Search for Elder Law Attorneys
U.S. District Court Supports Right of Spousal Refusal in Connecticut
A U.S. district court judge upholds the right of a Connecticut nursing home resident applying for Medicaid to assign support rights to the state and his community spouse to exercise her right of spousal refusal. Morenz v. Wilson-Coker (D. Conn., Civ. Act. No. 3:04 CV 216, June 10, 2004).
Robert Morenz, a Connecticut nursing home resident, applied for Medicaid coverage on November 1, 2003. In support of Mr. Morenz's application, his wife, Clara, also filed a written assignment of Mr. Morenz's support rights to the State of Connecticut, and a document entitled “Spousal Refusal Statement,” in which Mrs. Morenz disclaimed any intention to provide her husband with financial assistance. In the 36 months prior to applying for Medicaid, Mr. Morenz had transferred title to $323,131 in assets to Mrs. Morenz using a durable power of attorney Mr. Morenz had executed. Mr. Morenz's application for Medicaid was denied on the basis of excess resources. Both the Morenzes and Patricia Wilson-Coker, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services, moved for summary judgment.
Ms. Wilson-Coker advanced several arguments in her claim that the federal provision allowing assignment of support rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1396r-5(c)(3), and her department's own regulations, do not apply. She argued that Connecticut law grants acceptance of spousal support rights only when the community spouse cannot or will not provide eligibility information. She further claimed that Mrs. Morenz's power of attorney did not authorize the assignment, and that Mrs. Morenz violated her fiduciary duty to her spouse by assigning support rights. Finally, Ms. Wilson-Coker noted that permitting Medicaid eligibility in cases like those of the Morenzes would undermine the intent of the program.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut rejects these arguments and grants the Morenzes' motion for summary judgment. The court disagrees with Ms. Wilson-Coker's narrow reading of Connecticut law regarding the acceptance of support rights. The court goes on to rule that Mrs. Morenz had sufficient authority under her power of attorney and that it is unclear how the assignment would work to Mr. Morenz's detriment. The court agrees that its ruling may undermine the purposes of the Medicaid program but that it has little choice when a statute is clear on its face. "Under the federal statute," the court write, "an institutionalized spouse cannot be denied Medicaid eligibility because of excess resources when he has assigned support rights to the state. Nothing under Connecticut law prevents such assignment."
Longtime National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys member René H. Reixach of the Rochester, New York, firm of Woods, Oviatt & Gilman served as co-counsel for the Morenzes.
To download the full text of this decision in PDF format, go to: http://www.ctd.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/061104.SRU_.Morenz.pdf
(If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, download it here.)
Did you know that the ElderLawAnswers database now contains summaries of more than 2,000 fully searchable elder law decisions dating back to 1993? To search the database, click here.