Monday, December 9, 2013
As readers of this blog will be aware from previous posts, Pennsylvania courts are willing to enforce the Commonwealth's filial support law. The law, at 23 Pa. C.S.A. Section 4603, makes spouses, parents or adult children potentially liable to "care for and maintain or financially assist" each other where the care-needing family member is "indigent." Pennsylvania's law has been interpreted as giving nursing homes or other third-party caregivers standing to sue.
The suits can cross state lines, usually because the target defendant is an out-of-state son or daughter of a nursing home resident in Pennsylvania, thus creating potentially interesting questions of personal jurisdiction. But the latest suit I've seen is an interesting twist on that fact pattern.
In Eades v. Kennedy, P.C. Law Offices, filed in United States District Court for the Western District of New York, a New York husband and daughter are the plaintiffs, suing a Pennsylvania law firm that attempted to collect a nursing home debt "by means of at least one item of correspondence and at least one telephone call." The plaintiffs in the New York suit are also apparently defendants in a Pennsylvania lawsuit filed by the nursing home. At issue is a bill for $8,000. The nursing home in question, located in Corry, Pennsylvania, is just a few miles south of the New York state line.
In the New York suit, Eades asserts that the collection attempts violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and further that the law firm's allegations of their liability under Pennsylvania's filial support law is "preempted" by federal Medicare/Medicaid law, under a provision of the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) that bars a nursing home from requiring "a third party guarantee of payment to the facility as a condition of admission."
The New York federal district court dismisses the suit, concluding that there is no "jurisdiction," apparently both on subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction grounds. But then the ruling gets more interesting. The court proceeds to address the substantive claims by the family members, and seems to conclude that a cause of action under the FDCPA is not triggered by a "support" claim, including a filial support claim. Further, the court suggests there is no preemption under federal law for the following reasons:
"The NHRA holds that nursing homes may not require an individual's relatives to assume personal liability for the individual's care as a condition of admission or continued residence in the facility. The Pennsylvania indigent statute cannot be said to cover the same territory: it merely holds that where a resident is or becomes indigent, a nursing home may seek payment or reimbursement for the resident's care from their spouse, children or parents. It does not bypass the NHRA by permitting or excusing the assumption of personal liability by a relative for a nursing home resident's care as a consideration of admission or continued residence -- the sole evil that the NHRA ... appears to have been intended to prevent."
On December 3, 2013, the New York court dismissed the father/daughter's amended complaint for failure to "state a claim." The case is Eades v. Kennedy, P.C. Law Offices, No. 12-CV-66801, 2013 WL 6241272 (W.D. N.Y. 2013).