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SEANER v. SCHIMKE

May 30, 1995

ELIZABETH SEANER, as Conservator of WILFRED CAPELL, and MILLARD FILLMORE HOSPITAL, Plaintiffs,
v.
KAREN SCHIMKE, DEBORAH A. MERRIFIELD, KIRK PERYEA, PATRICIA MILTON, MARY JO BANE, MICHAEL J. DOWLING, and ERIE COUNTY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HECKMAN

 The parties have consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to have the undersigned conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of judgment. Pending before the court is plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (Item 15). In response to plaintiffs' motion, defendants have moved for summary judgment (Items 20 & 25).

 For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motions are granted and plaintiffs' motion is denied.

 BACKGROUND

 The plaintiffs, Wilfred Capell, by his Conservator Elizabeth Seaner, and Millard Fillmore Hospital have filed this complaint under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs claim that Wilfred Capell was wrongfully denied Medicaid benefits, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of both the federal and state constitutions, as well as the federal Medicaid statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1396, 1396a-u.

 The defendants in this case have been sued individually and in their official capacity and are as follows: Karen Schimke, former Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services ("ECDSS"), Deborah A. Merrifield, the present Commissioner of ECDSS, Kirk Peryea, the unit supervisor for the Medicaid Qualification Unit of ECDSS, Patricia Milton, a medicaid interviewer for the Medicaid Qualification Unit of ECDSS, Mary Jo Bane, the former Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, Michael J. Dowling, the present Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, and Erie County.

 Wilfred and Adeline Capell, both of whom are now deceased, were married in 1935 in Buffalo, New York. They had three children: Barry, Bryan, and Bruce. Barry Capell predeceased his parents and is survived by two daughters, Holly Capell and Ann Capell (Eden). In 1953, Wilfred and Adeline became title owners of 7666 Arnold Drive in Wheatfield, New York and made this property their marital residence. The deed was duly recorded in the Niagara County Clerk's office (Item 17).

 In 1987, as a result of marital difficulties due to the onset of Wilfred's Alzheimer's disease, Wilfred Capell left the marital residence and moved in with Elizabeth and Norman Seaner (Item 17). Soon thereafter, Wilfred's physical and mental health began to deteriorate. In February of 1988, Elizabeth Seaner ("Seaner") petitioned the Supreme Count of Erie County to be appointed conservator of Wilfred Capell's property (Item 17).

 On August 3, 1988, Wilfred Capell was admitted to Millard Fillmore Hospital. He was later transferred to the Skilled Nursing Facility of Millard Fillmore, where he remained until his death on May 14, 1994 (Item 17). *fn1"

 Adeline Capell filed for divorce in New York State Supreme Court, Niagara County. On December 28, 1988, a final divorce agreement, providing for the distribution of the marital property, was entered into by oral stipulation (Item 15, exhibit E). On January 31, 1989, Adeline and Wilfred Capell were divorced pursuant to an order of the New York State Supreme Court. The parties stipulated agreement was incorporated but not merged in the divorce decree. Id.

 According to the terms of the agreement, Adeline Capell retained a life estate in the property at 7666 Arnold Drive, with the remainder interest to their adult children Barry and Bruce Capell, who were to receive one-third (1/3) each, and their grandchildren, Holly Capell and Ann Capell (Eden), who were to receive one-sixth (1/6) each (Item 15, exhibit E). On January 11, 1989, Adeline Capell signed the deed to 7666 Arnold Drive, transferring her interest in the property as designated in the divorce agreement. However, the deed was not recorded until August 17, 1992 (Item 15, exhibit F).

 Meanwhile, on January 3, 1989, the Erie County Department of Social Services granted full medicaid coverage to Wilfred Cape (Item 15, exhibit G). Capell's Medicaid coverage was renewed in 1990 and 1991.

 On September 25, 1991, Elizabeth Seaner was appointed conservator of Wilfred Capell's property by the New York State Supreme Court. *fn2" On November 2, 1991, Ms. Seaner, on behalf of Wilfred Capell, signed a deed transferring Wilfred Capells' interest in the Arnold Drive property according to the terms of the divorce agreement. However, this deed was also not recorded at that time.

 In September of 1992, Adeline Capell died. That same month the Arnold Drive property was sold to Eugene and Sue Robinson (Item 22, exhibit E). Title to the property and the mortgage thereon were recorded in the Robinson's name on December 4, 1992 (Item 15, exhibit J).

 On October 10, 1992, Ms. Seaner applied to ECDSS to recertify Wilfred Capell's eligibility for medical assistance benefits for the period beginning December 1, 1992 (Item 22, exhibit L). In a handwritten margin note on the application, Ms. Seaner indicated that the Arnold Drive property had recently been sold for $ 110,000.00. Id.

 Prior to the recertification application, the question of the transfer of the Arnold Drive property, and the possible assignment of the sales proceeds, had come to the attention of ECDSS. Because the transfer of the property could have an effect upon Medicaid eligibility, ECDSS initiated a resource investigation of Wilfred Capell. The investigation results, dated September 11, 1992, concluded that title to the Arnold Drive property was in the names of Adeline and Wilfred Capell based upon the 1953 deed (Item 22, exhibit K). *fn3"

 As a result of Ms. Seaner's notation on the application, along with the results of their own investigation, ECDSS informed Ms. Seaner that the recertification application was incomplete. To complete the application, ECDSS required proof of the closing of the sale on the Arnold Drive property, proof of the amount received for the property and proof of the location of the sales proceeds (Item 22, exhibit M). ECDSS warned Ms. Seaner that under New York state law, the department had to make a decision on Wilfred's application within thirty days. Thus, absent a response to their request by November 27, 1992, they would assume that she did not wish to continue the application and it would be denied. Id.

 Seaner sent a reply letter, dated November 19, 1992. She explained that Barry Capell had sold the property in September of 1992, after Adeline Capell's death. She did not have Barry Capell's address but knew that he worked at the prison in Elmira. She indicated that although she knew Wilfred Capell's name was on the title to the property, he had not received any of the proceeds from the sale of 7666 Arnold Drive. However, Ms. Seaner did not supply the requested documents, nor did she request more time to do so (Item 22, exhibit E).

 ECDSS sent Seaner a notice of intent to discontinue Wilfred Capell's medical assistance as of November 30, 1992, noting specifically Seaner's failure to provide the documents necessary to determine continued eligibility (Item 22, exhibit P). This notice informed Ms. Seaner that if she wanted the medical assistance to continue, ...


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