In re Bonora

Decision Date03 December 2014
Docket Number2014-02896
Citation123 A.D.3d 699,2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 08425,998 N.Y.S.2d 400
PartiesIn the Matter of Palma BONORA, deceased. Gary D. Gotlin, etc., respondent; Bruce L. Stein, etc., appellant.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Cullen and Dykman LLP, New York, N.Y. (Michael P. Ryan, Richard H. Freeman, Joseph J. Borges, and Wendy Tobias of counsel), for appellant.

John Z. Marangos, Staten Island, N.Y., for respondent.

PETER B. SKELOS, J.P., THOMAS A. DICKERSON, CHERYL E. CHAMBERS, and SANDRA L. SGROI, JJ.

Opinion

In a proceeding pursuant to SCPA 1001 for the administration of the estate of Palma Bonora, Bruce L. Stein, as Public Administrator of Kings County, appeals, as limited by his brief, from stated portions of an order of the Surrogate's Court, Richmond County (Gigante, S.), dated March 20, 2014, which, inter alia, denied that branch of his motion which was to revoke letters of administration issued to Gary D. Gotlin, as Public Administrator of Richmond County, and granted the cross motion of Gary D. Gotlin, among other things, for a judgment declaring that the decedent was domiciled in Richmond County at the time of her death.

ORDERED that the order is reversed insofar as appealed from, on the law, with costs, that branch of the motion of Bruce L. Stein, as Public Administrator of Kings County, which was, in effect, to revoke letters of administration issued to Gary D. Gotlin, as Public Administrator of Richmond County, is granted, and the cross motion of Gary D. Gotlin, as Public Administrator of Richmond County, inter alia, for a judgment declaring that the decedent was domiciled in Richmond County at the time of her death is denied.

In September 2004, the decedent, Palma Bonora, who was then 83 years old and resided in Kings County, was admitted to a nursing home, SS Joachim and Anne Residence (hereinafter SS Joachim), which was also located in Kings County. In 2006, Neil Mauriello, a relative of the decedent, commenced a proceeding pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law article 81 for his appointment as the guardian of the personal needs and property management of the decedent, alleging that the decedent suffered from dementia. In an order dated July 27, 2006, the Supreme Court, Kings County, appointed Mauriello as the guardian of the decedent's person, with the authority to choose her “place of abode including continued placement in a nursing home.” In 2008, Mauriello directed the transfer of the decedent to St. Elizabeth Ann's Health Care and Rehabilitation (hereinafter St. Elizabeth), a nursing home in Richmond County, which was better able to meet her medical needs.

The decedent died intestate on July 12, 2013, while still an inpatient at St. Elizabeth. In November 2013, Gary D. Gotlin, the Public Administrator of Richmond County, commenced this proceeding pursuant to SCPA 1001 for the administration of the decedent's estate. Shortly thereafter, Bruce L. Stein, the Public Administrator of Kings County, commenced a separate proceeding for the administration of the decedent's estate in the Surrogate's Court, Kings County (see Matter of Bonora, 123 A.D.3d 703, 998 N.Y.S.2d 304 Appellate Division Docket No. 2014–03362 [decided herewith] ). Stein's counsel asserted that, at the time Stein's petition was filed, counsel was “unaware of a prior filing for such relief having been made by the Public Administrator of Richmond County.” In a decree dated December 16, 2013, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, issued letters of administration to Stein. In a subsequent decree dated December 30, 2013, the Surrogate's Court, Richmond County, issued letters of administration to Gotlin.

In January 2014, Stein moved for leave to intervene in the instant proceeding and to revoke the letters of administration issued to Gotlin, asserting that he had exclusive authority to administer the decedent's estate pursuant to SCPA 704 because letters of administration were first issued to him by the Surrogate's Court, Kings County. Stein also argued that the decedent was domiciled in Kings County at the time of her death because she lacked the capacity to change her domicile to Richmond County. Thereafter, Gotlin cross-moved, in effect, for a judgment declaring that the decedent was domiciled in Richmond County at the time of her death, and to transfer the Kings County proceeding to Richmond County. In March 2014, Gotlin moved in the Kings County proceeding to revoke the letters of administration issued to Stein by that court on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, asserting that Stein failed to cite certain distributees of the decedent's estate in his petition and thereupon serve a citation upon those distributees.

In an order dated March 20, 2014, the Surrogate's Court, Richmond County, denied that branch of Stein's motion which was to revoke the letters of administration issued to Gotlin, and granted Gotlin's cross motion for a judgment declaring that the decedent was domiciled in Richmond County at the time of her death and to transfer the Kings County proceeding to Richmond County. Thereafter, in an order dated March 28, 2014, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, denied Gotlin's motion, inter alia, to revoke the letters of administration issued to Stein (see Matter of Bonora, 123 A.D.3d 703, 998 N.Y.S.2d 304, Appellate Division Docket No. 2014–03362 [decided herewith] ).

As the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, properly determined, Stein has exclusive authority to administer the decedent's estate pursuant to SCPA 704. That section provides, in part, that [a] person who applies in good faith therefor, and to whom letters are first issued from a court having jurisdiction to issue them, has exclusive authority under the letters until they are revoked” (SCPA 704 [emphasis added] ). Here, letters of administration were first issued to Stein by the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, and the record supports Stein's assertion that he had applied in “good faith” for letters of administration, without notice or knowledge of the petition filed in Richmond County (SCPA 704 ). Further, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, did not lack jurisdiction to issue letters of administration to Stein. Since the decedent was a domiciliary of New York State at the time of her death, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, possessed subject-matter jurisdiction over the decedent's estate (see SCPA 205[1] ).

Contrary to Gotlin's contention, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County, did not lack personal jurisdiction over certain alleged distributees of the decedent. Pursuant to SCPA 1003(2), [e]very eligible person who has a right to administration prior or equal to that of the petitioner and who has not renounced must be served with process upon an application for letters of administration (emphasis added). However, [w]here the right of the applicant for letters of administration is superior to the right of other persons interested in the estate, process need not issue and letters will be granted upon a proper petition and due qualification” (1–13 N.Y. Practice Guide: Probate & Estate Admin § 13.08; see Margaret Valentine Turano, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons. Laws. of N.Y., Book 58A, SCPA 1003 at 46–47). Further, SCPA 1001 mandates the issuance of letters of administration to the public administrator where the only known distributees of a decedent are “issue of grandparents, other than aunts or uncles, on only one side” (SCPA 1001[1][f] [ii] ). Here, Gotlin admitted in an affidavit that only second cousins on the decedent's paternal side had known relationships to the decedent, and that the decedent's relationships to three individuals, who he had initially alleged were maternal first cousins, were “undetermined at this time.” Consequently, the relationship of distributees to the decedent on her maternal side, if any, “is not...

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1 cases
  • In re Bonora
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 3 December 2014

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