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Smith v. Smith

Supreme Court of Florida

August 31, 2017

GLENDA MARTINEZ SMITH, Petitioner,
v.
J. ALAN SMITH, Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF FILED, DETERMINED.

         Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance Fourth District - Case No. 4D14-1436, Palm Beach County.

          Jennifer Suzanne Carroll of Law Offices of Jennifer S. Carroll, P.A., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for Petitioner No appearance for Respondent

          Robert W. Goldman of Goldman, Felcoski & Stone, P.A., Naples, Florida; Kenneth B. Bell, and John W. Little, III of Gunster, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Amicus Curiae The Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar

          Ellen S. Morris of Elder Law Associates, P.A., Boca Raton, Florida; Gerald L. Hemness of Law Office of Emma Hemness, P.A., Brandon, Florida; and Cary Moss of Sawyer & Sawyer, P.A., Orlando, Florida, for Amici Curiae The Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar and Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys

          LABARGA, C.J.

         This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Smith v. Smith, 199 So.3d 911 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). The district court certified the following question to be of great public importance:

WHERE THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO MARRY HAS NOT BEEN REMOVED FROM A WARD UNDER SECTION 744.3215(2)(a), FLORIDA STATUTES, DOES THE STATUTE REQUIRE THE WARD TO OBTAIN APPROVAL FROM THE COURT PRIOR TO EXERCISING THE RIGHT TO MARRY, WITHOUT WHICH APPROVAL THE MARRIAGE IS ABSOLUTELY VOID, OR DOES SUCH FAILURE RENDER THE MARRIAGE VOIDABLE, AS COURT APPROVAL COULD BE CONFERRED AFTER THE MARRIAGE?

Smith v. Smith, 195 So.3d 416, 416 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons discussed below, we quash the decision of the Fourth District and hold that where the right to contract has been removed under section 744.3215(2)(a), Florida Statutes (2016), the ward is not required to obtain court approval prior to exercising the right to marry, but court approval is necessary before such a marriage can be given legal effect.

         OVERVIEW

         When a person is deemed incapacitated, a guardianship court may remove some of his or her rights. See § 744.331, Fla. Stat. (2016).[1] Section 744.3215, Florida Statutes (2016), titled "Rights of persons determined incapacitated, " separates the rights of an incapacitated person into three distinct categories: rights retained by the incapacitated person (or rights that cannot be removed through incapacity proceedings); rights that can be removed and delegated to a guardian; and rights that can be removed, but not delegated to a guardian. The right to marry falls within the latter category, under section 744.3215(2)(a), which provides:

(2) Rights that may be removed from a person by an order determining incapacity but not delegated to a guardian include the right:
(a) To marry. If the right to enter into a contract has been removed, the right to marry is subject to court approval.

         Consequently, a guardianship court may remove an incapacitated person's right to marry if there is clear and convincing evidence that he or she is incapacitated with respect to that right. Id.; § 744.331(6), Fla. Stat. However, even when a guardianship court does not remove the right to marry, an incapacitated person's right to marry becomes "subject to court approval" when his or her right to contract has been removed. § 744.3215(2)(a), Fla. Stat. The question presented in this case is whether court approval must be obtained before the incapacitated person marries.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This annulment challenge is an offshoot of a guardianship case initiated by the daughter of Respondent, J. Alan Smith (Alan), in 2010 after Alan was involved in an automobile accident in which he suffered head trauma. Smith, 199 So.3d at 911; id. at 914 (Warner, J., dissenting); see also Martinez v. Guardianship of Smith, 159 So.3d 394, 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015). According to Alan's daughter, Alan was no longer competent to handle his financial affairs or care for his property as a result of his diminished mental capacity. In April 2010, Alan was determined to be partially incapacitated. Alan's right to contract and his right to manage property were removed and delegated to John Cramer, who was appointed to be Alan's limited guardian of property. However, the court specifically found there was "no incapacity on the part of [Alan] that would warrant a guardian of a person." The court issued an Order that provided:

The following rights of the Ward are delegated to the Guardian appointed by this Order:
[X] to Contract,
[X] to manage the property of the Ward
Note: If the right of the Ward to Contract has been delegated to the Guardian but the right to marry is retained, then the right to marry is subject to Court approval.[2]

(Emphasis added.)

         It is undisputed that Petitioner, Glenda Martinez Smith (Glenda), met and became engaged to Alan before he was deemed incapacitated. In 2009, the year prior to his accident, Alan executed a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will Declaration naming Glenda as his health care surrogate and preneed guardian.[3] Alan also gave Glenda durable power of attorney.

          In December 2011, Glenda and Alan were married. Court approval was not obtained prior to the marriage ceremony. However, Glenda asked Cramer to seek court approval on two separate occasions, but Cramer refused.

         Alan's court-appointed counsel, Lynne Hennessey, filed a petition for annulment in early 2013 based solely on the assertion that the marriage was void because court approval had not been obtained prior to the act of marriage. Glenda then moved to ratify the marriage, and Hennessey moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the court denied Glenda's motion and granted Hennessey's motion, concluding section 744.3215(2)(a) requires prior court approval because the "statute does not contemplate the right to ratify or somehow prove an existing marriage." Because neither Alan nor Glenda obtained court approval before marrying, the court concluded their marriage was void and incapable of ratification.

         Glenda appealed the final judgment of annulment, arguing that neither the statute nor the order that removed Alan's right to contract explicitly required prior court approval, and as such, the marriage could be ratified by obtaining approval after the marriage was solemnized. Glenda also asserted such approval had been obtained during a December 2012 hearing.[4] The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected Glenda's assertions and affirmed the trial court's decision. Smith, 199 So.3d at 912. The district court agreed with the trial court's rationale that the plain language of the statute

does not state that "a marriage" is subject to court approval, but rather, it states that "the right to marry" is subject to court approval. Therefore, if a person deemed incapacitated has had his or her right to contract removed, he or she has no right to marry unless the court gives its approval.

Id. The district court explained that, because a "marriage entered into by a person with no right to marry is void . . . it follows that in order to enter into a valid marriage, an incapacitated person who has had his or her right to contract removed must first ask the court to approve his or her right to marry." Id. Accordingly, the district court held "the trial court correctly determined that the marriage was void."

         Id.

The district court also concluded that because
the marriage was void from the inception, [Glenda's] argument that the court "ratified" the marriage by acknowledging it at the December 18, 2012 hearing is without merit. A void marriage, in legal contemplation, has never existed and, therefore, cannot be ratified. At any rate, this Court reversed the court's order stemming from the December 18, 2012 hearing and remanded for a new hearing. By ...

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