Brittany Griffin Smith (Juris Doctor, May 2012, University of Kentucky College of Law) recently published her article entitled Granny Snatching and Personal Jurisdiction--An Argument For a New Federal Interpleader, 100 Ky. L.J. 411 (2012). The introduction to the article is below:
An estimated 5.4 million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer's disease, at a time when families are simultaneously becoming increasingly geographically dispersed and mobile. More adult children are finding themselves in the role of “parents” to aging mothers and fathers with hundreds of miles between them and their relatives. This change in American family life has brought new challenges to state courts, such as when more than one person applies for guardianship of the same person in different jurisdictions. The aging relative may not be able to testify, the courts may not be able to access evidence in other states, and even if one state declares a guardian, other states may not give that adjudication full faith and credit.
Of particular concern, however, is when relatives living in different states take advantage of traditional rules for personal jurisdiction by removing the incapacitated adult from his or her home to adjudicate the guardianship proceeding outside the prying eyes of otherrelatives. The typical scenario that frustrates the state courts, referred to as “granny snatching,” occurs when one aging adult visits his or her child in a different state, or that child visits the parent in the parent's home state, and then moves the parent to the child's home state, often with the purpose of financially exploiting the parent. Once in the child's home state, the child seeks guardianship over the parent. In effect, the child deprives the parent of adjudication in the state with access to the best evidence and uses in personam jurisdiction in the child's state to gain control over the parent and, through the powers bestowed on the guardian, the parent's assets.
The National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws responded to this problem by drafting the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA). Jurisdiction over the incapacitated adult can only be exercised in two cases: (1) if the state is the adult's “home state,” where the individual has been present for at least six months, or (2) if the adult has a “specific connection” to the state, meaning some connection other than just mere presence. The “home state” has preference over the “specific-connection state,” and states can cooperate in the proceedings so that the best evidence is maintained. A state court can decline to exercise jurisdiction if it deems it to be inequitable under the circumstances. The UAGPPJA also allows for sanctions if any party engages in wrongful conduct in obtaining jurisdiction. If guardianship is granted, it allows the new guardian to register in other state courts to insure the court's ruling is given full faith and credit.
But not all states have adopted the UAGPPJA. As of spring 2012, thirty states and the District of Columbia have done so. Until all states adopt this Act and apply its provisions uniformly, granny snatching will persist as states without the Act offer-to borrow a layman's favorite-a “loophole” for would-be snatchers. Surely if someone were devious enough to consider removing a defenseless relative from his or her home just to seize control of his or her assets, he or she would also be capable of shopping for a forum without the protection of the UAGPPJA.
Therefore, the better answer does not involve the states. This note will explore another option-the passage of a new statutory interpleader, much like 28 U.S.C. § 1335
, that adopts the UAGPPJA's definitions of “personal jurisdiction.” In a § 1335
interpleader, one defendant forces several plaintiffs to try their claims in a single action. In this action, one res, which is the subject of dispute by several interested parties but which cannot be divided amongst them all, is placed in the protection of the court. All parties are forced to litigate over who should receive the res. In a similar manner, the incapacitated person and his or her assets could be placed in the protection of the court while the family litigates over who would be the best guardian.
Part I of the note explains the gritty details of granny snatching by discussing infamous cases where state courts wrestled to protect incapacitated adults from their children's ill intentions. If the reader still doubts the dramatic effect this problem has on modern American families, consider the unanswered questions at the end of Part I.
Part II will explain why state action has so far been inadequate to address the problems identified in Part I. If the UAGPPJA were adopted in every state and applied uniformly, the necessity of a federal interpleader would wane. However, because the solution in the UAGPPJA uses procedural law, and because the granny-snatching scenario arises only when people are moved between states, the UAGPPJA simply cannot solve this problem unless all states adopt it. If someone were devious enough to snatch a relative from his or her home so as to exploit his or her assets, then surely that same person would not be beyond forum shopping for a state without strict jurisdictional rules.
Part III will illustrate how a statutory interpleader could resolve this dilemma. Congress could use its powers over the jurisdiction of the federal courts to create a diversity-based jurisdictional statute. It could borrow the language of the current statutory interpleader to bring all interested parties into federal court and enjoin them from bringing the case concurrently in state court. Families could use this statute to prevent parties from forum shopping and, after using the nationwide service of process available under the interpleader statute, bring the action in the state that meets the definition for personal jurisdiction (as borrowed from the UAGPPJA) over the incapacitated person. This should not circumvent any state powers, as the federal courts would apply the substantive law of the forum state.
Ultimately, this Note's goal is to offer a preventive tool for families of incapacitated persons who suspect one member of ill intentions. To be clear, this Note is not meant to discourage states from adopting the UAGPPJA. However, the focus of the Note is to offer a uniform procedural remedy for families in the event states languish on adopting the Act, or if several states interpret these provisions in divergent ways. Granny snatching can and will continue so long as one or more states open its courts for would-be snatchers.
While states have approaches outside the UAGPPJA to protect incapacitated persons, they are inadequate in preventing granny snatchers. These approaches usually involve re-examining intrastate procedural law, which completely ignores the fact that this is an interstate problem that states, acting alone, are not equipped to handle. Meanwhile, innocent people must rely on already burdened family members to protect them and hope that state courts will not behave naively if a would-be snatcher appears. To fix this problem, states either must act in unison - by passing the UAGPPJA and interpreting its provisions uniformly - or else Congress must step in to protect those who badly need a preventive solution, yet who have no voice in state courts because of their incapacity.
However, it is unclear if all 50 states will act in unison. As of early 2012, twenty states had yet to pass the UAGPPJA, and among those that have, it is yet to be seen whether they will all interpret the Act's provisions in a similar manner. If states fail to interpret the UAGPPJA provisions uniformly, a granny snatcher could weave his way through the cracks. Interstate problems need cohesive solutions. Federal procedural law, applied uniformly across all 50 states, can offer that cohesive solution to help innocent family members caring for incapacitated relatives.