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Eaton v. Eaton

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

December 20, 2013

Daniel A. Eaton
v.
Mary Louise Eaton & a

Argued October 10, 2013.

Page 1285

8th Circuit Court - Keene Probate Division.

Laboe Associates, PLLC, of Concord ( Kerri S. Tasker and John E. Laboe on the brief, and Mr. Laboe orally), for the petitioner.

Bradley & Faulkner, P.C., of Keene ( Gary J. Kinyon on the brief and orally), for the respondents.

LYNN, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS, CONBOY and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

OPINION

Page 1286

Lynn, J.

The petitioner, Daniel A. Eaton, appeals an order of the 8th Circuit Court -- Keene Probate Division ( Hampe, J.), which granted the summary judgment motion filed by the petitioner's mother, Mary Louise Eaton (Mrs. Eaton), and her guardian, Michael Eaton (Michael). We affirm.

[165 N.H. 744] This is the second appeal arising from the petitioner's attempts to be paid for legal fees he incurred in guardianship proceedings involving his mother. See In re Guardianship of Eaton, 163 N.H. 386, 42 A.3d 799 (2012). The following facts are drawn from Eaton and from the record in this appeal.

In March 2010, Dean Eaton (Dean), the petitioner's brother, filed a petition for guardianship over their mother, Mrs. Eaton. Id. at 388. The petitioner objected to Dean's petition and filed his own petition. Id. In a June 2010 settlement agreement, the petitioner and Dean agreed that their brother, Michael, would be appointed guardian. Id. Shortly thereafter, the trial court found Mrs. Eaton to be incapacitated and appointed Michael guardian over her person and estate. Id. Thereafter, the petitioner filed a motion under RSA 464-A:43 (2004), requesting the trial court to order Michael, as guardian of Mrs. Eaton's estate, to pay the attorney's fees the petitioner incurred during the guardianship proceedings. Id. Michael objected, and the trial court denied the petitioner's motion. Id. We upheld the trial court's decision in Eaton. Id. at 393.

In October 2010, the petitioner filed the instant action, in which he again sought payment of legal fees incurred during the guardianship proceeding. He alleged that he was entitled to the fees because he acted as his mother's attorney-in-fact pursuant to a durable general power of attorney, which was executed in October 2004. The respondents moved for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that the actions taken by the petitioner were not done pursuant to the power of attorney but for the petitioner's own benefit; (2) that the petitioner had no authority to act under the power of attorney because it lacked the acknowledgment required by RSA 506:6, VII(a) (2010); and (3) that the petitioner admitted under oath in a deposition that the only time he acted under the power of attorney was in connection with obtaining medical records. The trial court found that there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute with regard to the respondents' first and third arguments which precluded the trial court from granting summary judgment. However, with respect to the second argument, the trial court ruled that " the acknowledgment requirement of RSA 506:6, VII(a) is mandatory and therefore Daniel Eaton could not have been acting as Mary Lou Eaton's attorney-in-fact when he undertook the acts [for which the legal fees were claimed], as a matter of law." The trial court therefore granted summary judgment for the respondents on that ground.

Page 1287

On appeal, the sole issue is whether the trial court erred in ruling that the absence of an acknowledgment executed by the petitioner and affixed to the durable general power of attorney precluded the petitioner from acting under the power. This presents an issue of statutory interpretation, which is a question of law that we review de novo. Schiavi v. City of Rochester, 152 N.H. 487, 489, 880 A.2d 428 (2005). " We are the final arbiter of the legislature's intent as [165 N.H. 745] expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole." Eaton, 163 N.H. at 389. " Further, we interpret a statute in the context of the overall statutory scheme and not in isolation." Id. " When examining the language of a statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used." Id. " We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature ...


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