Thursday, October 1, 2015

Michigan Supreme Court Invites Amicus Briefs From Elder Law & Disability Law Organizations

The Michigan Supreme Court recently invited amicus briefing by Elder Law attorneys and Disability Rights attorneys, in advance of oral argument in an interesting case involving a nursing home resident's claims of false imprisonment by the facility. The legal question of what is sometimes referred to as an "involuntary" admission for care initiated by family members or concerned others acting as "agents" for an unhappy or uncooperative principal, is important and challenging, especially if accompanied by conflicting assessments of mental capacity.

Following the Michigan Court of Appeals' 2014 ruling in  Estate of Roush v. Laurels of Carson City LLC, in September 2015 the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether there are genuine issues of material fact on the resident's claim of falsely imprisonment for a period of approximately two weeks.  Ms. Roush alleges the nursing home acted improperly in reliance on her "patient advocate," claiming that she was fully able to make health care decisions for herself, and therefore there were no legally valid grounds for her advocate to trump her wishes. Alternatively, Ms. Roush argued she validly terminated the patient advocate's authority.

In Michigan, individuals may appoint a statutorily-designated "patient advocate," with limited authority as an agent for certain health care decisions.  Michigan law provides at M.C.L.A. Section 700.5506 that: "The [written] patient advocate designation must include a statement that the authority conferred under this section is exercisable only when the patient is unable to participate in medical or mental health treatment decisions...."

The Supreme Court's order identified specific issues for additional briefing by the parties. Further, the court expressly invited the "Elder Law and Disability Rights Section of the State Bar of Michigan. . . to file a brief amicus curiae. Other persons or groups interested in determination of the issues presented in this case may move the Court for permission to file briefs amicus curiae."

October 1, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Mexico Appeals Court: No Physician Aid-in-Dying

The New Mexico Court of Appeals issued its opinion in August in the case of Morris, et al v.Brandenburg. The trial court had previously ruled that the statute in question, N.M. § 30-2-4 was unconstitutional.  The appellate court determined that "[t]he question presented is whether this statute may constitutionally be applied to criminalize a willing physician's act of providing a lethal dose of a prescribed medication at the request of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient who wishes a peaceful end of life (aid in dying) as an alternative to one potentially marked by suffering, pain, and/or the loss of autonomy and dignity." id. at (1). The trial court had found a fundamental liberty interest to have physician aid-in-dying under the state constitution, but the appellate court disagreed. id.

Aid in dying, the medical concept of dying with autonomy and dignity, is a relatively recent human phenomena and deserves appropriate public evaluation and consideration. However, as a new legal consideration, it must also be carefully weighed against longstanding societal principles such as preventing a person from taking the life of another; preventing suicide; preventing assisted suicide; promoting the integrity, healing, and life preserving principles of the medical profession; protecting vulnerable groups from unwanted pressure to considering aid in dying as the best alternative to other medical options; and promoting human life where aid in dying is not the appropriate medical option despite a patient's request for its use... The recent advances in life-prolonging medical care and the public acceptance of aid in dying in some states has not diminished the other longstanding societal principles and concerns regarding intentional killing, the dying process, the preservation of life, and the basic life saving principles embedded in the medical profession.

Id. at ¶ 37 (citations omitted). The appellate court goes on to note that the dying process itself and the resulting death are not included in the state's constitutional enumerated rights and " can only qualify as inferences that might exist within the categories of liberty or happiness." id. at ¶ 41. The court also had concerns regarding the narrow application of the right as it would only apply to certain citizens who are terminally ill, death within a certain time, etc.  id. at ¶¶ 45-47 After reviewing the remaining arguments of the plaintiffs, the majority ruled. 

We reverse the district court's ruling that aid in dying is a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order permanently enjoining the State from enforcing Section 30-2-4. We affirm the district court's determination that, for statutory construction purposes, Section 30-2-4 prohibits aid in dying. Separate from the Concurring Opinion, I would also remand this case to the district court to make any further findings it deems necessary, to conduct both an intermediate scrutiny and rational basis review of Section 30-2-4, as well as dispose of Plaintiffs' remaining claims.

Id.  at ¶ 54. The opinion includes concurring and dissenting opinions.


September 15, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida to Consider Establishment of "Office of Public and Professional Guardians"

As we have tracked recently on this Blog, in a number of states, including Florida and Nevada, serious questions have been raised about the roles of guardians for disabled and elderly persons, and the extent to which there should be public oversight of guardians, especially "paid" guardians, including public guardians, "professional" guardians or "private" guardians. 

In Florida, newly proposed legislation, Senate Bill 232 (filed in September 2015) would seek to clarify state oversight of all guardians, following on the heels of amendments to Florida state law enacted in mid-2015.  Florida's legislature may take up the latest bill early in 2016, according to media reports.  Key provisions in the bill include:

  • renaming of the current office of "public guardianships," with expanded duties and responsibilities, to create the "Office of and Professional Guardians;"
  • addition of findings about the potential need for a "public guardian" where there is "no willing and responsible family member or friend, other person, bank, or corporation available to serve;"
  • a requirement that "professional" guardians "shall" register with the state;
  • directions to establish a comprehensive system for receipt and state action on complaints made about professional guardians.

From reading SB 232, it seems to me there may be some attempt to appease the concerns about the potential for overregulation of so-called "professional" guardians, as new language in Section 744.2001  requires development and implementation of a new "monitoring tool to ensure compliance of professional guardians with standards" set by the Office, but this "monitoring tool may not include a financial audit " as specified in another section of the law (emphasis added).

Funding will be needed to make expanded oversight effective.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has reacted favorably to the latest proposal


September 15, 2015 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

What is the Legal Significance of "Scores" in Mental Status Exams?

In a recent decision in a complicated and long-running guardianship case, an appellate court in Illinois highlights a topic I'm seeing more and more often: How should courts "value" scores given by evaluators on mental status exams, especially when addressing guardianship issues? 

The most recent opinion in Estate of Koenen, issued August 31, 2015, described testimony from multiple witnesses about the mental status of a man in a "plenary guardianship" proceeding.   In two reports, from physicians chosen by the individual, the medical experts opined he was "capable of making his own personal and financial decisions." Another witness, a psychiatrist, was appointed by the court to evaluate the individual's "ability to make personal and financial decisions."  Ultimately, the lower court concluded the individual was unable to manage his affairs.

On appeal, a central issue was the lower court's reliance on the court-appointed expert.  Part of the psychiatrist's testimony was that the man "scored 26 out of 30, at the low end of the normal range" on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA)" administered in January 2012, a test that was described by the court as a "twelve-minute test with standardized questions, as well as writing and 'copying' tests."  The psychiatrist also testified that in January 2013 he tested the man again with a score on the MOCA that was "now 22 out of 30 which was 'fully consistent with dementia.'" 

Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, noting the extensive use of interviews and other data collection by the court-appointed physician to support the findings of incapacity.  The appellate court seemed interested however, in the actual number scores, taking note that the court-appointed expert discounted scores reported by the individual's preferred physicians on "Folstein or 'mini-mental' examination[s]" on the grounds that the MOCA test was more sensitive "for dementia." 

Reading this challenging case is a reminder of the ABA-APA Handbooks, for attorneys, psychologists, and judges, on assessing capacity of older adults.  The Handbook for Judges describes a host of cognitive and neuropsychological testing tools, although it appears neither the MOCA test or the Folstein test is described.  Is "standardization" of testing for purposes of legal capacity decisions needed? 

September 11, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

New York Ethics Opinion Addresses Potential Conflicts in Elder Law Practice

A New York ethics opinion issued July 27, 2015 is a useful reminder of the possibility -- indeed probability -- that law firms well known for specializing in elder law or estate planning may be approached by successive generations of family members, thus creating potential issues of confidentiality (and more). 

In the matter under consideration, involving a small law firm that practiced "primarily in the fields of estate planning and administration, trusts  and elder law," two of the lawyers had a long relationship with a "father," including representation of the father in a contested adult guardianship case. 

Later, a different lawyer in the firm met with a "son" of the father to discuss personal estate planning following a "public seminar" hosted by the firm.  That lawyer did not conduct a "conflict check" before a first meeting, one on-one, with the son.  (One can see how a law firm might be tempted to skip or delay a step in conflict-checking when organizing these kinds of business-generating efforts, a potential not directly addressed in the New York opinion. Would disclaimers or warnings about "client relationships" not forming immediately remedy potential problems -- or perhaps make them even more complicated?)

The law firm, upon discovering the potential for concerns, made the decision not to go forward with representation of the son, and then asked the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics for guidance on whether rules either "required" or "permitted" the law firm to disclose to the father the son's request for representation, or whether the firm was prohibited from further representation of the father.

For the New York ethics committee's interesting analysis,  see New York Ethics Opinion 1067.  For a contrasting "multi-generational" representation problem involving a husband's undisclosed "heir," see A. v. B., decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1999, a case that is a good springboard for discussion of professional responsibilities for attorneys in the course on Wills, Trust & Estates (as I discovered in the Dukeminer/Sitkoff textbook). 

September 10, 2015 in Books, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Who "Owns" Funds in Joint Accounts -- and Why Might It Matter for Medicaid Purposes?

Sometimes "small" cases reveal larger problems. A recent appellate case in Pennsylvania is a reminder of how practical solutions, such as establishing a joint bank account to facilitate management of money or to permit sharing of resources during early stages of elder care, may have unforeseen legal implications later. In Toney v. Dept. of Human Services, decided August 25, 2015, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that "half" of funds held in a joint savings account under the names of the father and his son, were available resources for the 93-year-old father.  Thus the father, who moved into a nursing home in May 2014, was not immediately eligible for Medicaid funding. 

The son argued, however, that most of the money in the account was the son's money, proceeds of the sale of his own home when he moved out of state almost ten years earlier:

"The son alleged that his father used the bulk of that money to maintain himself, with the understanding that any money remaining from that CD after his father's death would revert to him. The ALJ, however, rejected the son's testimony as self-serving and not credible...."

Continue reading

August 28, 2015 in Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Justice in Aging: Analyzing Training of Workers Who Assist People with Dementia

Justice in Aging offers  a very interesting examination of training standards for the broad array of persons who assist or care for persons with dementia, including volunteers and professionals working in health care facilities or emergency services. The series of 5 papers is titled "Training to Serve People with Dementia: Is Our Health Care System Ready?" The Alzheimer's Association provided support for the study.

The papers include:  

To further whet your appetite for digging into the well written and organized papers, key findings indicate that "most dementia training requirements focus on facilities serving people with dementia," rather than recognizing care and services are frequently provided in the home.  Further there is "vast" variation from state to state regarding the extent of training required or available, and in any licensing standards.  The reports specifically address the need for training for first responders who work outside the traditional definition of "health care," including law enforcement, investigative and emergency personnel. 

If you need an example of why dementia-specific training is needed for law enforcement, including supervisors and staff at jails, see the facts contained in Goodman v. Kimbrough, reported earlier on this Blog.    


August 27, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Must Courts Honor Alleged Incapacitated Person's Nominee for Guardian?

In a recent guardianship case reviewed by the North Dakota Supreme Court, the alleged incapacitated person (AIP), a woman suffering "mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and dementia," did not challenge the need for an appointed representative, but proposed two friends, rather than any relatives, to serve as her co-guardians.  The lower court rejected her proposal, finding that a niece, in combination with a bank, was better able to serve as her court-appointed guardian/conservator. 

On appeal, the AIP challenged the outcome on the grounds that the court had made no findings that she was without sufficient capacity to choose her own guardians.  In The Matter of Guardianship of B.K.J., decided on July 30, 2015, the ND Supreme Court affirmed the appointment of the niece, concluding that although state law requires consideration of the AIP's "preference," no special findings of incapacity were necessary to reject that preference. 

Contrary to [the AIP's] argument [State law] does not require the district court to make a specific finding that a person is of insufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent choice regarding appointing a guardian.  While it might have been helpful to have a specific finding, we will not reverse so long as the district court did not abuse its discretion in appointing a guardian.... Here, it is clear the district court was not of the opinion [that the AIP] acted with or has sufficient capacity to make an intelligent choice.  Rather, the district court's findings noted [she] testified that she did not trust [her niece] anymore, but was unable to recall why . . . .

Decisions such as these can be inherently difficult to manage, at least in the early stages, especially if the AIP is unlikely to cooperate with the decision-making of the "better" appointed guardian. 

August 24, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Federal Court Applies "Doctrine of Reasonable Expectations" to Long-Term Care Insurance Policy

An interesting dispute is moving forward in federal court in California, involving interpretation of coverage under a long-term care insurance (LTCI) policy.   The case is Gutowitz v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company, (Case No. 2:14-cv-06656-MMM) in the Central District of California.   UPDATE: link to Order dated August 14, 2015. 

In 1991, plaintiff Erwin Gutowitz purchased a long-term care insurance policy, allegedly requesting the "highest level of long-term care coverage available," and presumably paying the annual premiums for more than 20 years.  Eventually, following a 2013 diagnosis of Alzheimer's, Erwin Gutowitz needed assistance, moving into an apartment at Aegis Living of Ventura, which was licensed in California as a "Residential Care Facility for the Elderly" (an RCFE).  With the help of his son as his designated health care agent, he then made a claim for long-term care benefits under his policy.  The claim was denied by Transamerica on the ground that the location was not a "nursing home" as defined in the LTCI policy.  

Insurers understandably prefer not to pay claims if they can avoid doing so.  In this case the insurer attempted to avoid the claim on the grounds that only certain types of facilities (or a higher level of care) were covered under this policy's "Daily Nursing Home Benefit." 

On August 14, 2015, United States District Judge Margaret Morrow issued a comprehensive (34 page) order, copy linked above, denying key arguments made by Transamerica in its summary judgment motions.

Continue reading

August 18, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Should "Springing" Powers of Attorney (Once Again) Be the Norm?

In a recent article for the University of Baltimore Law Review, John C. Craft, a clinical professor at Faulkner University Law, draws upon the history of legislation governing powers of attorney to advocate a return to effectiveness of the POA being conditioned by an event, such as proof of incapacity. Professor Craft, who is the director of his law school's Elder Law Clinic, writes:

Section 109 in the Uniform Power of Attorney Act should be revised making springing effectiveness of an agent's powers the default rule. Springing powers of attorney provide a type of protection that may actually prevent power of attorney abuse. The current protective provisions in the UPOAA focus in large part on the types of abuse that occur after an agent has begun acting for the principal. As opposed to arguably ineffective “harm rules” intended to punish an unscrupulous agent, springing powers of attorney are a type of “power rule” intended to limit an agent's “ability to accumulate power . . . in the first place.” The event triggering an agent's accumulation of power -- the principal's incapacity -- may never occur. A financial institution may prevent an unscrupulous agent from activating his or her power and conducting an abusive transaction simply by asking for proof that the principal is incapacitated. In addition, making springing effectiveness the standard serves the goal of enhancing a principal's autonomy.

For his complete analysis, read Preventing Exploitation and Preserving Autonomy: Making Springing Powers of Attorney the Standard.

August 14, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

North Carolina Appellate Court Ruling Permits "Membership Fee" in Condo-Continuing Care Contracts

Earlier this summer, a North Carolina appellate court reversed a trial court's finding that "membership fees" tied to condominium purchases in a retirement community were "unconscionable." In a class action suit filed by residents against Cedars of Chapel Hill LLC., this summer's ruling permits the defendant company to continue to market and sell its retirement condos as "fee simple" units  in combination with "continuing care member" contracts, although the court also remanded for a jury trial before the lower court.

In a highly technical ruling that examined state real estate transfer fee rules, the North Carolina's  marketable title act, and arguments under the common law about  unequal bargaining power, the appellate court rejected summary judgment in favor of the residents.  The court addressed allegations of both procedural and substantive unconscionability in the contracting process.  The court explained in part:

Substantive unconscionability “refers to harsh, one-sided, and oppressive contract terms.” … The terms must be “so oppressive that no reasonable person would make them on the one hand, and no honest and fair person would accept them on the other.” Brenner v. Little Red Sch. House Ltd., 302 N.C. 207, 213, 274 S.E.2d 206, 210 (1981). Plaintiffs, in raising this issue, contended that the fees in question were “exorbitantly high,” that the documents at issue were “decidedly one-sided in favor of the Company,” and that plaintiffs lacked “ability ... to negotiate any of the terms of the covenants and conditions in question in this case.” Plaintiffs further noted that the market for CCRCs in Chapel Hill is very small, leaving few alternatives.


…[W]e find plaintiffs' arguments unavailing. We recently held that “the times in which consumer contracts were anything other than adhesive are long past.” Torrence v. Nationwide Budget Fin., ––– N.C.App. ––––, ––––, 753 S.E.2d 802, 812 (quoting AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, –––U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1750, 179 L.Ed.2d 742, 755 (2011)), review denied, cert. denied, 367 N.C. 505, 759 S.E.2d 88 (2014). The mere fact that plaintiffs lacked the ability to negotiate contract terms does not create substantive unconscionability, nor does the fact that defendants were among the only providers of CCRC facilities. We hold that plaintiffs did not adequately demonstrate unconscionability as a matter of law, and that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to unconscionability, which precluded summary judgment.

For more of this ruling, see Wilner v. Cedars of Chapel Hill LLC., 773 S.E 2d. 333 (N.C. Ct. App., 2015).

For reactions from the parties' representatives, see NC Appeals Court Ruling Favors Cedars of Chapel Hill Condo Fees. 

For an additional, interesting discussion of business perspectives on retirement developer control, written prior to the most recent appellate court ruling, see Two Pitfalls of Leveraging Developer Influence, from a North Carolina law firm blog.

This case -- revealing the range of complexities in contracts for senior housing and services --  is another example of why I added "Contracts" law to my teaching package, with elder law!

August 13, 2015 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Private Law Firms Pursuing State Suits Against Nursing Homes, Hired by AGs

Avenging angels or unholy alliance? A lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Attorney General in December 2014 against Preferred Care Partners Management Group, a large, privately held management company operating nursing homes in New Mexico and nationally, raises interesting questions about whether AGs should be teaming with private lawyers to pursue cases of alleged malpractice, abuse or fraud affecting consumers.  The  Plano, Texas-based defendant asserts that "lobbying" of state attorney generals by private firms to pursue questionable claims is improper, pointing to campaign contributions paid by law firms or individual lawyers, as well as contingent fee arrangements that defendants argue reduce the States' accountability.

The current New Mexico AG has defended his state's relationship with the Washington D.C. law firm of Cohen Milstein.  According to the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Current Attorney General Hector Balderas blasted back at the company through a spokesman. “Bilking taxpayers for inadequate care and denying helpless and vulnerable residents basic services will not be tolerated,” he said. “Our office will continue to aggressively protect New Mexico’s taxpayers and our most vulnerable populations.”

Currently, the New Mexico case is in federal court, following the defendant's removal from the original filing in state court.   The law suit -- and the issue of private/public partnerships in pursuing claims on behalf of consumers and/or taxpayers --  is generating a lot of attention in the business world. Recent coverage includes linked news stories by the New York Times, the Albuquerque Journal, and McKnight's LTC News.

August 11, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Friday, August 7, 2015

Pennsylvania Names Nursing Home "Quality of Care" Task Force

In the wake of devastating reports about poor accountability following inspections of nursing homes in Pennsylvania under a previous governor, plus a new civil lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, the current Pennsylvania Secretary of Health has announced a state task force to study certain issues. 

According to the state press release, the task force "will be charged with identifying ways the department can advance quality improvement in Pennsylvania's long-term care facilities. The goal is to review current regulations and identify areas that the department may improve to ensure that nursing homes are operating at the highest level regarding the quality and safety of their residents."'

The Secretary's office indicates that in addition to "members of the Governor's Office, the secretaries of the Pennsylvania departments of Aging, Human Services, and State," appointed task force members include:

Jaqueline Zinn, PhD - Temple University (Business School)
Mary Naylor, PhD, FAAN, RN - University of Pennsylvania (Nursing, Gerontology)
Steven Handler, MD - University of Pittsburgh (Medical School, Biometric Informatics)
Rachel Werner, MD, PhD - University of Pennsylvania (Medical School, Quality of Care)
Dana Mukamel, PhD – University of California, Irvine (Public Health, Quality of Care)
David Grabowski PhD - Harvard University (Medical School, Health Care Policy)
Barbara Bowers RN, PhD, FAAN - University of Wisconsin (Institute of Aging, Long Term Care)
Pennsylvania State Senator Pat Vance 
Pennsylvania State Representative Mathew Baker

On the positive side, it is good to see non-Pennsylvanians appointed to the team, all with excellent credentials.  Perhaps on the less positive side, it seems to be a very large team, made up mostly of very prominent but busy "volunteers," two factors which in my experience can reduce efficiency. 

For news accounts of the potential political factors that may be play in this recent history, see here and related articles linked below. 

August 7, 2015 in Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Thursday, July 30, 2015

California Lawsuit Over Alzhemier's Research Reveals Core University Funding Battle

As detailed in new stories in Southern California media, an important suit by University of California San Diego (UCSD) against University of Southern California (USC) highlights a battle between public and private research enterprises.  Control over millions of dollars is stake for Alzheimer's-related research.  From the San Diego Union-Tribune in a Sunday feature article by Larry Gordon, Gary Robbins and Bradley Fikes:

In the lawsuit, U.C. San Diego alleges that USC, [Alzheimer's researcher Paul] Aisen and eight colleagues conspired to take research data involving more than 1,000 patients and other assets, including an estimated $100 million in federal and private funding to a new Alzheimer's study center in the San Diego Area.  Aisen and USC deny any wrongdoing and contend that UC San Diego is trying to inhibit the freedom to move jobs and is threatening the data's security.


A Superior Court judge in San Diego last week denied USC's request to block UC San Diego's access to that data.


Richard Seligman, the associate vice president for research administration at Caltech who has more than four decades of experience dealing with grants, said he had never heard of such a lawsuit even though competition for grants and noted faculty has gotten more fierce.

Stakeholders interested in the outcome of the research are reported to be taking note of the suit, with Mary Carrillo, the chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association quoted as saying the association wants a "speedy resolution" of the lawsuit to keep research going forward. 

Left in an uncomfortable middle ground are the National Institutes of Health and its subsidiary National Institute on Aging, which provides about $11 million per year to the UC Alzheimer's Center.  While confirming that UC San Diego still holds that grant, officials at those agencies said they must approve whether funding like that stays put or moves to another school with a principal investigator like Aisen.

For additional background on the lawsuit, see a related Los Angeles Times piece here.  Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune have collaborated on these stories.

On Friday, July 24, a California trial court ruled that the key research data must be returned to UCSD and therefore does not go "with" the faculty member, Aisen, recruited away from San Diego by USC.  Details here. 

As further evidence of the battle for primacy in southern California medical research, USC and UCSD have each courted the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, with University of California-San Diego energing as the winning suitor for "affiliation."  Details here

July 30, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Science, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nevada Supreme Court's Commission Undertakes Review of Adult Guardianships

As we have posted in the past, serious concerns have been raised about the role of judicial appointment and review power over adult guardianships in Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada.  In June, the Nevada Supreme Court appointed a 23-member commission to review and recommend any changes to existing practices; the proceedings before the panel began in July.

The concerns have largely focused on the use of a "private" guardianship company, with judicial oversight alleged to be minimal, perhaps connected to the fact that the company's founder was previously a county administrator and also the former "public guardian" for that county.  Families raised challenges in certain instances to the allocation of financial resources for alleged incapacitated persons, both seniors and other adults with disabilities, including allegedly improper use of the ward's financial resources to pay high administrative fees and attorneys fees. The individual who is a target of family ire, Jared Shafer, has vehemently denied all allegations. 

The commission's recent hearings have been "fiery" and the Clark County area news media are covering the proceedings in detail.  Here are links to recent news coverage, beginning with an editorial that appeared this week in the Las Vegas Journal-Review:  

July 23, 2015 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Highlights from Upcoming Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute on July 23 & 24

Probably the best bang for your CLE buck in Pennsylvania comes from the two-day Elder Law Institute hosted each summer by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. This year the 18th annual event is on July 23 & 24 in Harrisburg. 

Highlights include:

  • "The Year in Review" with attorneys Marielle Hazen and Robert Clofine sharing duties to report on key legislative, regulatory and judicial developments from the last 12 months;
  • How to "maximize" eligibility for home and community based services (Steve Feldman and Pam Walz);
  • Cross disciplinary discussions of end-of-life care with medical professionals and hospice providers;
  • LTC "provider" perspectives (Kimber Latsha and Jacqueline Shafer);
  • Latest on proposals to change Veterans' Pension Benefits (Dennis Pappas);
  • Implementation of the Pa Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force Recommendations (Judges Lois Murphy, Paula Ott, Sheila Woods-Skipper & Christin Hamel);
  • A closing session opportunity, "Let's Ask the Department of Human Services Counsel" (with Addie Abelson, Mike Newell & Lesley Oakes)

There is still time to registration (you can attend one or both days; lunches are included and there is a reception the first evening).  

I think this is the first year I have missed this key opportunity for networking and updates; but I'm sending my research assistant!    

July 16, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Careless? Examining Regulators' Attitudes About Enforcement as Contributing to Resident Risk in LTC

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) recently issued an important report, examining statistics on complaints and enforcement actions under the purview of Pennsylvania's Department of Health, the chief regulatory body for nursing homes.  To put it bluntly,  the regulators are getting a failing grade here, with a new Governor (and an uncooperative Legislature on funding issues) facing the need for action.  From the executive summary:   

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) has been failing to protect elderly and disabled nursing home residents. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) regularly advocates on behalf of nursing home residents, representing them in matters relating to the preservation and protection of their rights. Over the past several years, under the previous governor’s administration, CLS has witnessed DOH significantly decrease its enforcement of nursing home regulations and patient protections. In an analysis of DOH nursing home investigations and inspections that occurred in Philadelphia from 2012-2014, CLS has found that DOH’s conduct has put elderly and disabled Pennsylvanians at risk of physical harm or death.


During this time period, DOH dismissed an extraordinary number of complaints against nursing homes, failed to properly follow up when a violation was found, mischaracterized harm against patients, and dramatically decreased its penalties against nursing homes. Unfortunately, DOH’s failures have not only placed residents at risk, but they have also resulted in inaccurate publicly available information that forces potential residents and their families to make major life decisions without all of the important facts. Pennsylvania must fix this crisis and ensure the safety of elderly and disabled nursing home residents.

The CLS authors make recommendations for change, including a commitment to "better transparency to the public regarding investigations and characterization of harm."

For more details, read the press summaries and the full report on "Careless: How the Pennsylvania Department of Health has Risked the Lives of Elderly and Disabled Nursing Home Residents."

July 15, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Louisiana Governor Signs Amended "Lifetime Necessities" Law Obligating "Ascendants & Descendants"

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, one of (now many) candidates for the Republican nomination for President,  has been making a fair amount of press of late, for his positions on so-called medical marijuana, Common Core education standards, and how his state will handle same-sex marriage. Lower on the radar screen, however, was his signing of Act 260, an interesting package of legal changes affecting obligations between various family members.

One of these changes was to adopt a new provision affecting the obligations of "ascendants and descendants" to provide "basic necessities of life" for family members "in need."  In other words, filial support. 

Louisiana already had a provision, Section 229, providing that "children are bound to maintain their father and mother and other ascendants who are in need."  The new provision continues this statutory obligation, but makes enforcement "personal" only.  The substitute provision was signed into law on June 29 and becomes effective on January 1, 2016.  New Article 237 of Act 260 provides:

Descendants are bound to provide the basic necessities of life to their ascendants who are in need, upon proof of inability to obtain these necessities by other means or from other sources, and ascendants are likewise bound to provide for their needy descendants, this obligation being reciprocal.


This obligation is strictly personal and is limited to the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and health care.


This obligation is owed by descendants and ascendants in the order of their degree of relationship to the obligee and is joint and divisible among obligors. Nevertheless, if the obligee is married, the obligation of support owed by his descendants and ascendants is secondary to the obligation owed by his spouse.

Official comments explaining the revisions emphasize that the necessities obligation kicks in only when the needy family member is unable to obtain necessities "by other means" or from "other sources," thus signaling any filial support obligation is secondary to the individual's eligibility for public assistance or other welfare benefits. Further "for the first time" Louisiana law "provides a ranking of those descendants and ascendants who owe this reciprocal, lifetime obligation."

The commentary explains that the revision makes the obligation "strictly personal," and there it precludes enforcement by "a third person."  Thus, it would appear that unlike in Pennsylvania (or Germany?) nursing homes and the state may not use these statutes in order to sue family members to collect necessities for indigent elders.

According to the comments, the obligation is also not "heritable."  This appears to reflect a Louisiana Court of Appeals decision from 2010, In re Succession of Elie,denying a mother's claims for funds from a deceased son's estate brought under former Section 229.     

July 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Pennsylvania AG Files Consumer Protection Suit Against Golden Living Nursing Homes

On July 1, 2015, Pennsylvania's Attorney General filed a complaint in the Commonwealth Court against Golden Gate National Senior Care LLC (GGNSC) which manages and operates Golden Living Centers nationally.  The AG's suit focuses on 14 facilities in Pennsylvania. From the AG's press statement:

The legal action asserts Golden Living violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law by deceiving consumers through its marketing practices.


The company advertised it would keep its residents clean and comfortable while providing food and water at any time. But its facilities were understaffed, leaving residents thirsty, hungry, dirty, unkempt and sometimes unable to summon anyone to help meet their most basic needs, such as going to the bathroom, the legal action asserts.   

According to the AG's office, evidence comes from residents' family members and former employees of Golden Living, including certified nursing assistants.  The allegations focus on an alleged "widespread pattern of understaffing and omitted care."

Further, the AG makes the following specific allegations:  

  • Continent residents left in diapers because they were unable to obtain assistance going to the bathroom.    
  • Incontinent residents left in soiled diapers, in their own feces or urine, for extended periods of time.    
  • Residents at risk for bedsores from not being turned every two hours as required.   
  • Residents not receiving range of motion exercises.    
  • Residents not receiving showers or other hygiene services as required.     
  • Residents being woken at 5 a.m. or earlier to be washed and dressed for the day.    
  • Residents not being timely dressed in order to attend their meals.    
  • Residents not being escorted to the dining hall and sometimes missing meals entirely.   
  • Long waits for responses to call bells or no responses at all.   
  • Staff, under the direction of management or fear of management, falsifying records to indicate residents received services when in fact they did not.  
  • Improved staffing when state inspections occurred, leading to deceit about the true conditions at the facility.     
  • The investigation also included a review of staffing levels self-reported by Golden Living facilities and deficiencies cited in surveys conducted by the state Department of Health. 

According to one news source, Golden Living responded to the suit with a statement expressing the company's confidence that the "claims made by the Attorney General are baseless and wholly without merit," and further alleging the suit is the "unfortunate result of Kathleen Kane's inappropriate and questionable relationship with a Washington D.C.-based plaintiff's firm that preys on legitimate businesses and is paid by contingency fees."  (For those of you not privy to the local news on Pennsylvania politics generally and AG Kathleen Kane specifically, I think it is fair to say that the press frequently refers to her as the "embattled AG."  She first took office in January 2013).

The Pennsylvania AG's suit comes on the heels of a broader report released in June by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, asserting that from 2012 through 2014 the Pennsylvania Department of Health under former Governor Corbett's administration, failed significantly to conduct proper investigation of complaints about a large number of nursing homes (not limited to Golden Living) and failed to enforce existing regulations designed to protect residents. 

For Golden Living, allegations are not limited to Pennsylvania. For example, in June 2015, claims about chronic understaffing of 12 Golden Living Center nursing homes in Arkansas were certified to be litigated as a class action. 

Hat tip to Douglas Roeder, Esq., for bringing the latest Pennsylvania AG's suit to my attention. Last month I reported on the A.G.'s suit for unfair trade practices filed against a law firm that was alleged to be improperly using Pennsylvania's filial support law as a basis for collection demands against family members of the debtor. 

July 3, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long Island "Elder Law" Attorney Pleads Guilty to Stealing $797K from Clients

On June 23, 2015, Martha Brosius, a "retired" attorney who once held herself out as an "elder law attorney," pled guilty in New York to stealing $797,322 from clients.  In one alleged instance of breach of fiduciary duties and embezzlement, she was the court-appointed guardian for a 77-year-old disabled man.  It was alleged she used client funds to pay office, payroll and personal expenses. 

The mother of two minor-aged children and the wife of a district attorney, Brosius is scheduled to be sentenced in August.  According to The Long Island Press, the special prosecutor has sought a sentence of between six to eighteen years plus restitution; the defense counsel says some moneys have already been repaid.

June 30, 2015 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)