Original proceedings; petition for a writ of mandate/prohibition to challenge an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Gerald G. Johnston, Judge. Petition granted. (Super. Ct. No. 30-2009-00265518-PR-GE-LJC).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fybel, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
In January 2009, Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets. Paul Petersen filed a petition seeking appointment of a guardian of the octuplets' estates, who would replace Suleman as the person making financial decisions for the children. Probate Code section 1510, subdivision (a) permits a petition for appointment of a guardian to be filed by "[a] relative or other person on behalf of the minor." (All further statutory references are to the Probate Code, unless otherwise specified.) This writ proceeding was brought by Suleman to challenge the probate court's denial of her motion to dismiss Petersen's petition and the court's appointment of the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) to conduct an investigation of the family's finances.
The probate court erred by denying Suleman's motion to dismiss the petition. The petition should have been dismissed because Petersen has neither pleaded ultimate facts demonstrating Suleman has engaged in any financial misconduct, nor alleged any other information warranting court intervention in the Suleman family's finances. For these reasons, Petersen has no standing under section 1510, subdivision (a) and, even if he did, his petition is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.
This is an unprecedented, meritless effort by a stranger to a family to seek appointment of a guardian of the estates of the minor children. The petition's allegations are insufficient to infringe on a parent's civil rights or to rebut the presumption under California law that a parent is competent to manage the finances of his or her children. There is nothing in the petition that shows that the best interests of the children in the management of their finances are not being served by Suleman.
We therefore grant Suleman's petition for writ relief and direct the probate court to grant Suleman's motion to dismiss Petersen's petition. For the reasons we explain post, we also vacate the probate court's order for an investigation of the family's finances.
Statement of Allegations and Procedural History
On January 26, 2009, Suleman gave birth to eight children.
In May 2009, Petersen filed a petition seeking the appointment of a guardian for the estates of those children. Petersen is the president of A Minor Consideration, a nonprofit corporation he describes as having been "formed to give guidance and support to young performers, past, present and future. An important part of our mission is that we are dedicated to helping to preserve the money these children generate, so that they receive the appropriate share of their earnings and are not deprived of their legal share by their parents or others who may have a conflict with them and/or may not be careful to protect the children's financial interests."
Petersen filed an amended petition in June 2009. In an amended petition, Petersen stated the appointment of a guardian was necessary or convenient because "I am informed and believe that the 8 minor children, all of whom have been the subject of intense public interest since their birth on January 26, 2009, are in need of a guardian of the estate in order to protect their potential business opportunities, i.e. possible lucrative endorsement[s] that may arise as a result of their unique status. The appointment of a guardian of the estate[s] will provide assurance that the children are not exploited. Further, the guardian of the estate will be able to insure that each child is independently represented by an agent in connection with negotiating contracts for the[ir] services. [¶] I am informed and believe that their mother, Nadya Suleman, has already entered into contracts with RadarOnline.com to take and to sell video and with Poleris Photos to sell still photographs of the children. It is critically important that the prospective earnings of the children are adequately protected in accordance with California law. It is unknown whether the childrens' mother has taken the appropriate steps to insure that the earnings of the minor children are placed into blocked accounts so that they may have access to said funds upon their reaching majority. [¶] I have recently discovered articles on the internet announcing that the mother, Nadya Suleman, has entered into an arrangement with a production company, Eyeworks, for a documentary series filming the children's lives." (Italics added.) Attached to the amended petition were printouts from three Web sites reporting the agreement with Eyeworks.
Attached to the original petition were printouts containing photos and video links from the Web site RadarOnline.com, dated between February 9 and April 20, 2009. The petition identified these as "[p]hotographs of [the] minor children."
In the original petition, Petersen proposed Linda Rogers, a licensed private fiduciary, to be the guardian of the estates of the children. In the amended petition, Petersen proposed Terry W. Hammond, an attorney licensed as a national certified guardian and the executive director of the National Guardianship Association, as the guardian of the children's estates. Petersen never proposed himself as guardian for the children's estates. (The identity and qualifications of a guardian are not issues before us in this proceeding.)
Suleman filed a motion to dismiss the amended petition, arguing Petersen lacked standing, and asserting that the petition failed to allege sufficient facts.*fn1 Suleman also filed an objection and opposition to the amended petition. Petersen submitted copies of the following additional documents with his opposition to the motion to dismiss: (1) an e-mail from an executive of Eyeworks USA, advising Petersen's counsel that it has "come to my attention through an acquaintance that a production company, Pilgrim Films and Television, has licensed all of the Radar Online footage of Nadya Suleman for use in a television program," and accusing Pilgrim Films and Television (apparently a competitor of Eyeworks) of potentially exploiting the octuplets; and (2) a check from American Media Operations, Inc., for $25,000, payable to Suleman's mother. (The relevance of the latter document is a matter of complete speculation and its purported significance has never been explained.) Petersen's opposition referred to an investigation by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement; no evidence of such an investigation appears anywhere in the record.
Suleman filed evidentiary objections to Petersen's opposition to the motion to dismiss and the documents offered by Petersen. At the hearing on Suleman's motion to dismiss, the probate court failed to rule on those objections. After the hearing, the court took the motion to dismiss under submission.
On August 21, 2009, the probate court issued an order reading, in relevant part, as follows: "Motion to Dismiss First Amended Petition is DENIED. Probate Court Section 1510[, subdivision ](a) permits `a relative or other person on behalf of [the] minor' to file a Petition for Appointment of Guardian. There is no statutory requirement such a petitioner must be an `interested person' or enjoy any type of relationship with the minor or minors named in the petition. As the paramount concern in guardianships is the best interests of children, the legislature has not restricted the class of individuals who may petition seeking to protect those interests. In issuing this ruling the Court does not evaluate the underlying merits of the petition. Any determination will occur as part of the orderly procedural process accorded all guardianship petitions. [¶] As provided by Probate Code Section 1513[, subdivision ](a) the Court now invites [SSA] to conduct an investigation and file with the court a report and recommendation concerning the proposed guardianship of the estates of the named minors." (Original italics.)
On August 25, Suleman filed a petition for writ of mandate/prohibition, asking this court to issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the probate court to vacate its August 21, 2009 order and to dismiss the amended petition. This court temporarily stayed the portion of the August 21 order regarding the section 1513 report, and later issued an order to show cause why the requested writ should not issue. In the order to show cause, we directed the parties ...