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Handel v. Commissioner of Social Services

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 17, 2018

HEATHER HANDEL, CONSERVATRIX (ESTATE OFROBERT WOJCIECHOWSKI)
v.
COMMISSIONEROF SOCIAL SERVICES

          Argued March 19, 2018

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Services denying in part an application for Medicaid benefits, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain and tried to the court, Cole-Chu, J.; judgment dismissing the appeal, from which the plaintiff appealed. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Andrew S. Knott, with whom, on the brief, was Robert J. Santoro, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Patrick Kwanashie, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The plaintiff, Heather Handel, conservatrix for her father, Robert Wojciechowski (applicant), appeals from the judgment of the trial court affirming the denial of certain Medicaid benefits by the defendant, the Commissioner of Social Services, and dismissing her administrative appeal from that denial. On appeal to this court, the plaintiff claims that she is entitled to the relief requested-Medicaid coverage for a specified period of months-because the decision denying that relief was not issued by the Department of Social Services (department)[1] within the time period mandated by law.[2] We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The trial court set forth the following relevant factual and procedural history. ‘‘On August 2, 2013, the applicant, suffering from a primary diagnosis of dementia, was admitted to Sheriden Woods Health Care Center, a long-term care facility in Bristol, Connecticut. Two days later, with the plaintiff's help he applied for Medic-aid for his residential care costs not covered by his Social Security benefits. On August 7, 2013, the plaintiff was appointed to the fiduciary capacity in which she brings this appeal: conservat[rix] of the applicant. Her initial fiduciary certificate did not give her authority to liquidate insurance policies or retirement accounts. On September 16, 2013, the department sent the plaintiff the first of what would eventually be twelve asset verification requests. Each such request informed the plaintiff of the $1600 asset limit for eligibility for the Medicaid benefit applied for. There were only two assets which were not liquidated and spent until June of 2014: a Lincoln Life Insurance account with a cash value of $9315.01 as of June 4, 2014 [insurance policy], and a Fidelity IRA account with a balance of $2187.88 as of June 2, 2014 [IRA].

         ‘‘In December of 2013, the plaintiff began trying to cash in the insurance policy. On March 14, 2014, after she discovered that Lincoln Life Insurance required specific Probate Court authority to liquidate the insurance policy, the plaintiff asked the Probate Court for authority to liquidate the insurance policy and the IRA. On May 1, 2014, the Probate Court granted the plaintiff that authority. On June 2, 2014, the plaintiff closed the IRA account. On June 4, 2014, the plaintiff liquidated the insurance policy. She promptly applied the proceeds of the IRA and insurance policy to the applicant's debts, thus bringing the applicant's assets under $1600.

         ‘‘On July 23, 2014, the department granted [the applicant's] application for Medicaid benefits, starting June 1, 2014, and denied benefits for March, April and May, 2014.

         ‘‘On September 17, 2014, the plaintiff requested that the department hold an administrative hearing on her challenge to the July 23, 2014 denial of benefits for March, April and May, 2014. On September 30, 2014, the department sent the plaintiff a notice that the requested hearing would take place on October 23, 2014. On October 16, 2014, the plaintiff, by her attorney, asked the department for a postponement of the hearing due to a conflict with a court event. On October 21, 2014, the department sent the plaintiff a notice of rescheduled hearing on November 10, 2014.

         ‘‘On November 10, 2014, the requested hearing was conducted by the department's hearing officer. At the end of the hearing, the hearing officer left the record open, by agreement, for additional information. The hearing record was announced as closing, and did close, on December 1, 2014. The hearing officer's decision was issued on February 20, 2015, the 81st day after December 1, 2014, and the 127th day after October 16, 2014.'' (Footnotes omitted.)

         The plaintiff filed an administrative appeal, pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183, to the Superior Court from the department's denial of benefits for March, April and May, 2014, on the ground that the department erroneously determined that the life insurance policy and the IRA were assets that were available to the applicant during those months, and thus that he had more than the minimum $1600 worth of assets available to him and was ineligible for Medicaid until those assets were spent down. The plaintiff also argued that her claim for benefits during March, April and ...


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