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Babcock v. Martin

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

October 24, 2019


          On Appeal from the 32nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish "of Terrebonne State of Louisiana Trial Court Number 143, 450 Honorable Randall L. Bethancourt, Judge Presiding

          J. Ogden Middleton, II Alexandria, Louisiana Attorney for Plaintiff/Appellant, Alyson Mary Babcock

          Gregory J. Schwab Houma, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/Appellee, Charles David Martin

          Dixie C. Brown Houma, Louisiana Attorney for A.G.B.


          PENZATO, J.

         Appellant, Alyson Mary Babcock, appeals a judgment denying her rule to modify custody. For the following reasons, we affirm.


         The instant appeal is part of an ongoing child custody dispute with a longstanding factual and procedural background.[1] Ms. Babcock and Charles David Martin were never married, but had one child together, A.G.B., [2] born on September 20, 2004. Pursuant to a consent judgment dated October 3, 2005, the parties were granted joint custody of A.G.B., with Ms. Babcock designated as the domiciliary parent. On December 8, 2005, Mr. Martin filed a rule seeking sole custody of A.G.B., alleging that Ms. Babcock incorrectly gave A.G.B. medications, exaggerated A.G.B.'s medical problems to a point where harm was caused to the child, and deceived Mr. Martin and the court as to A.G.B.'s medical condition. The matter came before the court on several occasions, and ultimately on April 10, 2008, the parties agreed and consented to enter into mental health counseling utilizing Jeanne Robertson, Ph.D, LPC.

         At her initial meeting with Ms. Babcock on June 10, 2008, Dr. Robertson developed concerns that Ms. Babcock might suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP)[3] because Ms. Babcock's description of A.G.B.'s health problems, medication needed, and dietary regimen appeared to conflict with the collateral documents received. In connection with a status hearing scheduled for August 12, 2008, Dr. Robertson advised the trial court by letter of her concerns regarding the number of different doctors from whom Ms. Babcock sought medical treatment for A.G.B. Dr. Robertson further advised the trial court that Ms. Babcock stated that on A.G.B.'s chart at one doctor's office it had been suggested that she suffered from MSbP. Dr. Robertson indicated that she was not trained to determine if Ms. Babcock suffered from MSbP, and she believed it was essential that Ms. Babcock receive a complete psychological evaluation by Michael Chafetz, Ph.D., APBB.

         On August 20, 2008, Mr. Martin filed a second rule for sole custody, asserting that Ms. Babcock refused to undergo an immediate psychological evaluation by Dr. Chafetz. He also sought an ex-parte order of provisional custody, alleging that he feared for A.G.B.'s safety and welfare. The trial court granted Mr. Martin provisional custody of A.G.B., with no visitation by Ms. Babcock pending the hearing of the matter "due to the gravity of the circumstances."

         On August 29, 2008, and September 17, 2008, Dr. Chafetz conducted a psychological evaluation of Ms. Babcock, and on September 7, 2008, issued a report wherein he concluded that Ms. Babcock suffered from MSbP and should only have supervised visitation with A.G.B. After receiving Dr. Chafetz's completed report, Dr. Robertson provided an evaluation to the trial court dated September 28, 2008.

         On October 2, 2008, the matter came before the trial court for hearing. Both Dr. Chafetz's and Dr. Robertson's reports were made part of the record without objection. The parties entered into an agreement that was reduced to judgment signed December 1, 2008, granting Mr. Martin sole legal and physical custody of A.G.B. The consent judgment further decreed that Ms. Babcock was to have supervised visitation of A.G.B. upon complying with the following conditions: (1) Ms. Babcock shall begin and maintain active therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist who understands the disorders identified in Dr. Chafetz's report; (2) the mental health professional shall be approved by the trial court and report on a monthly basis to the trial court; (3) Ms. Babcock's visitation shall be supervised by a registered nurse who is acceptable to the trial court and to the parties; and (4) the trial court shall set the frequency and times of the visitation periods upon compliance with the conditions and recommendations of A.G.B.'s therapist and Ms. Babcock's therapist.

         Ms. Babcock did not appeal the December 1, 2008 judgment. On July 27, 2009, Ms. Babcock filed a rule seeking the appointment of James R. "Randy" Logan, Ph.D., as the court-appointed psychologist to provide the therapy required in the December 1, 2008 judgment. In connection therewith, Dr. Logan testified before the trial court on October 21, 2009 as to his competency to provide treatment. However, the hearing was not completed at that time, and was continued.

         Prior to the trial court's ruling on Dr. Logan's appointment as Ms. Babcock's treating psychologist, Ms. Babcock began therapy with Dr. Logan. On June 19, 2010, Dr. Logan advised the trial court by letter that after meeting with Ms. Babcock on six occasions, he was convinced that the diagnosis of MSbP must be called into question. In his opinion, the methodology used by Dr. Chafetz was inadequate and incomplete, and the data presented in Dr. Chafetz's report was inconsistent with MSbP. Dr. Logan opined that a more likely explanation was that immediately after birth A.G.B. presented with multiple life-threatening medical challenges that would likely overwhelm any parent; in the face of such complex medical issues, it was probable that Ms. Babcock's response to medical instructions was less than optimal; and as a further exacerbating variable the above issues occurred in the context of a high-conflict, intensely adversarial custody dispute. Dr. Logan advised that the primary focus of his work with Ms. Babcock was preparing her for resumption of contact with A.G.B.

         Ms. Babcock's rule to appoint psychologist was re-set for hearing on February 1, 2011. The trial court denied the appointment of Dr. Logan as treating psychologist, indicating Dr. Logan's disagreement with Dr. Chafetz's diagnosis. In a judgment signed May 23, 2011, the trial court ordered that the Department of Psychiatry at the LSU Health Science Services in Shreveport, Louisiana, (LSU-S) be approved and appointed as Ms. Babcock's treating therapist in conformity with the December 1, 2008 consent judgment. The trial court further ordered that counsel for Ms. Babcock would endeavor to make an appointment for Ms. Babcock with LSU-S, seek to procure the names of professional treating psychiatrists, and provide such names to counsel for Mr. Martin. Ms. Babcock did not appeal this judgment.

         Following a significant period of dormancy in the proceedings, on January 14, 2015, Ms. Babcock filed a "Rule to Enforce Monetary Relief and Modify Judgment." In relevant part, Ms. Babcock requested the trial court modify the custody and psychiatric care provisions of the December 1, 2008 consent judgment and May 23, 2011 order on her rule to appoint a treating psychiatrist, so as to provide her with greater access to her minor child. Ms. Babcock claimed that it was in the best interests of A.G.B. for the consent judgment to be vacated. She further requested that the trial court revise the order on her rule to ...

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