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State v. Prucker

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 25, 2017


          Argued Date January 13

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Elgo, J.

          Brian W. Prucker, for the Appellant (defendant American Legal Services, LLC).

          Gary G. Williams, Assistant Attorney General, with whom, on the Brief, was George Jepsen, Attorney General, for the Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Sheldon, Keller and Prescott, Js.


          PRESCOTT, J.

         This is an action brought by the state of Connecticut, pursuant to General Statutes §§ 17b-93 and 17b-94, to recover unreimbursed public assistance payments that it had made to Tammy Wright, whom the defendant American Legal Services, LLC, [1] successfully represented in a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident. The state alleges in its action that it was entitled to enforcement of its statutory lien on 50 percent of the net settlement proceeds retained by the defendant after it had settled Wright's personal injury claim against a third party.

         The defendant appeals from the summary judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the state, awarding it $250, plus interests and costs, from the net settlement proceeds that are subject to a statutory lien held by the state. The defendant claims that (1) summary judgment was improperly granted because the pleadings were not closed, (2) the court improperly determined that the state's action sounded in conversion, and (3) summary judgment was improperly granted because, among other things, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the appropriate calculation of the net settlement proceeds. We affirm the judgment of the court.

         Before turning to the specific claims of the defendant, it is helpful to review briefly the statutory scheme under which this case arises. Section 17b-93 (a) provides in relevant part: ‘‘If a beneficiary of [public assistance] . . . has or acquires property of any kind . . . the state of Connecticut shall have a claim . . . which shall have priority over all other unsecured claims and unrecorded encumbrances, against such beneficiary for the full amount paid . . . to the beneficiary or on the beneficiary's behalf under said [public assistance] programs . . . .'' In order to effectuate this recovery, the legislature also adopted § 17b-94 (a), which provides in relevant part: ‘‘In the case of causes of action of beneficiaries [of public assistance] . . . the claim of the state shall be a lien against the proceeds therefrom in the amount of the assistance paid or fifty per cent of the proceeds received by such beneficiary . . . after payment of all expenses connected with the cause of action, whichever is less, for repayment under section 17b-93 . . . .'' (Emphasis added.)

         The record before the court, viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant as the nonmoving party, reveals the following facts and procedural history. On November 25, 2013, the defendant entered into a contingent fee agreement with Tammy Wright to represent her in an action for injuries she had sustained in a car accident (personal injury action) for which the other driver disputed liability. In April, 2014, Wright's vehicle was stolen. In order to purchase a replacement vehicle, she applied for and receiveda $500 loan[2] from Peachtree Funding Northeast, LLC (Peachtree) against the value of the anticipated settlement of her personal injury action. As part of her agreement with Peachtree, Wright agreed to repay Peachtree $1000-the original $500 plus a purchase price of $500-upon the occurrence of the anticipated settlement.

         On or about August 8, 2014, Wright settled her personal injury action against the other driver for $12, 900. After deducting attorney's fees, outstanding medical bills, the $1000 repaid to Peachtree, and other costs, the defendant calculated Wright's total net proceeds from the settlement to be $5294.43.

         On August 13, 2014, the state sent the defendant notice that it held a lien against 50 percent of any net settlement proceeds, pursuant to §§ 17b-93 and 17b-94, because Wright had received $10, 318.60 of unreim-bursed public assistance from the state. On August 15, 2014, in an effort to discharge the lien, the defendant sent to the state a ‘‘Statement of Account'' alleging that Wright's net settlement proceeds were $5294.43, and remitted $2647.21 as 50 percent of the net settlement proceeds.

         The state, however, in a written letter to the defendant, objected to that part of the accounting statement that treated the $1000 that was repaid to Peachtree as an expense connected with the litigation and thus was not included by the defendant as part of the net proceeds. In response to that objection, on September 17, 2014, the defendant sent the state a revised accounting statement that instead attributed an expense deduction of $500 payable to Peachtree, while reflecting Wright's net proceeds as $500 greater than in the previous statement. In accordance with the new accounting figures, the defendant remitted to the state a sum of $250, which constituted 50 percent of the $500 increase to the net proceeds.

         In response, the state maintained that the remaining $500 expense deduction for the payment to Peachtree was not an expense connected with the personal injury action for which a deduction is permitted under § 17b-94 (a), and sought the remaining balance of 50 percent of $500, that is, ...

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