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Vaccaro v. D'Angelo

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 4, 2018


          Argued May 22, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for interpleader to determine the defendants' rights to certain funds held by the plaintiff as a result of a settlement in a personal injury action commenced by the defendant Stephen Boileau, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the court, Bellis, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for an interlocutory judgment of interpleader and ordered the plaintiff to deposit the funds with the clerk of the court; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Radcliffe, J.; judgment ordering distribution of the funds in part to the named defendant and in part to the defendant Stephen Boileau, from which the plaintiff appealed and the defendant Stephen Boileau cross appealed to this court; subsequently, the plaintiff withdrew his appeal. Affirmed.

          Andrew M. McPherson, for the cross appellant (defendant Stephen Boileau).

          Sabato P. Fiano, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Keller, Bright and Beach, Js.


          BRIGHT, J.

         In this interpleader action, the plaintiff-stakeholder, Attorney Enrico Vaccaro, sought an order determining the rights of the defendant-claimant, Stephen Boileau, and the other defendant-claimant, William DeAngelo, [1] Boileau's chiropractic physician, to a portion of the proceeds from a settlement resolving Boileau's personal injury action. Boileau cross appeals[2]from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a court trial, ordering that $5780 of the contested funds be disbursed to DeAngelo. On appeal, Boileau claims that the court improperly determined that DeAngelo is entitled to any portion of the settlement funds because: (1) DeAngelo failed to comply with the notice requirement of the provider services agreement between DeAngelo and the administrator of Boileau's health plan, and, therefore he may not bill Boileau for services rendered; and (2) the form that Boileau signed acknowledging his financial responsibility for services rendered by DeAngelo is illegal and unenforceable. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following facts, as found by the trial court or otherwise undisputed, and procedural history. Vaccaro represented Boileau in a personal injury action for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on August 29, 2011. ‘‘Prior to retaining . . . Vaccaro to represent him, [Boileau] sought medical care and treatment for his injuries from . . . DeAngelo . . . d/b/a Neuro-Spinal Center of Connecticut.'' At that time, ‘‘Boileau was an enrollee in Cigna HealthCare [(Cigna)], a managed care health plan. Coverage under the plan was secured through his employer. . . . Boileau never received a summary of his health insurance plan from his employer, and was not familiar with the specific coverages afforded under the applicable policy.''

         At all relevant times, DeAngelo was a participating provider with Cigna and American Specialty Health Networks, Inc. (American). Cigna contracted with American ‘‘to provide administrative services and a network of Contracted Chiropractors to meet the health care and customer service needs of Members . . . .'' DeAngelo and American entered into a ‘‘Provider Services Agreement'' (provider agreement), which defined and governed their relationship, and respective rights and obligations. Pursuant to § 2.03.12 of the provider agreement, DeAngelo agreed, inter alia, ‘‘to properly notify Members in writing prior to the provision of Chiropractic Services'' of their financial responsibilities, ‘‘Member Eligibility/Benefits, '' and ‘‘Covered Services.''

         On August 31, 2011, at his initial visit and prior to receiving treatment, Boileau signed a form provided by DeAngelo's office titled ‘‘Patient Authorization for Treatment & Financial Policy'' (authorization form). The authorization form provides in relevant part: ‘‘I fully understand that I am directly responsible to the Neuro-Spinal Center for all professional services submitted and agree to fully satisfy the bill for professional services rendered. I agree to pay you your regular charges for all medical services rendered to me. If so, I agree to pay those charges which are not paid by my health insurance. . . . Unpaid balances will be subject to an 18 [percent] finance charge per year or 1.5 [percent] per month.''

         DeAngelo's office also had Boileau sign a document titled ‘‘Notice of Physician's Lien'' (letter of protection) on September7, 2011, which provides in relevant part: ‘‘I hereby authorize and direct you, my attorney/insurance carrier, to pay directly to said doctor such sums as may be due and owing him for medical service rendered me both by reason of this accident and by reason of any other bills that are due his office and to withhold such sums from any settlement, judgment or verdict as may be necessary to adequately protect said doctor. And I hereby further give a [l]ien on my case to said doctor against any and all proceeds of my settlement, judgment or verdict which may be paid to you, my attorney/insurance carrier, or myself, as the result of the injuries for which I have been treated [or] injuries in connection therewith. . . .

         ‘‘I fully understand that I am directly and fully responsible to said doctor for all medical bills submitted by him for service rendered me and that this agreement is made solely for said doctor's additional protection and in consideration of his awaiting payment. And I further understand that such payment is not contingent on any settlement, judgment or verdict by which I may eventually recover said fee. All unpaid balance[s] will be subject to an 18 [percent] finance charge or 1.5 [percent] per month.'' The letter of protection was signed by Vaccaro on September 19, 2011.

         Subsequently, at his thirteenth treatment with DeAngelo, Boileau received an ‘‘Insurance Verification Sheet'' (verification form), which indicated that his health plan covered only ten chiropractic treatments in each calendar year. At the bottom of the verification form, which Boileau signed on September 23, 2011, is the following: ‘‘I ___, understand that I have a maximum of ___ visits per calendar year. I understand that it is my responsibility to keep record of how many visits have been used. I understand that I will be responsible for any visits over this amount. I have read and understand the above and also understand the insurance company verbal verification is not a guarantee of benefits. Regardless of insurance, I am financially responsible.'' Although the blank spaces on the verification form were not filled in, the body of the document reflected that Boileau's insurance covered only ten visits per calendar year, and Boileau's signature appears below the quoted provision. Boileau, despite knowing after he signed the verification form that his insurance covered only ten chiropractic office visits, received sixteen additional treatments from DeAngelo between September 23 and November 14, 2011, for a total of twenty-nine visits in 2011. In 2012, Boileau received eleven treatments from DeAngelo. Therefore, Boileau received a total of twenty visits that were not covered by his benefit plan, nineteen in 2011, and one in 2012.[3]

         In January, 2014, Vaccaro obtained a settlement in Boileau's personal injury action in the amount of $75, 000. In a letter addressed to DeAngelo dated January 24, 2014, Vaccaro stated: ‘‘With respect to your claim for $6059 from [Boileau] for services rendered, Cigna, his health insurance carrier, has advised that for services rendered by you in 2011 you are only owed $240. With respect to services rendered in 2012, you failed to submit any of these expenses to Cigna for payment although he was clearly covered for [ten] visits. You are at most, therefore, entitled to payment by [Boileau] for an eleventh treatment rendered on May 2, 2012, totaling $245, and for a report fee of $450. Enclosed, therefore, please find my check in the amount of $935 in full and final payment of these expenses. I trust that this concludes this matter.'' DeAngelo did not accept Vaccaro's payment.

         ‘‘The exchange of correspondence and communications resulted in much acrimony, and . . . DeAngelo filed a grievance against . . . Vaccaro as a result.'' Thereafter, in March, 2015, Vaccaro commenced the underlying interpleader action, pursuant to General Statutes § 52-484, [4] seeking an order determining DeAngelo's and Boileau's rights to the $6059 from Boileau's personal injury settlement, and claiming an allowance for attorney's fees and costs incurred in bringing the action. The trial court, Bellis, J., rendered an interlocutory judgment of interpleader, [5] and Vaccaro deposited the contested funds with the clerk of the court.

         Subsequently, DeAngelo and Boileau filed their respective statements of claim.[6] See Practice Book § 23-44. DeAngelo claimed entitlement to a ‘‘total amount greater than $6059 . . . for professional services rendered, interest, attorney's fees and collection costs pursuant to'' the authorization form and the letter of protection. Boileau claimed that ‘‘DeAngelo's [claim] to the interpleader funds [is] invalid as a matter of law'' because it is ‘‘based on a contract [that] is illegal, [and] courts cannot enforce it, nor will they enforce any right springing from such [a] contract.'' According to Boileau, the authorization form is ‘‘a consumer contract, as defined by General Statutes [§] 42-151, which is patently illegal and unenforceable because it provides for the recovery of interest on unpaid balances at the rate of 18 [percent] per annum, in violation of General Statutes [§ 37-4 and General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 36a-573]; provides for the recovery of attorney's fees in excess of the maximum amount allowed under General Statutes [(Rev. to 2011) §] 42-150aa; provides for the recovery of sums by a health care provider for medical services covered under a managed care plan in violation of General Statutes [§] 20-7f; and provides for the recovery of report fees in violation of General Statutes [§] 20-7h, [7]all in violation of the [G]eneral [S]tatutes and public policies of this [s]tate.'' (Footnote added; internal quotation marks omitted.)

         The court, Radcliffe, J., held a trial on October 19, 2016.[8] At trial, Boileau, DeAngelo, and Deborah Lanci, a medical insurance specialist employed by DeAngelo, testified. During direct examination, Boileau testified that he knew that he was entitled to only ten chiropractic visits per calendar year after he signed the insurance verification form on September 23, 2011. Despite acknowledging that fact, Boileau testified that he thought his insurance would cover his treatment, and that ‘‘nobody said, oh, you're not going to be covered. Nobody came up to me and said, here, you're done on your ten visits. I didn't hear that part.''

         Lanci testified that DeAngelo's office submitted claims to Boileau's insurance for ten visits in 2011 and ten visits in 2012, but Boileau's insurance did not pay for four of the visits, two in 2011 and two in 2012, due to DeAngelo's failure to submit treatment plans after Boileau's eighth visit in each year. Although Boileau's account statement, which was admitted into evidence at trial, reflected a balance of $6059, DeAngelo's statement of claim alleged that Boileau owed $5239 for treatment. Lanci further testified that DeAngelo's office credited Boileau's account for those four visits, thereby explaining the discrepancy between Boileau's account statement, which reflected a balance of $6059, and DeAngelo's statement of claim, which claimed only $5239 for chiropractic services.

         On March 6, 2017, the court issued its memorandum of decision. The court found that DeAngelo was entitled to $5780, including $5239 for chiropractic services provided to Boileau, $450 for an ‘‘impair rating'' report, and $95 for other reports.[9] The court further found that Boileau was entitled to $279, the remaining balance of the interpleader funds. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, Boileau claims that the court improperly determined that DeAngelo is entitled to any portion of the settlement funds because (1) DeAngelo failed to comply with the provider agreement, and (2) the authorization form, which is the basis for DeAngelo's claim to the settlement funds, is unenforceable, as it is ‘‘illegal on its face and is contrary to public policy.''

         As a preliminary matter, we note that the court's memorandum of decision is unclear as to the legal basis for its conclusion as to its award of the settlement funds, and Boileau did not seek articulation of the court's decision. See Practice Book § 61-10. Although it would have been preferable for the trial court to provide its legal analysis in its memorandum of decision, ‘‘[w]hen the facts underlying a claim on appeal are not in dispute and that claim is subject to de novo review, the precise legal analysis undertaken by the trial court is not essential to the reviewing court's consideration of the issue on appeal.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v.Donald, 325 Conn. 346, 354, 157 A.3d 1134 (2017). In the present case, the court set forth the ...

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