Smith v. Smith, 2005 WL 3555852 (Fla. 5th DCA Dec 30, 2005)

In this case counsel for the ward argued that as a matter of law where, as happened here, there is conflicting expert testimony regarding a person’s mental competence, the trial court is precluded from finding that there is “clear and convincing evidence” to support a finding of incapacity, as required by F.S. 744.331. Orange County Judge Lawrence R. Kirkwood didn’t buy this argument, and neither did the Fifth DCA, holding as follows:

Although the two experts hired by the defense disagreed with the conclusions drawn by the examining committee, this conflict in the evidence does not preclude a finding that the evidence of incompetency was clear and convincing. Nor would conflicts in the evidence require the court to find a lack of clear and convincing evidence. A similar problem existed in Manassa v. Manassa, 738 So.2d 997, 997 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). In rejecting the argument that conflicts in the evidence precluded a finding of incompetency, the court explained: In the case at bar, the record is replete with conflicting medical reports and testimony regarding Manassa’s competence. It is the purview of the trial court to determine the credibility and weight of the evidence. See LeWinter v. Guardianship of LeWinter, 606 So.2d 387, 388 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992). This court will not reweigh the testimony and evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the trier of fact. See In re Adoption of Baby E.A.W., 658 So.2d 961, 966 (Fla.1995). The trial court noted that, with the exception of the examining committee which has seen hundreds of cases to determine incapacity, the medical reports were from physicians who are not professionals in mental health care proceedings. The examining committee opined that Mr. Manassa was incapacitated, and it recommended appointment of a plenary guardian. The trial court weighed the evidence and accepted the recommendation of the examining committee. Id. at 997-998. In Shaw v. Shaw, 334 So.2d 13 (Fla.1976), the court said that appellate courts have a right to reject “improbable testimony or evidence.” Id. at 16. However, this case does not involve improbable testimony or evidence. It involves multiple experts with competing views, and the court found the evidence of the four experts appointed by the court to be “clear and convincing evidence,” which the court properly could do.