Alcoholism Leads to Guardianship for Foley, MN, Man

Minnesota case law summary: TOPIC.

In re Guardianship of Dennis G. Esterly. MN guardianship

Dennis G. Esterly is 60 years old, and suffers from diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, malnutrition, COPD, and other conditions. All of these conditions are exacerbated by chronic alcoholism. According to the Court's opinion, Mr. Esterly consumes alcohol to the point where he does not eat, use the toilet, or take his medications. He occasionally also suffers injury from falls, and he is well known by hospital staff, where he is frequently taken by ambulance.

Traditionally, he is stabilized by the hospital and discharged to Foley Nursing Home, from which he checks himself out and resumes drinking. During 2011, he spent a total of 208 days in health-care facilities. He has been committed for chemical dependency on three occasions. He referred to alcohol as his "over-the-counter pain medication."

On his last trip to the hospital, he had fallen and was found minimally responsive. He then got up and tried to walk through a corn field, after which he vomited large amounts of blood. After this trip to the hospital, one of his treating physicians advised him that he would die within two more such episodes. His brother and sister then filed a petition in Wright County District Court for appointment of a guardian, and the doctor submitted a statement in support of that petition, in which he opined that Mr. Esterly's health would continue to decline without intervention and would undoubtedly lead to premature death.

A court visitor to the nursing home stated that Mr. Esterly understood the petition and was in agreement, but that he disagreed with the doctor's statement. The court visitor concluded that unlimited guardianship was appropriate in the case. Mr. Esterly also wanted legal counsel.

By January 2013, he no longer agreed with the appointment of a guardian, and a hearing was held. He testified that he didn't intend to drink any more.

The trial court considered all of the evidence and found that Mr. Esterly was incapacitated to the point where he could not understand or make responsible decisions or take care of his medical or nutrition needs. The trial court also found that less restrictive means were insufficient, because they could be revoked at any time. The court appointed the brother guardian, and the sister the successor guardian.

Dissatisfied with this turn of events, Mr. Esterly, through his attorney, appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals first pointed out that appointment of a guardian is within the discretion of the trial court, and should not be set aside in the absence of an abuse of discretion.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the evidence, and concluded that Mr. Esterly was an incapacitated person whose needs could not be met by less restrictive means. Mr. Esterly pointed to an earlier report of his doctor in which he found some glimmers of hope supporting his independence. But the Court of Appeals pointed out that this report had been written prior to the latest and most severe episode.

The Court of Appeals closely examined the trial court's findings and concluded that none of them were clearly erroneous. While the Court considered the case to be a "very close call," it concluded that the trial court's decision should be affirmed.

No. A13-0920 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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