Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, (SC 15903)

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKATZ, J.
Citation247 Conn. 686,724 A.2d 1093
PartiesDEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES v. EDITH A. SAUNDERS, CONSERVATRIX (ESTATE OF JAMES A. SAUNDERS III)
Docket Number(SC 15903)
Decision Date16 February 1999

247 Conn. 686
724 A.2d 1093

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES
v.
EDITH A. SAUNDERS, CONSERVATRIX (ESTATE OF JAMES A. SAUNDERS III)

(SC 15903)

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued October 27, 1998.

Officially released February 16, 1999.


Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Berdon, Norcott, Katz, Palmer and McDonald, Js.

247 Conn. 687
W. Bradley Kellogg, with whom was Kevin M. O'Grady, for the appellant (defendant)

Hugh Barber, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Richard J. Lynch, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Keith B. Gallant, Lisa N. Davis and Brock T. Dubin filed a brief for the Connecticut Bar Association as amicus curiae.

Opinion

KATZ, J.

The sole issue on appeal is whether the Probate Court was authorized to permit a conservatrix to establish an irrevocable inter vivos trust funded with the net proceeds recovered in the settlement of a negligence action filed on her ward's behalf, which would not be considered an available resource for the purpose of determining ongoing medicaid eligibility. We conclude that the Probate Court was so authorized.

247 Conn. 688
The following relevant facts were set forth in affidavits submitted by both parties in support of their competing motions for summary judgment. In 1983, the defendant, Edith A. Saunders, was appointed conservatrix of the person and estate of her son, James A. Saunders III (Jamie), by the Probate Court for the district of Newtown. The appointment was made as a result of a motor vehicle accident that caused Jamie to suffer impairment of his mental and intellectual functions, as well as neurological deficits affecting his speech, hearing, balance and gait. Since 1983, due to his permanent and total disability, Jamie has been the recipient of benefits under the Title XIX Medicaid Program (medicaid), which is administered in Connecticut by the state department of social services (department), and has resided in long-term care facilities and rehabilitation centers with his care funded by medicaid.1

In 1989, Jamie was a resident patient at the New Medico/High Watch Rehabilitation Center in New Hampshire, undergoing rehabilitation for the injuries suffered in the motor vehicle accident, when he fell down a flight of stairs at a residential unit on the premises. Immediately thereafter, Jamie was taken to Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, which, despite Jamie's temporary loss of consciousness and temporary paralysis, neglected to take cervical X rays. Following his release from Huggins Hospital, Jamie's condition deteriorated, resulting in his being transported by ambulance to the Memorial Hospital in North

247 Conn. 689
Conway, New Hampshire, where X rays revealed fractures to his cervical spine. He was then transferred to the Maine Medical Center, where he underwent a surgical procedure known as cervical fusion. As a consequence of these events, Jamie, who was rendered a quadriplegic for an extended period of time, has a substantial and permanent impairment to his upper and lower extremities, leaving him unable to walk without assistance or to perform the functions normally associated with healthy arms, shoulders and hands

Saunders thereafter commenced an action in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire against Huggins Hospital, the physician who had examined Jamie, and Medico/High Watch Rehabilitation Center alleging, inter alia, medical negligence and negligent care and supervision. In 1994, a settlement agreement was reached that provided for those named defendants to pay Saunders, as Jamie's conservatrix, $1,800,000. The enforceability of the settlement was conditioned upon the approval of the Probate Court for the district of Newtown. Saunders applied to the Probate Court to compromise the claim for an aggregate gross settlement of that amount with the following proposed distribution: $600,000 for attorney's fees; $40,351.95 for the costs of bringing the action; and $579,824.03 for reimbursement to the state of Connecticut in discharge of its lien on the settlement proceeds acquired pursuant to General Statutes § 17b-94.2 This left $579,824.02 as net settlement proceeds.

247 Conn. 690
As part of her amended application to compromise and settle Jamie's claim, Saunders requested that the net settlement amount be placed in an irrevocable supplemental needs trust (trust) for Jamie's benefit. According to the applications, the proposed trust would
247 Conn. 691
provide for Jamie's supplemental needs during his lifetime. The department was named the remainderman of the trust estate upon Jamie's death.3 The terms of the proposed trust were drafted in conformity with the specifications of 42 U.S.C. § 1396p (d) (4) (A)4 in an attempt to ensure that the value of the trust would not be considered an available resource for the purpose of determining ongoing medicaid eligibility and, therefore, would not adversely affect Jamie's eligibility to continue receiving medicaid benefits

Following a hearing in February, 1994, the Probate Court approved the settlement, conditioned upon Saunders placing the net settlement proceeds in a restricted account pending a hearing at which the approval for the establishment of a trust would be determined. The department stipulated that it would not consider the amount held in the restricted account in determining Jamie's continued eligibility for Title XIX medical assistance benefits until such time as the Probate Court ruled on Saunders' request to create the trust.

In April, 1994, a hearing was held in the Probate Court to address that part of Saunders' amended application

247 Conn. 692
seeking authorization to establish the trust as part of the settlement of the estate's negligence claim. The department objected to the creation of the trust, claiming that: (1) Saunders is not authorized to establish the trust and the Probate Court is not authorized to approve the funding of the trust with the net settlement proceeds of the negligence claim; and (2) the department had not consented, pursuant to General Statutes § 17b-85, formerly § 17-82j,5 to the proposed disposition of Jamie's assets

Citing to General Statutes § 45a-655 (e),6 and 42 U.S.C. § 1396p (d) (4) (A), the Probate Court approved Saunders' application to create an irrevocable supplemental

247 Conn. 693
needs trust for Jamie's benefit and to fund the trust
247 Conn. 694
with the net settlement proceeds. The Probate Court concluded that federal legislation permits the creation of the trust for the benefit of a medicaid recipient without disqualifying him from eligibility to continue to receive services under Title XIX and that such trust is not prohibited by Connecticut law.

Thereafter, pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-186,7 claiming that the Probate Court improperly had authorized the trust, the department appealed to the trial court to vacate and set aside the Probate Court decree permitting Saunders to establish an irrevocable inter vivos

247 Conn. 695
trust funded with the net proceeds recovered in settlement of the negligence action filed on Jamie's behalf. Saunders moved for summary judgment, claiming that there were no material facts in dispute and that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Making the same assertions, the department filed a cross motion for summary judgment. The trial court concluded that the Probate Court was not empowered to authorize or approve the creation of the trust. Specifically, the trial court held that the Probate Court was without statutory authority to enter the decree permitting Saunders to establish the irrevocable inter vivos trust and, further, that it could not authorize the trust pursuant to its equitable powers because the equitable powers of a probate court can be exercised only when necessary to carry out prescribed statutory duties. Finally, following a motion for articulation as to whether the doctrine of substituted judgment is recognized in Connecticut and whether Saunders' creation of the trust fell within that doctrine, the trial court concluded that the doctrine was not an independent ground upon which the Probate Court could have authorized the creation of the trust because the doctrine had been codified in § 45a-655 (e), which the trial court had already concluded was inapplicable. Accordingly, the trial court granted the department's motion for summary judgment.

Saunders appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court and, pursuant to Practice

247 Conn. 696
Book § 65-1, formerly § 4023, and General Statutes § 51-199 (c), this court transferred the appeal to itself. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

In furtherance of her argument that the trial court improperly held that the Probate Court was not authorized to permit the establishment of the trust in question, Saunders advances three claims. First, she claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the broad power statutorily granted to her, as conservatrix, and to the Probate Court to "manage" a ward's estate, under § 45a-655 (a), did not include the power of the Probate Court to authorize establishment of the trust. Second, Saunders asserts that the trial court improperly concluded that the authorization of the establishment of the trust was not within the Probate Court's equitable or implied powers. Finally, Saunders claims that the trial court improperly concluded that she and the Probate Court were not empowered to establish the trust under the doctrine of substituted judgment. We agree with Saunders' first claim, which is dispositive of this appeal, and, therefore, we need not consider her remaining claims.

Before addressing the parties' arguments, we set forth the applicable standard of review of a trial court's ruling on motions for summary judgment. "Summary judgment `shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and other proof submitted show that,...

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32 practice notes
  • State v. Tabone, No. 18119.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 7, 2009
    ...Knoll II Corp. v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 256 Conn. 674, 722, 780 A.2d 1 (2001), quoting Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 701-702, 724 A.2d 973 A.2d 96 1093 (1999). Moreover, even if such reliance were appropriate in the criminal context, our law permits such analy......
  • In re Michaela Lee R., (SC 16122)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 11, 2000
    ...quotation marks omitted.) In re Baby Z., 247 Conn. 474, 485-86, 724 A.2d 1035 (1999); see also Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 708, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999); Carten v. Carten, 153 Conn. 603, 614, 219 A.2d 711 (1966). "Ordinarily, therefore, whether a Probate Court has juris......
  • O'Dell v. Kozee, No. 18851.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 28, 2012
    ...and thus obscured in the [midst] of committee inactivity.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 706, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999); see also Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574, 600, 103 S.Ct. 2017, 76 L.Ed.2d 157 (1983) (“unsuccess......
  • Luster v. Luster, No. 31907.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 26, 2011
    ...270] of the Probate Court, [is] under the same obligation.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 707–708, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999). Our Supreme Court has also stated: “A conservator is a fiduciary....” Marcus' Appeal from Probate, supra, 199 C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • State v. Tabone, No. 18119.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 7, 2009
    ...Knoll II Corp. v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 256 Conn. 674, 722, 780 A.2d 1 (2001), quoting Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 701-702, 724 A.2d 973 A.2d 96 1093 (1999). Moreover, even if such reliance were appropriate in the criminal context, our law permits such analy......
  • In re Michaela Lee R., (SC 16122)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 11, 2000
    ...quotation marks omitted.) In re Baby Z., 247 Conn. 474, 485-86, 724 A.2d 1035 (1999); see also Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 708, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999); Carten v. Carten, 153 Conn. 603, 614, 219 A.2d 711 (1966). "Ordinarily, therefore, whether a Probate Court has juris......
  • O'Dell v. Kozee, No. 18851.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 28, 2012
    ...and thus obscured in the [midst] of committee inactivity.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 706, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999); see also Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574, 600, 103 S.Ct. 2017, 76 L.Ed.2d 157 (1983) (“unsuccess......
  • Luster v. Luster, No. 31907.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 26, 2011
    ...270] of the Probate Court, [is] under the same obligation.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dept. of Social Services v. Saunders, 247 Conn. 686, 707–708, 724 A.2d 1093 (1999). Our Supreme Court has also stated: “A conservator is a fiduciary....” Marcus' Appeal from Probate, supra, 199 C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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