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)

Monday, June 29, 2015

California Court Says Law Permitting Nursing Homes to "Make Routine Decisions for Incapacitated Residents" Is Unconstitutional

On June 24, 2015, the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Alameda, Judge Evelio Grillo presiding, issued a mandamus in a court suit filed in 2013 by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR).  Lots of interesting and important issues here, including:

  • the finding that CANHR, a nonprofit agency "dedicated to improving the quality of care for California's nursing home residents," has standing to bring a citizen action to challenge the reliance by nursing homes on California law to permit them to make decisions "for" incapacitated residents who do not have court appointed agents, family or other surrogate decision makers;
  • the conclusion that the California law in question, Calif. Health & Safety Code Section 1418.8,  is unconstitutional, both facially and as applied;
  • the recognition that the mandate is necessary, even though it will require major changes in how care facilities operate in the daily care of patients.

The 44 page opinion concludes:

"The court is aware that this statute was the Legislature's attempt to deal with a very difficult and significant problem of how to provide timely and effective medical treatment to patients in skilled nursing facilities without delays that were often happening when a petition had to be filed in probate court.  The court acknowledges that this order will likely create problems in how many skilled nursing facilities currently operate....  The court has considered this burden and weighed it against the due process concerns, and finds that the due process rights of these patients is more compelling.  The stakes are simply too high to hold otherwise. Any error in these situations has the possibility of depriving a patient of his or her right to make medical decisions about his or her own life that may result in significant consequences, including death.  A patient may not only lose the ability to make his or her health decisions, but also to manage his or her own finances, determine his or her visitors, and the ability to leave the facility."  

Congratulations to the hard-working advocates at CANHR, and particularly to Golden Gate Law Professor Mort P. Cohen,  who brought the action on behalf of CNHR and several nursing home residents.  Here is a link to the full opinion in CANHR v. Chapman, Case No. RG13700100. Here is a press release from CANHR.

June 29, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Divorce of 90+ Year Olds, Nebraska High Court Confirms Award of Alimony to Pay Nursing Home Fees

In Binder v, Binder, decided June 26, 2015, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed an award against the husband for alimony in the amount of $3,200 per month. This was the amount necessary to cover the wife's balance due each month for her nursing home care.  The divorcing couple, each in their mid 90s, had been married for 32 years, a second marriage for both.  Married in their 60s, they had no children together. The husband had at least one child from a prior marriage; his son leased the husband's farmland for more than 25 years to continue operations.

The husband argued that the alimony award, exceeding his own $2,800/mo income from Social Security and rental of his farming property, was an abuse of discretion as it lowered his income below "poverty thresholds" set by state guidelines for child support awards.  The Court ruled, however, that in the absence of minor children, the guidelines were inapplicable. Nonetheless, the Court also addressed the "reasonableness" of the award and concluded:

In reviewing an alimony award, an appellate court does not decide whether it would have awarded the same amount of alimony as the trial court. Instead it decides whether the trial court's award is untenable such as to deprive a party of a substantial right or just result.  The main purpose of alimony is to assist a former spouse for a period necessary for that individual to secure his or her own means of support. Reasonableness is the ultimate criterion.

 

Applying these factors, we cannot say that the amount of alimony is an abuse of discretion. Glenn sought to dissolve his nearly 32–year marriage to Laura after she began incurring expenses for essential nursing home care that are well beyond her means. Laura did not work outside the home during the marriage, she is not employed now, and there is no evidence that she has untapped earning capacity. Similarly, Glenn is retired and has no wage income. But while Laura has exhausted nearly all her assets, Glenn has the power to dispose of more than 200 acres of farmland. The land is not irrelevant to alimony even though it is Glenn's premarital property. A court may consider all of the property owned by the parties—marital and separate–in decreeing alimony. 

 

As to disputes over matters such as Laura's contributions to the marriage, we note that the district court was in the best position to judge the witness' credibility. Although our review is de novo, if credible evidence is in conflict on a material issue of fact, an appellate court considers and may give weight to the circumstance that the trial judge heard and observed the witnesses and accepted one version of the facts than another. This rule is particularly apt here because both Laura and Glenn had some trouble testifying and the record does not show to what extent their difficulties were cognitive, auditory, or other.

In reading the decision, I'm struck by questions of what -- or even who -- was driving the divorce, and to what extent the parties' decisions were affected by Medicaid eligibility issues.  For more history, as well as comments by the husband's attorney, see "Retired Farmer Must Pay More in Alimony Than Monthly Income," in the Omaha World-Herald.

June 28, 2015 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Florida Appellate Court Reverses Conviction on Financial Exploitation of Elder

On June 24, 2015, a Florida intermediate appellate court reversed the 2013 conviction of Tyrone Javallena for "financial exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult," ruling that there was no evidence the defendant in question, who was the husband of a financial advisor for a 94-year-old woman who made late-in-life changes to her estate plan benefitting the couple, had the requisite knowledge of any plan to exploit.  In Javallena v. State, the 4th DCA ruled:

The [elderly woman's estate] documents were amended so that, ultimately, the defendant and his wife were residual beneficiaries of the estate. The defendant and his wife served as witnesses to Teris' execution of some of the amendments, and at some point in time, his wife became aware of the substance of the amendments. However, there was no evidence that the defendant, who also chauffeured Teris on errands, had any knowledge of a plan to exploit the victim. As for Teris' mental capacity at the time she executed the amendments to her estate documents, there was conflicting evidence before the jury.

 

On appeal, the defendant argues that his conviction under a principals theory constituted error as there was no evidence he participated in the exploitation. We agree.

 

"To convict under a principals theory, the State is required to prove that the defendant had a conscious intent that the criminal act be done and . . . the defendant did some act or said some word which was intended to and which did incite, cause, encourage, assist, or advise the other person or persons to actually commit or attempt to commit the crime."Hall v. State, 100 So. 3d 288, 289 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The original conviction of Javallena and his wife in 2013 was high profile news, in part because of the estate in question -- referred to in the appellate opinion as "vast" -- was reported to be $10 million.  No word on the status of any appeal on the separate conviction of Javallena's wife. 

June 26, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Symposium Issue Responds to Hartog's "Someday All This Will Be Yours"

The Spring 2015 issue of the ABA publication Law & Social Inquiry has a great symposium review section offering a broad array of essays, commenting on Hendrik Hartog's important book Someday All this Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (Harvard University Press: 2012). 

The impressive list of contributors includes:

Plus, historian Hendrik Hartog provides his own commentary and response! 

Suffice it to say if you appreciated Hartog's book, you will thoroughly enjoy his additional musings on how he came to write it and what it might mean for the future. 

The comments are engaging and relatively brief -- but should still keep you busy on a summer weekend.

June 19, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

California Clarifies Nature of "Takings" Actionable Under Elder Abuse Law

In 2014, the California Court of Appeal issued a decision recognizing broad application of California's Elder Abuse laws to contract-related disputes.  In Bounds v. Superior Court, the appellate court set the stage for the important ruling:

Bounds, an 88–year–old widow allegedly suffering from Alzheimer's disease, alleges in her cross-complaint that for approximately six months, Real Parties in Interest Gerry Mayer (Mayer), Joseph Sojka (Sojka), and their associated businesses entities (KMA Group, LLC, Kopykake Enterprises, and Sojka–Nikkel Commercial Realty Group) engaged in abusive conduct, resulting in her signing, among other documents, escrow instructions authorizing the sale of real property owned by the Trust. Because escrow was cancelled, the Trust retains title to, and Bounds remains in possession of, the property. However, petitioners allege that the existence of the escrow instructions significantly impairs their right to sell the property at fair market value or to use it to secure a loan on favorable terms.
 
These alleged facts raise an issue of first impression: whether to allege a “taking” of a property right under the [California Elder Abuse] Act, it is sufficient to plead that an elder has entered into an unconsummated agreement which, in effect, significantly impairs the value of the elder's property, or whether the Act requires that the agreement have been performed and title have been conveyed.....
 
As explained more fully below, we conclude that because property rights include, among other things, the right to use and sell property ... petitioners' allegations that Bounds entered into an executor agreement which significantly impaired the value of the property owned by the Trust adequately pleads a "taking" -- that is, adequately pleads that Bounds has been "deprived of [a] property right .... by means of an agreement," within the meaning of [California law] section 15610.30(c). 
 
Therefore the appellate court permitted the case to go forward against the alleged abusers, who were alleged to have frightened the aging Bounds into selling property at a bargain price.
 
More recently, Sara Colon, one of the lawyers represented the elderly Ms. Bounds, and Catherine Eschbach, a law student at Pepperdine Law School, collaborated on an article for the Los Angeles Lawyer magazine, published in April 2015.  In Out of Bounds, they explain the significance of the Bounds case, including its application in the context of predatory lending schemes. 

June 17, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Siblings' Dispute Over Filial Support Finds Way to Bankruptcy Court

Last fall, I blogged about In re Skinner, a case in which one son was trying to prevent a brother from obtaining a discharge in bankruptcy court of a "filial support" judgment to a long-term care facility. Both brothers had been sued, but one brother, Thomas, had defaulted on the suit, resulting in a default judgment as to his liability.  The bankruptcy court concluded that Brother William lacked standing" to prevent Brother Thomas' discharge of debt to an assisted living facility for care of their mother. 

In May, 2015 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania affirmed the bankruptcy court's dismissal of the adversary proceeding, concluding that "William Skinner has not adequately alleged that he is a bankruptcy creditor of Thomas Skinner. He therefore lacks standing to bring an action challenging the dischargeability of Thomas Skinner's debts." 

The additional allegations described in the District Court opinion -- which are reminiscent of the allegations of misuse of Powers of Attorney in Presbyterian Medical Center v. Budd (Pa. Super. 2013) -- demonstrate the complicated nature of filial support suits for family members.  This is especially true in Pennsylvania where courts seem to be treating claims of statutory liability as "joint and several" in nature, and not proportional based on fault.  For the latest see In re Skinner, 2015 WL 3400943, (E.D. Pa. May 27, 2015).

June 16, 2015 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pennsylvania AG Files Unfair Trade Practices Claim Against Law Firm

On June 5, 2015, the Attorney General for Pennsylvania announced filing of a civil suit, seeking permanent injunctive relief against a lawyer and his law firm, for tactics alleged to violate state unfair trade practice and debt collection laws.  The allegations include misuse of Pennsylvania's filial support law to demand payment by family members for medical service fees incurred by the original debtor.  Here is the link to the AG's press release

Boy, it's been a tough month already for Pennsylvania debt collectors! The AG's suit is not against the same law firm involved in the Second Circuit's decision reported here earlier this week.

June 9, 2015 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2015

2d Circuit Addresses Nursing Home Collection Practices in Cross-Border Dispute

In Eades v. Kennedy PC Law Offices, decided June 4, 2015, the Second Circuit ruled that a federal court in New York has personal jurisdiction to address alleged unfair debt collection practices of a Pennsylvania law firm in seeking to collect unpaid nursing home fees totaling $8,000.  The plaintiffs, New York residents -- the husband and adult daughter of a woman in a Pennsylvania nursing home -- challenged statements in correspondence and phone communications allegedly made by the Pennsylvania law firm.  The claims against the daughter were based on Pennsylvania's filial support law.

As reported on this Blog in December 2013, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed the suit, finding no personal jurisdiction and further rejecting application of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Second Circuit's ruling concludes, however, that the law firm's "three purposeful contacts with New York," of mailing a debt collection notice to the New York family members, engaging in a debt collection phone call with the daughter, and mailing a summons and complaint to both the daughter and the nursing home resident's husband, are enough to establish personal jurisdiction under New York's long-arm statute.  Further, the defendant law firm had not shown that exercise of such jurisdiction was unreasonable.

On the questions raised by the FDCPA claims, the Second Circuit rejected several key arguments by the plaintiffs, concluding that Pennsylvania's filial support law is not preempted by the Nursing Home Reform Act's prohibition on nursing homes requiring third party guarantees of payment:

Continue reading

June 8, 2015 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does 8th Amendment Bar Execution of Murderer Who Develops Advanced Dementia After Conviction?

On March 17, 2015, Missouri executed "convicted cop killer Cecil Clayton."  Clayton's prosecution was a matter of much legal commentary from the very outset of his arrest and prosecution in the 1990s, because of the documented history of removal of 1/5 of the frontal lobe of his brain following a sawmill accident in the 1970s. 

However, as his prosecution, appeals, and post-conviction challenges wended their way through state and federal courts on issues of effective assistance of counsel, insanity and mental defect, an additional cognitive impairment was underway.  By the time of his execution Clayton was reported to be Missouri's "oldest death row prisoner" at age 74 and at least five years before his last day, he had been diagnosed with progressive, neurological deterioration, consistent with "dementia."

The last court to consider the Clayton's last (and last minute) challenges to the death penalty, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, wrote on the same day as his execution:

Should the Atkins [v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)] reasoning be applied, by analogy, to cases involving persons with physical brain damage and progressive deterioration, and an Atkins-like evaluation performed to determine whether the death penalty may be properly imposed? It seems fair to analogize the diminished capacity of the mentally retarded that lessens personal culpability and prohibits execution of the mentally retarded...to those whose physical brain damage and progressive deterioration have, for example, lessened their capacity to meaningfully participate in legal proceedings. Using a different analogy, it would be difficult to imagine, for example, that a civilized society would execute a person who was not mentally retarded at the time of the commission of a capital crime, but who subsequently developed advanced  Alzheimer's disease by the time of the execution.

Ultimately, the court ruled that no relief was available to Clayton on the record before it, but the court clearly was concerned about the potential for evidence of post-conviction dementia to establish independent grounds for a valid 8th Amendment challenge.  The court concluded:

Again, at this very late date, the question of whether the death penalty can be imposed against a person such as Clayton with physical brain damage—a hole in his frontal lobe—associated with progressive deterioration over time, has not been litigated here, and it may be too late. In the time available, the Court cannot conclude under the deferential AEDPA standard that the Missouri Supreme Court's decision should be disturbed.

For more on the litigation history of Clayton's mental impairment(s), see Clayton v. Al Luebbers, 2015 WL 1208786 (W.D. Mo., May 17, 2015).

June 3, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Can You Get A Divorce if You Have Dementia? That's the $10M Question in South Florida

From our roving reporter (okay, actually from my great Dickinson Law colleague, Professor Laurel Terry) we get headline news in Palm Beach, Florida and a front-page question about whether an older man has the capacity necessary under that state's "unique" law to seek an end to his later-in-life second marriage.  You won't be surprised to read that money is involved in this lawsuit: 

Sitting in his oceanfront condominium in Palm Beach, [87-year old] Martin Zelman can’t immediately name the president of the United States, isn’t sure what year it is and admits he can’t remember the month or the date of Valentine's Day. But he knows he wants to divorce his wife [age 80], whom he married in 2000, 7 years after they began dating.

 

Or does he?  That's the $10 million dollar question that surrounds Zelman vs. Zelman, a unique and legally complex divorce case wending its way through Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

 

While the issues raised are intensely personal, they lay bare the ways adult children could use the court system to manipulate prenuptial agreements designed to protect spouses in second marriages. They also expose quirks in Florida's divorce laws, particularly a little known caveat that imposes a three-year waiting period in cases where one of the spouses has been declared mentally unfit.

For more, see Can Florida Man with Dementia File for Divorce? by Jane Musgrave for the Palm Beach Post. This story brings to mind regular reader Jennifer Young's recent, wry comment on a separate post, strongly recommending "shacking up" to avoid late-in-life second guessing of second marriages.  All kind of sad, isn't it?

May 28, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Removal of Private Guardian Is Latest News in Challenge to Nevada Elder Guardianships

As we described last month, Nevada is one of the states facing serious "elder guardianship" concerns, and specifically concerns about court-appointed, fee-paid private guardians. This week, a Nevada court removed a guardian in one of the cases at issue, calling the problems observed "enormous" and "more than technical." The court commissioner who granted the requested relief continues to be the focus of other inquiries about his supervision of private guardians.  Contact 13 News described matters revealed in its own investigation and presented in court:

Since the fall of 2013, the court has allowed [the guardian] Parks to control every aspect of [an elderly married couple's] lives--where they would live, how their money was spent, what items they could keep--and sometimes, who they could see.

 

"They took my parents," said Julie.  "I didn't know who. I didn't know what."

 

When Contact 13 looked at the guardianship case, we found mistakes, over-charging and double-billing by [guardian] Parks.  Our findings played a key role in Wednesday morning's hearing.

 

"She's costing me $300 an hour to sit here and degrade me and my family," Rudy said. "I will not stand for it and I will not pay for it."

 

Parks' attorney did the talking for her, claiming the process to remove Parks is being rushed, "...based on innuendo, based on hearsay, based on salacious representations made on the media about Ms. Parks," said Aileen Cohen. "This matter is turning into a witch hunt."

 

But Commissioner Jon Norheim was having none of it.  "The idea that she's been compliant? Not even close."

For more about the ongoing inquiry into alleged abuses by private guardians in Nevada, see Couple Liberated from Guardianship System, by Kean Bauman, for Channel 13 News, KTNV, Las Vegas, Nevada. 

UPDATE:  Before the virtual ink had even dried on my posting above about one couple's case, additional word comes that the Chief Judge of the Eighth Judicial District, Clark County, Nevada has ordered systemic review and immediate changes in the guardianship appointment and oversight authority. For the Court's important May 21, 2015 order, see here. Additional details are available from the Las Vegas Review Journal.  

May 22, 2015 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Massachusetts Case Demonstrates Significance of Contracts in Senior Living Options

This week I attended the 16th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Life Care Residents Association (MLCRA) near Boston.  Having last met with the group in 2011, I was impressed with the residents' on-going commitment to staying abreast of legal and practical developments affecting life care and continuing care (CCRC) models for senior living.  Their organization has some 800 individual members, representing a majority of the communities in the state. 

MILCRA Annual Meeting 2015In 2012, MLCRA was successful in advocating for passage of amendments that substituted "shall" for "may" in the laws governing key disclosures to be made to prospective and current residents. 

My preparation for the meeting gave me the opportunity to read one of those troubling "unpublished" -- but still significant -- opinions that shed light on attempts to make consumer protections stick.  Here the "contract" trumped the statute. 

In a February 2014 decision in Krens, v. 1611 Cold Spring Road Operating Company, a son who sought refund of his deceased mother's $282,579 partially "refundable" Entrance Fee was denied relief by a Massachusetts appellate court, despite the fact that Massachusetts law expressly mandated that a continuing care contract "shall provide" for a refund to be paid "when the resident leaves the facility or dies." The reasoning? The actual contract provided merely that the refund could be paid "within 30 days of actual occupancy of the vacated unit by a new resident." More than three years had elapsed since the mother's passing, apparently without the unit being "resold" or rented, and therefore the CCRC operating company took the position that no refund obligation had been triggered.

Continue reading

May 20, 2015 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Juror's Perspective from the Iowa Sexual Assault-Dementia Trial

I'm catching up on news items after being away for a few days.  There are additional insights about the sad trial of Henry Rayhons in Iowa, that ultimately resulted in his acquittal, from one of the jurors, who also happened to be a reporter.  Too often it is easy to focus about what is wrong with the court system, but here is a reminder of just how seriously most jurors take their duties. 

Read, "The Rayhons Trial: A Juror's Perspective," by Angela Nelson.  And my thanks to Bryan Gruley who made sure we did not miss this powerful coda to the trial. 

May 11, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)