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Bloomfield Health Care Center of Connecticut, LLC v. Doyon

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 9, 2018

BLOOMFIELD HEALTH CARE CENTER OF CONNECTICUT, LLC
v.
JASON DOYON

          Argued May 15, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for the defendant's alleged negligence, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Scholl, J., granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Anne Jasorkowski, with whom, on the brief, was Angelo Maragos, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Lauren A. MacDonald, with whom, on the brief, was Timothy R. Scannell, for the appellee (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Eveleigh, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         In Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc., v. Cantore, 257 Conn. 531, 532, 543-44, 778 A.2d93(2001) (Jewish Home), our Supreme Court recognized that a nursing home that has been harmed by the negligence of a conservator is entitled to recover, through an action on a probate bond, the losses it suffered as a result of the conservator's failure to timely file an application for Medicaid benefits on behalf of his or her ward. This appeal asks us to determine whether to recognize a similar right of recovery in a case where no probate bond was obtained.

         This appeal arises out of an action by the plaintiff, Bloomfield Health Care Center of Connecticut, LLC, in which it alleged that the defendant, Jason Doyon, breached a duty to use reasonable care in managing the estate of his ward, Samuel Johnson. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the defendant was negligent by failing to apply for and to obtain on a timely basis Medicaid benefits that were necessary to pay the plaintiff for the cost of Johnson's care at the plaintiff's nursing home. The plaintiff now appeals from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly concluded that the defendant did not owe it a duty of care and, thus, was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the court.

         The record, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party, reveals the following facts. The plaintiff operates a chronic care and convalescent nursing home facility in Bloomfield. On April 19, 2013, Johnson was admitted as a resident to the plaintiff's facility. Thereafter, the plaintiff provided care and services to Johnson at a rate of $360 per day. On October 1, 2013, the cost of care increased to $370 per day.

         On September 26, 2013, Johnson's daughter, who at the time was acting as his attorney-in-fact, filed an application for Medicaid benefits on behalf of Johnson. On November 26, 2013, Johnson's daughter sold his home. The net proceeds from the sale of the home totaled $48, 000.

         On January 8, 2014, the Department of Social Services (department) denied Johnson's application for Medic-aid benefits for failure to provide required information. The information missing from the application included the disposition of the proceeds from the sale of his home, copies of bank statements, information regarding the surrender of his stocks, and proof that his assets totaled less than $1600.

         On February 26, 2014, the plaintiff petitioned the Probate Court to appoint an involuntary conservator to oversee Johnson's estate for the purpose of assisting him with his finances and Medicaid application, and to ensure that it would be compensated for the necessary care it provided to him.[1] On April 8, 2014, the court adjudicated Johnson incapable of managing his financial affairs, granted the plaintiff's petition, and appointed the defendant as the conservator of Johnson's estate. The court dispensed with the requirement of a probate bond.

         On April 15, 2014, the defendant tendered the $48, 000 in proceeds from the sale of Johnson's home to the plaintiff to be applied to Johnson's outstanding bill, which totaled $124, 000 at that time. After the proceeds from the sale of Johnson's home were paid to the plaintiff, his only other source of income was $1363 that he received in social security benefits each month, which the defendant subsequently began paying over to the plaintiff.

         Although Johnson did not have sufficient remaining funds or income to pay for his care, it was not until nine months later, on January 21, 2015, that the defendant submitted Johnson's application for Medicaid benefits. On February 17, 2015, the department told the defendant that Johnson's application was incomplete and requested that the defendant provide it with additional information by February 28, 2015, including the value of any of Johnson's remaining real property and bank account statements. The defendant failed to provide the department with the requested information, and, on March 24, 2015, Johnson's application was denied.

         The defendant filed Johnson's second application for Medicaid benefits on August 12, 2015. The application was granted on September 24, 2015, and Johnson's Medicaid benefits were made retroactive to May 1, 2015. Johnson did not receive any Medicaid benefits for the cost of his care prior to that date. On October 21, 2015, Johnson died.

         On February 1, 2016, the plaintiff commenced the present action. The plaintiff alleged in the operative complaint that the defendant's failure to apply for and to obtain on a timely basis Medicaid benefits for Johnson had violated a duty of care that he owed to the plaintiff. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant's negligence caused it to suffer financial harm and loss, and therefore it requested monetary damages.[2]

         On July 19, 2016, the defendant filed an answer to the plaintiff's complaint and special defenses. On September 21, 2016, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In his memorandum of law in support of his motion, the defendant argued that he did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff. Specifically, he argued that he owed a duty of care only to Johnson, his ward, and thus the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the action. The defendant also argued that he was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for his actions.

         In its memorandum in opposition to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff argued that the defendant owed it a duty of care under a common-law theory of negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that it was readily foreseeable that Johnson would be unable to pay it for the cost of his care if the defendant failed to timely submita Medicaid application on his behalf and, further, that the plaintiff would suffer harm as a result. The plaintiff also argued that public policy supported its claim that the defendant owed it a duty of care and that there was ‘‘no principled reason why a conservator should avoid liability for his negligence simply because there is no probate bond in a particular case.'' Finally, the plaintiff argued that the defendant was not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity because the Probate Court never expressly approved the defendant's actions with respect to Johnson's Medicaid application.

         On March 13, 2017, the court issued its memorandum of decision granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment, concluding that ‘‘the law does not support the plaintiff's claim that the defendant, solely as a result of his appointment as a conservator, owed any duty to the plaintiff.'' The court reasoned that ‘‘the defendant's duty, and, in fact, his authority to pursue Medicaid benefits on behalf of his ward, does not arise out of any relationship between the plaintiff and him, but solely from his appointment by the Probate Court as conservator, and his duties pursuant to that appointment.'' The court thus determined that the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care because ‘‘[t]he purpose of a conservator is not to manage the ward's estate for the benefit of his creditors but for the benefit of the ward.'' On March 31, 2017, the plaintiff timely filed the present appeal.

         The plaintiff claims on appeal that the trial court improperly granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment because it incorrectly concluded that the defendant did not owe it a duty of care. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the defendant owed it a duty to use reasonable care in managing Johnson's estate because (1) the harm caused to the plaintiff as a result of the defendant's negligence was foreseeable, and (2) public policy supports recognizing a duty of care in this context. We agree with the plaintiff that the defendant owed it a duty to use reasonable care to timely secure Medicaid benefits for Johnson.

         We begin by setting forth the relevant standards that govern our review of a court's decision to grant a defendant's motion for summary judgment. ‘‘Practice Book § [17-49] provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. . . . In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material facts which, under the applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law . . . and the party opposing such a motion must provide an evidentiary foundation to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. . . . [I]ssue-finding, rather than issue-determination, is key to the procedure. . . . Our review of the decision to grant a motion for summary judgment is plenary. . . . We therefore must decide whether the court's conclusions were legally and logically correct and find support in the record.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Barbee v. Sysco Connecticut, LLC, 156 Conn.App. 813, 817-18, 114 A.3d 944 (2015).

         We begin our analysis by first considering the defendant's role and general duties as conservator of Johnson's estate. General Statutes § 45a-655 sets forth the statutory duties of a conservator of an estate. Section 45a-655 (a) provides in relevant part: ‘‘A conservator of the estate appointed under section 45a-646, 45a-650, or 45a-654 shall, within two months after the date of the conservator's appointment, make and file in the Probate Court, an inventory, under penalty of false statement, of the estate of the conserved person, with the properties thereof appraised or caused to be appraised, by such conservator, at fair market value as of the date of the conservator's appointment. Such inventory shall include the value of the conserved person's interest in all property in which the conserved person has a legal or equitable present interest, including, but not limited to, the conserved person's interest in any joint bank accounts or other jointly held property. The conservator shall manage all the estate and apply so much of the net income thereof, and, if necessary, any part of the principal of the property, which is required to support the conserved person and those members of the conserved person's family whom the conserved person has a legal duty to support and to pay the conserved person's debts, and may sue for and collect all debts due the conserved person. . . .'' (Emphasis added.)

         Under certain circumstances, if a conservator is appointed to manage an individual's estate, a probate bond is issued. A probate bond is a ‘‘bond with security given to secure the faithful performance by an appointed fiduciary of the duties of the fiduciary's trust and the administration of and accounting for all moneys and other property coming into the fiduciary's hands, as fiduciary, according to law.'' General Statutes § 45a-139 (a). Every probate bond is ‘‘conditioned for the faithful performance by the principal in the bond of the duties of the principal's trust and administration of and accounting for all moneys and other property coming into the principal's hands, as fiduciary, according to law . . . .'' General Statutes § 45a-139 (b). If the assets of the ward's estate total twenty thousand dollars or more, the issuance of a probate bond is required. General Statutes § 45a-139 (c). A judge has discretion to waive the requirement of a probate bond if the assets of the estate total less than that amount, or under certain circumstances. See Probate Court Rules § 35.1 (b).

         If a probate bond is issued and the conservator breaches his or her duties as fiduciary of the estate, a third party may bring an action on the bond to recover for the harm caused by the conservator's breach. In Jewish Home, our Supreme Court considered whether the plaintiff in that case, a nursing home facility, had ‘‘a right to bring an action on a probate bond when it suffer[ed] a loss as a result of a conservator's failure to ensure payment to the nursing home for his ward's care.'' Jewish Home, supra, 257 Conn. 532. J. Michael Cantore, Jr., had been appointed conservator of the person and estate of Diana Kosminer, a patient of the plaintiff nursing home. Id., 534. Cantore subsequently executed and filed with the Probate Court a probate bond in the amount of $50, 000, which ‘‘was conditioned, as required by § 45a-139, on Cantore faithfully per-form[ing] the duties of his trust and administer[ing] and account[ing] for all monies and other property coming into his hands, as fiduciary, according to law . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 534-35. Cantore, however, failed to use the assets of Kosminer's estate to pay the nursing home for her care or to timely secure Medicaid benefits for her, which resulted in an unpaid balance to the nursing home of $63, 000. Id., 536.

         The nursing home subsequently brought an action against Cantore on the probate bond, alleging that he had a duty, ‘‘as Kosminer's conservator, to use the assets of her estate to pay for the care and services she had received from the plaintiff.'' Id., 533-34, 536. The nursing home further alleged that Cantore had a duty to apply promptly for Medicaid assistance when the estate's assets approached the $1600 Medicaid eligibility mark. Id., 536. Cantore filed a motion to strike the nursing home's complaint for failure to state a legally sufficient cause of action. Id. The trial court granted Cantore's motion to strike, and this court affirmed the court's judgment. Id.

         On appeal to our Supreme Court, the nursing home argued that ‘‘the law imposed certain duties upon Cantore, as conservator of Kosminer's estate and person; he breached those duties by failing to ensure timely payment to the plaintiff through either the estate or through public assistance; the breach of those duties constituted a breach of the probate bond; and the plaintiff was aggrieved by those breaches.'' Id., 537. Cantore argued, however, that the ‘‘[nursing home] had no authority to bring an action for the breach of the probate bond because only parties acting as a representative of the estate or seeking recovery for the estate are entitled to bring such actions.'' Id.

         In evaluating the plaintiff's claim, our Supreme Court first considered Cantore's duties as a conservator of the estate and conservator of the ward, respectively. Specifically, our Supreme Court noted that ‘‘[t]he statutory duties of a conservator are clearly defined in . . . § 45a-655, which delineates the duties of a conservator of the estate, and General Statutes § 45a-656, which prescribes the duties of a conservator of the person. A conservator of the estate shall manage all of the estate and apply so much of the net income thereof, and, if necessary, any part of the principal of the property, which is required to support the ward and those members of the ward's family whom he or she has the legal duty to support and to pay the ward's debts . . . . A conservator of the person has the duty to provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance of the ward . . . and the duty shall be carried out within the limitations of the resources available to the ward, either through his own estate or through private or public assistance. . . . In addition, where a statute imposes a duty and is silent as to when it is to be performed, a reasonable time is implied.'' (Citations omitted; emphasis in original; footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 539-40.

         Our Supreme Court then considered whether the complaint properly alleged a breach of Cantore's duties as conservator of Kosminer's estate and person. Id., 541. The complaint alleged that ‘‘Cantore failed to make timely payment to the plaintiff for the care and services it provided to Kosminer and failed to apply for [M]edicaid benefits on Kosminer's behalf once timely payment for the plaintiff's services had exhausted the assets of the estate. The complaint further alleged that these actions by Cantore resulted in a breach of his fiduciary duties as conservator of Kosminer's estate and person. Kosminer incurred a substantial debt as a result of the services she received from the [nursing home]. Cantore's failure to pay this debt, despite the estate's ample resources, constituted a breach of his duty under § 45a-655 (a) to use the assets of the estate to pay Kosminer's debts. Furthermore, Cantore's failure to ensure timely payment to the [nursing home] constituted a breach of his duty under § 45a-656 (a) to provide for Kosminer's care through the estate or through other private or public assistance.'' Id. Our Supreme Court concluded, therefore, that the nursing home had properly alleged facts that, if proven, would establish that Cantore failed to fulfill his duties as conservator of Kosminer's estate and person. Id.

         Our Supreme Court then considered the categories of plaintiffs that can bring an action on a probate bond to recover loss suffered as a result of a conservator's breach of his or her fiduciary duties pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 45a-144. Id., 543. Specifically, our Supreme Court determined that the language of the statute ‘‘evince[d] the legislature's intent to create three separate categories of potential plaintiffs in a suit on a probate bond: first, a plaintiff bringing an action as representative of the estate; second, a plaintiff bringing an action in his own right; and third, a plaintiff bringing an action in the right of himself and all others having an interest in the estate . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 543. Our Supreme Court found that ‘‘[t]he [nursing home] fit squarely in the second category of potential plaintiffs authorized by § 45a-144 (a) to ...


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