Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Special and Supplemental Needs Trust To Be Highlighted At July 21-22 Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania each summer, one of the "must attend" events for elder law attorneys is the annual 2-day Elder Law Institute sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. This year the program, in its 19th year, will take place on July 21-22. It's as much a brainstorming and strategic-thinking opportunity as it is a continuing legal education event. Every year a guest speaker highlights a "hot topic," and this year that speaker is Howard Krooks, CELA, CAP from Boca Raton, Florida. He will offer four sessions exploring Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), including an overview, drafting tips, funding rules and administration, including distributions and terminations.
Two of the most popular parts of the Institute occur at the beginning and the end, with Elder Law gurus Mariel Hazen and Rob Clofine kicking it off with their "Year in Review," covering the latest in cases, rule changes and pending developments on both a federal and state level. The solid informational bookend that closes the Institute is a candid Q & A session with officials from the Department of Human Services on how they look at legal issues affected by state Medicaid rules -- and this year that session is aptly titled "Dancing with the DHS Stars."
I admit I have missed this program -- but only twice -- and last year I felt the absence keenly, as I never quite felt "caught up" on the latest issues. So I'll be there, taking notes and even hosting a couple of sessions myself, one on the latest trends in senior housing including CCRCs, and a fun one with Dennis Pappas (and star "actor" Stan Vasiliadis) on ethics questions.
Here is a link to pricing and registration information. Just two weeks away!
July 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 24, 2016
Our friend, GW Law Professor Naomi Cahn, has shared with us a recent essay by her long-time friend, Cindy Schweich Handler, who writes of the death of her mother-in-law. This essay presents an important counterpoint to the lawsuit that Becky Morgan reports on today for our Blog, about a California lawsuit that attempts to challenge California's physician-assisted suicide law.
Ms. Handler writes with sensitivity -- and disagreement -- about the decision, at age 86, of her mother-in-law to end her own life:
Ellen is dying the way she lived: actively, with a lot of input. At 86, like so many of her contemporaries, she suffers from multiple maladies: a slow-growing leukemia called CLL; a recent mini-stroke; spinal stenosis that pains her legs and numbs her hands; recurring bouts of intestinal distress that leave her dehydrated and housebound. The ailments are awful and life-disrupting, but none of them are finishing her off. She doesn’t want to acclimate herself to wheelchairs, live-in aides and other affronts to her independent self-image. What she wants is to not treat her symptoms, to voluntarily stop eating and drinking, and to die.
While her pronouncement that she’s “had a good run” has left Harry and me sidelined with shock, our eldest son, Ted, understands....
Ted finds Ellen an excellent palliative-care doctor near her New Jersey retirement community who consults with the two of them for hours, making sure the patient isn’t suffering from a temporary, treatable depression. The doctor conference-calls with Harry and his two siblings, and they affirm that they all want what she wants. The Do Not Resuscitate and more detailed Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment forms are filled out and displayed prominently on her dining room table. Jennifer, who has experience in these situations, is available, and she can be at Ellen’s side 24/7. Everything is in place.
Then, a complication: Ellen’s independent living community prohibits outside aides from working there. For my mother-in-law to die in a hotel or apartment rented for the occasion is unthinkable to me. Harry and I are empty-nesters, with a third-floor suite that’s quiet and private. It makes sense that she should die in the guest room above our bedroom.
Although Ms. Handler and her husband provide Ellen her last place of hospice and palliative care, Ms. Handler doesn't embrace Ellen's plan:
What I don’t understand, why I have such a powerful case of cognitive dissonance, is her timing. Her retirement-home friends always remark on how she holds court in the dining hall after meals. Neat stacks of the Economist top her end table. She goes on field trips to museums, sees movies before I do. Surely she wants to stick around to see more graduations, or at least to find out what happens with the whole Donald Trump thing.
She suggests Ellen has more "good-enough years" left in her. But, as the essay explains, good enough is not good enough for a woman of Ellen's steely strength and approach to life.
For the full account, I recommend "I didn't like it, but this was the death she chose," from the Washington Post. Thank you, Naomi, for sharing this timely essay, and to Ms. Handler for her own emotional strength in writing it. The comments appearing on the Washington Post website are also important reading.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
On June 15, I logged into the National Consumer Law Center's webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders. It was very good. Both David Kirkman, who is with the Consumer Protection Division for North Carolina Department of Justice, and Naomi Karp, who is with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had the latest information on scamming trends, enforcement issues, and best practices to avoid financial exploitation. Here were some of the "take away" messages I heard:
- "Age 78" -- why might that be important? Apparently many of the organized scammers, such as the off-shore sweepstakes and lottery scams, know that by the time the average consumer reaches the age 78, there a significant chance that the consumer will have cognitive changes that make him or her more susceptible to the scammer's "pitch." As David explained, based on 5 years of enforcement data from North Carolina, "mild cognitive impairment" creates the "happy hunting ground" for the scammer.
- "I make 'em feel like they are Somebody again." That's how one scammer explained and rationalized his approach to older adults. By offering them that chance to make "the deal," to invest in theoretically profitable ventures, to be engaged in important financial transactions, he's making them feel important once again. That "reaction" by the older consumer also complicates efforts to terminate the scamming relationship. David played a brief excerpt of an interview with an older woman, who once confronted with the reality of a so-called Jamaican sweepstakes lottery, seemed to make a firm promise "not to send any more money." Yet, three days later, she sent off another $800, and lost a total of some $92k to the scammers in two years.
- "Psychological reactives." That's what David described as a phenomenon that can occur where the victim of the scam continues to play into the scam because the scammer is offering the victim praise and validation, while a family member or law enforcement official trying to dissuade the victim from continuing with the scam makes him or her feel "at fault" or "foolish." An indirect, oblique approach may be necessary to help the victim understand. One strategy to offset the unhelpful psychological reaction was to show the victim how he or she may help others to avoid serious financial losses.
- "Financial Institutions are increasingly part of the solution." According to Naomi, about half of all states now mandate reporting of suspected financial abuse, either by making banks and credit unions mandatory reporters or by making "all individuals" who suspect such fraud mandatory reporters. Both David and Naomi said they are starting to see real results from mandatory reporters who have helped to thwart fraudsters and thereby have prevented additional losses.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several publications that offer educational materials to targeted audiences about financial abuse. One example was the CFPB's 44-page manual for assisted living and nursing facilities, titled "Protecting Residents from Financial Exploitation."
June 21, 2016 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, June 17, 2016
The ABA's Bifocal publication includes a new resource guide designed to help lawyers identify and help to implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianships.
The "PRACTICAL Tool," with the first word intended to serve as an acronym for nine steps that a lawyer can use to identify legal and practical approaches, includes:
- Presume guardianship is not needed
- clearly identify the Reasons for concern;
- Ask if a triggering concern may be temporary;
- determining whether the concerns can be addressed by Community resources;
- ask if the person already has a Team to help make decisions;
- Identify the person's abilities;
- screen for potential Challenges;
- Appoint a legal support consistent with the person's values; and
- Limit any necessary guardianship petition.
For more, read Resource for Lawyers Targets Options Less Restrictive than Guardianship, Bifocal, the Journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Volume 37, Issue 5.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
A recent court decision in New York details the extraordinary efforts made by an individual to take advantage of a former co-worker as she aged and became affected by dementia. One of the tools of abuse was a Power of Attorney, dated 2010, that he reportedly used as his authority to isolate her from family members. The court found that he was able to then manipulate her as he controlled her finances, having the woman sign checks he later claimed were "gifts," for purposes such as to "defray costs of his visit to France to see his daughter," "to help him buy a house in Normandy," or to cover "the costs of his art exhibit in Paris." Ultimately, the court concluded that the respondent/defendant, who under New York law was in the role of fiduciary as an appointed agent, could not satisfy his burden of proof to show the alleged gifts were free from undue influence.
The trial level court entered an order finding him liable for $122,000 plus costs and interest, and restraining him from "transferring, using, spending or hypothecating any of his assets" until the judgment was paid. See Matter of Mitchell, 2016 NY Slip Opinion 50853(U), decided June 3, 2016 by the New York Supreme court, Kings County.
That is the "befriender" side of the issues. However, the court also addressed the possibility of a will executed in 2013. The discussion of the will brings into play the role of an attorney who was called by the defendant to testify at the hearing on the gift transactions, apparently in an attempt to bolster his arguments about the woman's capacity. That plan backfired.
The way it all plays out through the testimony, as recounted by the judge in his opinion, raises important questions about what could or should the lawyer have done differently.
The court wrote:
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
In a recent McKnight's News column, Registered Nurse Pam McKnally wrote an interesting and candid account of "What It's Like to Be a Nurse Whistleblower." Her experiences with retaliation -- indeed bullying-- after she complied with laws requiring to her report observations of improper use of narcotics in the workplace led her and others to advocate for changes in the law.
In April 2016, in response to the experiences of McKnally and others, Nebraska enacted changes to state law, prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers and mandating confidentiality for the identities of anyone making reports of violations by "credentialed" health care providers. Nebraska Legislative Bill 750, amending Nebraska's law that governs a broad range of health care providers, specifies:
An individual or a business credentialed pursuant to the Uniform Credentialing Act shall not discriminate or retaliate against any person who has initiated or participated in the making of a report under the act to the department of [health and human services]. Such person may maintain an action for any type of relief, including injunctive and declaratory relief, permitted by law.
Further, the law now provides that "The identity of any person making such a report [of suspected violations] or providing information leading to the making of a report shall be confidential" and further, "The identify of any person making a report, providing information leading to the making of a report, or otherwise providing information to the department, a board, or the Attorney General included in such reports, complaints or investigational records shall be confidential whether or not the record of the investigation becomes a public record."
Whether the changes to Nebraska law, especially in the absence of a specific statutory sanction for retaliation or breach of confidentiality, will be effective to address the backlash experienced by McNally will bear monitoring. She cautions:
I resigned, as my work life was intolerable, and it was clear that I was about to get fired. The EOC investigated my claims. The costs in employee hours and attorney fees, plus fines for violations can be astronomical. Had the situation been handled differently by the Human Resource department, the outcome may have been much different.
It is time for employers to stop blaming and discrediting professionals who simply follow the law and advocate for themselves and their patients....
When nurses are happy they work hard. They are loyal and seek out constructive ways to help their organization deal with conflict. In long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid cuts mean money needs to be saved now more than ever. Keeping a business viable includes mitigating the need for attorneys and dealing with nurse turnover.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Professor Laura L. Carstensen, PhD, who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has an intriguing essay in a recent issue of Time magazine, focusing on research on social engagement among the Boomer generation. She writes
The 55-to-65-year olds just about to join the ranks of the elderly are far less socially engaged now than their predecessors were at the same age 20 years ago. And this pattern emerged across all traditional measures of social engagement: Boomers are less likely to participate in community or religious organizations than were their counterparts 20 years ago. They are less likely to be married. They talk with their neighbors less frequently. And it doesn't stop with participation in communities and neighborhoods: boomers report fewer meaningful interactions with their spouses and partners than did previous generations, and they report weaker ties to family and friends.
She asks, "Should we be worried about these trends?" For her answers, read "Baby Boomers are Isolating Themselves as They Age." (Hint, the subtitle says: "That's bad -- for everyone.")
Friday, June 10, 2016
Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law
Adult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father. Williford alleged that her father, Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition. She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.
Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.
In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.
In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford. Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief. That statute says:
The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.
The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with parents. "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."
In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will."
This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."
June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Florida State Law Professor (and friend) Marshall Kapp has a new article out, and my recent post "He Died with Guns in His Closet" triggered him to share it with us. Marshall tackles the challenging topic of "The Physician's Responsibility Concerning Firearms and Older Patients," with thoughtfulness and candor.
Professor Kapp opens with observations and predictions about the potential for Americans to continue to own firearms as they age, even if they have declining cognition. He writes:
In the general population, the presence of firearms in the home is positively associated with the risk for completed suicide and being the victim of homicide. It is well-documented that “[g]un ownership and availability are common among the elderly”and that the rate of use of guns in suicides and homicides by older Americans is significant. Firearms, along with falls and motor vehicle accidents, cause the most traumatic brain injury deaths in the U.S. for people over age 75.
Mental illness has been found to be strongly associated with increased risk of suicide involving firearms. The disproportionate incidence and prevalence of cognitive and emotional disorders such as dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and depression--often presenting themselves simultaneously and exacerbating each other--among older persons has been identified clearly. However, many persons with such disorders do not receive a formal clinical evaluation for those issues. Age-associated decline in health status, in combination with other factors, is a risk factor for dementia.
Professor Kapp examines state laws and the collective role of the medical profession regarding firearms as a public health matter, including specific ideas about what might be an individual doctor's "duty to inquire about or report on access to weapons for a patient who demonstrates cognitive changes," and the potential for any such "duty" to impact patient choices about treatment. For example, he reports:
Under current law, physicians, with the possible exception of those practicing in Florida, have latitude to act according to their own discretion when it comes to questioning their patients about guns in the home in this context. According to a coalition of leading health professional organizations and the ABA, physicians are able to intervene with patients whose access to firearms puts them at risk of injuring themselves or others. Such intervention may entail speaking freely to patients in a nonjudgmental way, giving them safety-related factual information, answering patients' questions, advising them about behaviors that promote health and safety, and documenting these conversations in the patient's medical record (just as the physician would document conversations with their patients regarding other kinds of health-related behaviors).
On free speech implications, he writes:
The courts thus far are split in their responses to First Amendment challenges to compelled medical speech brought by physicians qua physicians in their role as patient fiduciaries or trust agents (as opposed to claims brought by physicians seeking protection in their capacity as ordinary citizens). Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for requiring that state laws compelling particular speech by physicians in their physician role be examined under at least a strict scrutiny standard.
And to further whet your appetite for reading the full article, in his conclusion, Professor Kapp advocates for certain changes in state law, including:
State statutes should authorize physicians to inquire of and about their older patients regarding patient access to firearms in the home and to counsel the patient, family members, and housemates about firearms safety, up to and including recommending that firearms be kept away from the patient. However, the states should not enact legislation that positively requires the physician to make such inquiries and engage in counseling, although states should consider a tort standard of care evolving through the common law in a direction that imposes an affirmative obligation on the physician to inquire and counsel.
The full article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.
June 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
John Oliver, in his typically over-the-top, but still informative manner, focuses on the industry of debt collection and how it can be especially troublesome for older adults. Indeed, when I was running an Elder Protection Clinic for Dickinson Law, a significant percentage of our clients were struggling with "old" debts, often connected to health care costs, and were dealing with aggressive attempts to recover what has come to be known as "zombie debt." One woman interviewed about $80k in debt arising out of denial for insurance coverage for her elderly husband's hospitalization for breathing problems, describes her fear and frustration after a lifetime of working and saving. She asks, "Is this how my life is going to end?"
Our thanks to Karen Miller, Esq., in Florida, for sending this link.
We've reported earlier, including here and here, about recent financial and management issues at a Tampa, Florida continuing care retirement community that operates under the name of University Village. The latest event is the May 31, 2016 order of an administrative law judge that would uphold the decision of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to revoke the license for operation of a skilled nursing facility at University Village..
Many of the concerns appear to focus on the alleged action (or inaction) of an individual, John Bartle, who is described as holding various titles in the company that controls the CCRC's operations. At one point, the Administrative Law Judge made clear his view on Bartle's testimony:
The letter and the email reveal Mr. Bartle’s view that deadlines established by regulatory authorities performing the duties imposed on them for the protection of the public by the Legislature are not significant. This disregard, if not disdain, for the statutes and rules governing nursing home services and the enforcement of them is patent in the letter and e-mail, Mr. Bartle’s dismissive testimony about the shifting relationships of the various entities, his demeanor when testifying, and his evasive manner of answering questions when testifying. For these reasons, Mr. Bartle’s denial of the March 3 letter and much of his uncorroborated testimony are not accepted as credible.
My thanks to Karen Miller, Esq. for sharing this unusual ruling.
Friday, June 3, 2016
"He Died with Guns in His Closet." That's the provocative (and effective) title of an upcoming continuing legal education program (3 credits) in Pennsylvania. The half-day Pennsylvania Bar Institute program will be offered live in Pittsburgh on June 8, and both in-person (Mechanicsburg) and by webcast/simulcast on June 16. The program will address "new regulations for gun trusts that go into effect on July 13, 2016;" acquisition, possession disposition and transportation of firearms; how people become disqualified to interact with firearms; gun trusts; and the National Firearms Act's implications for trust and estate practitioners.
Last fall, I was at a statewide meeting of continuing care community residents in the Southeastern part of the US, and I admit I was startled when residents raised the topic of "what to do about guns" in their CCRCs.
Here's a link to the CLE details. My thanks to Pennsylvania practitioner and great estate planning adjunct professor Vicky Trimmer for alerting me both to the changes in the law and this upcoming program.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Recently I was at a dinner party with academics from across the spectrum of my university. As often happens, a group of us seated together for the meal swapped basic information about what we do in our day jobs. It was a fun group of art professors, special education specialists, and even an agricultural economist. We talked art and politics across the board. I had at first identified myself only as a professor at the law school, but during a lull in the conversation I explained my area was "law and aging" generally and more specifically the work of elder law attorneys. Ears perked up.
I had that experience that I suspect doctors have all the time. Everyone at the table had a question or story to tell of their family's recent aging issue. And as I listened, I recognized a common theme among these skilled, thoughtful professionals. I kept hearing that we knew "mom" or "aunt" or "grandpa" was getting older, and we offered help, but the help we offered either wasn't enough or was rejected outright. And often, the second part of their stories involved a "crisis." A particularly poignant example was the caring granddaughter who cooked and froze two weeks of meals for her frail, housebound grandmother, only to realize that her grandmother's "little bit of confusion" resulted in her opening all of the 14 days of dinners on the very first day. It precipitated a diabetic crisis for the grandmother, as well as the loss of the majority of the food.
Over the dinner, I was surprised to find myself talking a lot about what is dementia (and does it differ from Alzheimer's) and whether it can be distinguished from "temporary" conditions that cause short term confusion. Everyone at the table was searching for answers and admitting they didn't know enough before the crisis event. And I could completely empathize, because even with some 20 years of being fairly deeply immersed in elder care issues, I am regularly surprised by some new topic or challenge in my own family.
I had good reason to think about the party conversation again while listening to WITF-FM Public Radio's Smart Talk program on June 2. The program's guests were Dr. Linda Rhodes, the former Secretary of Aging for Pennsylvania, and Joan Krechmer, a geriatric care manager and the executive director for Jewish Family Services, in York, Pennsylvania and the topic was "Caring for Mom, Dad and Kids." Lots of people calling in and writing with very specific questions, and many of the questions were triggered by both crisis events and chronic care issues.
An example of one question was from a family member who was told the family had "24 hours" to decide about a skilled nursing facility when their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. "There is barely time to do the research" the program guests were talking about. And that is true. Even though federal law imposes a protocol on hospitals about discharge notices, and even provides a mechanism for informal appeal, which if triggered properly can automatically result in more time, most people simply won't know about that short-term remedy in advance.
The Smart Talk radio program is part of a larger series of events on the topic of family care-giving, including airing of the PBS television documentary on Caring for Mom & Dad and in-person sessions at area locations to talk about advance planning and identify resources in advance of a crisis.
Linda Rhodes, the former PA Secretary of Aging has written her own book, Caring for Aging Parents: The Essential Guide.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The latest issue of Experience, the magazine of the Senior Lawyers Division of the ABA is devoted to elder driving. Eight articles are devoted to the issue of driving. The magazine also includes articles on estate planning, technology and ethics. The entire issue is available here. Links to individual articles are also accessible from here.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Plaintiffs' Class Certified in Dispute over LTC Insurance Coverage for Care by "Managed Residential Communities" or "Assisted Living Services Agencies"
As we've reported fairly often on this Blog (see e.g., here, re California litigation), the long-term care insurance (LTCI) industry has been battling disputes on many fronts. One of the fronts is whether insurers can deny benefits to pay for care provided in settings other than "skilled nursing facilities." On March 1, 2016, a federal court in Connecticut granted class certification to estates and policy holders who are challenging denial of coverage for stays in "managed residential communities" (MRCs) in Connecticut or to cover services provided through "assisted living services agencies" (ALSAs). In Estate of Gardner v. Continental Casualty Company, 2016 WL 806823, the court agreed the plaintiffs had satisfied the class certification requirements for "numerosity," commonality, and typicality of issues, as well as establishing grounds to argue "imminence of injury" to support a claim for injunctive relief:
While Plaintiffs do seek monetary relief, it appears to the Court that what they primarily seek is forward-looking relief. Plaintiffs purchased long-term care policies, presumably with the expectation that they would utilize their coverage over a long term. Any adequate remedy would have to ensure that they could obtain coverage for claims prospectively. For that, an injunction is required. Moreover, Plaintiffs leave no ambiguity about the content of the injunction they seek: an end to Defendant's alleged policy of denying claims for assisted-living facilities across the board. This is exactly the type of relief Rule 23(b)(2) was designed to facilitate. Because Plaintiffs' proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 23, certification is proper.
For more on the background of the Connecticut case, see "Connecticut class action accuses insurer of denying assisted-living claims."
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
On April 28, 2016, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed an award of some $145k in damages to an elderly couple for breach of a "Life Care" contract by their residential community. In Barton Creek Senior Living Center, d/b/a Querencia at Barton Creek v. Howland, the residential community staff attempted to refuse to communicate with the children of a couple, in their 80s, on the reported grounds that "communication with their children was unworkable because of the discord with the children." The facility, Querencia, reportedly soon "terminated the Life Care Agreement with the Howlands and ordered them to vacate the premises within thirty days." The Howlands did vacate the premises, moving to an assisted living community with a different pricing and service structure; however, they contended they were denied the "benefit of their bargain" with Querencia.
On appeal, Querencia does not challenge the finding that it failed to comply with the Life Care Agreement, but contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the damages awarded to Howland. Specifically, Querencia argues that the damages cannot be tied to the pre-termination notice being 30 days instead of [the contract's specified notice of] 60 days. It also contends that Howland does not deserve damages for assistive services used after termination that they were already using before termination. Finally, Querencia contends that it properly withheld ten percent of the Howlands' deposit pursuant to their contract.
The appellate court rejected these arguments with a textbook discussion of remedies for breach of contract necessary to protect the non-breaching party's expectation interest:
Although the Howlands employed private care providers while at Querencia, there is evidence that the Howlands' move to The Summit increased their monthly expenses because the monthly rent was higher at The Summit, it provided fewer services than Querencia, and services at The Summit were more expensive.... Howland claimed over a million dollars in damages, Querencia countered that Howland profited from the breach, and the jury awarded Howland $82,500 plus the unrefunded deposit. The evidence in the record supports the jury's exercise of its role as factfinder regarding the damages award. The evidence also supports the jury's award of $62,990 representing the portion of the Howlands' deposit that Querencia did not refund. Querencia asserts that it was entitled to retain ten percent of the Howlands' deposit under the terms of the Life Care Agreement. But the jury found that Querencia breached that agreement, and restitution is a permissible measure of damages for breach of contract.... The jury was empowered to and did decide that Querencia must compensate for its breach by returning the final ten percent of the Howlands' deposit.
The finding of breach appeared to have been predicated on the contract's specified grounds permitting termination, which included fairly standard provisions such as inability to meet medical needs, nonpayment by the residents, or a resident's breach of "policies and procedures" that create a situation that is "detrimental to the health, safety or quiet enjoyment of the community by other residents or the staff." The court appeared to be persuaded by the argument that Querencia failed to comply with a further contractual provision, mandating parties be given an "opportunity-to-cure" in the event of disputes.
Despite the affirmance on damages, the appellate court also set aside the trial court's award of $166k in attorney's fees for the plaintiffs, rejecting a "lodestar" argument for the award, and remanded the case for further proceedings on reasonable and necessary fees.
In reading the opinion (and the headnotes from Westlaw on the opinion, which refer to Querencia as a "nursing home"), I'm struck once again by the confusion that "continuing care" contracts, including so-called "life care" contracts, can cause for parties, although usually any landmines tend to affect resident rights, rather than providers. Thus, I would anticipate that in the future, providers worried about protecting their right to terminate relations with "troublesome" individuals, will attempt to beef up their "policies and procedures," to give clearer rights to refuse to communicate with troublesome family members of residents.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I've reached that annual ritual known as "let's clean off my desk because that is more fun than grading exams." Always a good opportunity to find a few treasures that escaped my closer attention during the academic year. And along that line, I was intrigued to find the two-part series on "Alternative Litigation Finance," written by Holland and Knight attorneys Robert Barton and Wendy Walker.
What Is Alternative Litigation Finance? The structure of a litigation finance deal can vary significantly depending on the type of case, the company involved, the stage of the case when funding is sought, the amount of money requested, and many other factors. At its core, though, ALF is the advancement of funds to attorneys or clients by a thirdparty company to pay legal fees and costs related to litigation. In general, a litigation funder makes a return on the funds, whether through interest earned over the life of the advance, a multiple of the advanced amount, or a percentage of the recovery paid to the client at the conclusion of the matter. The transaction is typically nonrecourse, meaning the company only recovers to the extent that the client recovers. The funder does not look to the client’s other assets, beyond the settlement or judgment, to satisfy the repayment of the funds. In some circumstances, however, the client may offer additional collateral to secure the amount needed.
To provide maximum protection for the client, at the outset of a new matter, an attorney should request a written confidentiality agreement among the funder, the client, and the attorney. The agreement should provide the express recognition that any nonprivileged, but confidential, information that is shared is done so with the intent to maintain its confidential nature. Although not a full guarantee against future disclosure, such an agreement does demonstrate the intention of the parties and has been a persuasive argument to courts evaluating disputed discovery issues.
These articles originally appeared in the ABA's publication, Probate and Property, with the second of the two articles published in the November/December 2015 issue. (The good news is that by waiting a bit, both of these articles are now available on the web, and not just through the ABA subscription.)
Friday, May 13, 2016
Evict, Reject, Discharge: Are Nursing Homes Following the Rules or Is the Problem Bigger than "Rules"?
My colleague Becky Morgan posted earlier this week on the AP news story on nursing homes' attempts to evict difficult patients. This week the ABA Journal also linked to the AP story, plus tied the statistical reports of a nation-wide increase in complaints about evictions, rejections and discharges to one man's struggle to return to his California care center following what should have been short term hospitalization for pneumonia.
The story of Bruce Anderson is a reminder that a need for high-quality, facility-based "long term " care is not limited to "elderly" individuals. But it is also a reminder that individuals with serious behavioral issues, not just physical care needs, complicate the picture. Anderson experienced a severe brain injury at age 55 following a heart attack, but his younger age, lack of "private pay resources," and a history of apparently problematic behavior, are all reasons why a "traditional" nursing home may seek to avoid him as a resident.
The ongoing California litigation over Mr. Anderson and similarly situated residents heightens the need to think critically about whether we're being naive as a nation about "home is best" shifting of funding resources. Certainly there are many -- and probably too many -- individuals in facilities when they could be maintained at home if there was more funding to supplement family-based care.
At the same time, I tend to see this as downplaying the very real needs for high-level, behavioral care for individuals who aren't easily cared for by families or "traditional" nursing homes, much less by hospitals organized around critical care. It is about more than mere eviction, discharge and rejection statistics. The 1999 Olmstead decision was a watershed moment in recognizing the need for de-institutionalization of those with disabilities. But it may have pasted over the real need for quality of assistance and care in any and all settings, and what that means in terms of costs to a nation.
My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law who took time away from the fun of grading her exams to send us the ABA story.
Friday, April 29, 2016
It seems nursing home operators are calling upon some of the same "trade practice" laws they are sometimes accused of violating, in an effort to thwart what the operators see as misleading advertising by personal injury attorneys.
One of the latest suits has reached the Georgia Supreme court, where the Mississippi-based law firm of McHugh Fuller Group is seeking to overturn a lower court's injunction preventing it from running a statewide ad campaign, including full-page color ads, seeking potential clients who "suspect that a loved one was NEGLECTED or ABUSED" by a nursing home run by PruittHealth, Inc. From an April 27, 2016 Georgia Courts' summary of parties' arguments before the high court:
PruittHealth sued the law firm under the Georgia Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which authorizes a court to issue an injunction (a court order requiring a certain action be halted) against anyone who uses someone’s trade name without permission if there is even a “likelihood” that the use will injure the business reputation of the owner or dilute its trade name or mark. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order against the law group, scheduled a hearing and notified the parties that it intended to consider PruittHealth’s request for a permanent injunction. The trial court issued another order on June 1, 2015, permanently stopping the law group from running ads that used PruittHealth’s trade names, service marks, or other trade styles. The law group filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. The law firm is now appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court....
The law group argues, among other things, that the court erred in determining the ads violated Georgia Code section 10-1-451(b), which is called Georgia’s “antidilution statute.” That statute says dilution occurs “where the use of the trademark by the subsequent user will lessen the uniqueness of the prior user’s mark with the possible future result that a strong mark may become a weak mark.” The law firm argues that it is not eroding the strength of PruittHealth’s mark, but is only identifying specific nursing homes against which it is accepting cases, and that PruittHealth failed to demonstrate that actual injury occurred as a result of the ads.
This isn't the first time that the McHugh Fuller Law Group has been on the receiving end of a lawsuit by a nursing home company. In February 2015, Heartland of Portsmouth in Ohio and McHugh Fuller Law Group were in federal court arguing about diversity jurisdiction over Heartland's claim the law firm was using "false and misleading advertising in order to encourage tort litigation" against the nursing home's operations in Ohio. Similar litigation, seeking injunctive relief, was underway by Genesis Healthcare Corporation against the McHugh Fuller firm in West Virginia in 2007, although it is unclear from my research whether either of those cases reached a final resolutions.
My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry, Dickinson Law, for pointing me to this ABA Journal post that encouraged my search for more about these cases.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Southern California attorney and mediator Jill Switzer, who writes columns for Above the Law as "Old Lady Lawyer," uses lyrics from Kenny Rodger's The Gambler as part of her theme in a recent essay. She asks whether lawyers prepare themselves, not just financially, but emotionally, to retire at the right time. Suggesting the answer is "probably not," Switzer draws on data from a recent California State Bar survey:
On its website, the State Bar of California recently asked its lawyers “how long do you plan to keep practicing law?” The poll was completely unscientific, as it didn’t tally the results by age, years in practice, or any other criteria whatsoever. However, the result was not surprising, at least to this dinosaur: more than fifty percent of the responding lawyers said they would continue to practice as long as they are able. (Ten percent or so said they were looking to switch careers as soon as possible, approximately twenty percent said that they hoped to take early retirement, and approximately fifteen percent said they’d practice until they turned sixty-five. Note to millennials: the retirement age at which you can start receiving full Social Security benefits is creeping upward.)
And speaking of "farewell," did you notice that Above the Law recently terminated the "comments" option for readers of the frequently sharp-tongued blog? Details here, and I suspect a few readers might view this change as somewhat ironic.