since F.S. 744.108 authorizes payment of fees to an attorney who renders services to a guardian on a ward's behalf, the statute itself recognizes that the services performed by an attorney who is compensated from the ward's estate are performed for the ward even though the attorney technically provides the services to the guardian.
The Court concluded, "we find that [the ward] and everything associated with his well-being is the very essence, i.e. the exact point, of our guardianship statutes. As a matter of law, the ward in situations as this, is both the primary and intended beneficiary of his estate. To tolerate anything less would be nonsensical and would strip the ward of the dignity to which the ward is wholly entitled."