Motion for Summary Judgment Granted Against the City of New York
In the Matter of the Estate of Julius Boltax, the New York City Human Resources Administration (the “City”) filed a claim, 10 years after the decedent’s death, to recover Medicaid funds paid on the decedent’s behalf for nursing home care.
The decedent’s heirs objected to the claim on the basis that it was barred by the statute of limitations. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the parties disputed the proper starting point of the limitation period. The heirs argued that the starting point should be the date when the City discovered the decedent’s assets, which occurred in 2003. Whereas the City argued that the starting point should be the date when an estate fiduciary was appointed, which occurred in 2015.
The Surrogate ruled in favor of the heirs, holding that the statute of limitations started upon discovery of assets in 2003 and expired in 2010, which barred the City from recovering on its claim, which was not served until 2014—four years late.
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The decedent, Julius Boltax, lived in a nursing home from 2001 until his death in 2004. The City, through Medicaid, covered a portion of the nursing home cost. Julius had no will, and no one sought to become administrator of his estate until 2015 when the Kings County Public Administrator petitioned the Surrogate’s Court. The City served notice of its creditor’s claim on the Public Administrator in 2014, 10 years after the decedent’s death. In 2016, the Public Administrator sought judicial approval of his account, which proposed that the City’s claim be paid from the estate. When the heirs reviewed the accounting, they saw the City’s claim ate up two thirds of the estate.
Concerned Their Inheritance Was At Risk, The Heirs Decided To Retain Antonelli & Antonelli To Protect Their Interests
The firm advised the heirs that several statute of limitations issues were at play. New York’s Social Security Law characterizes the claim as a breach of implied contract, which must be asserted within six years. Further, where a claim arises against a person who dies before the statute of limitations expires, the limitation period is extended by 18 months.
Finally, and here’s the critical piece, there was the question of when the limitation period started to run. Generally, the starting date is the first day the aggrieved party has the right to sue (e.g. the date of injury in a personal injury claim; or the date a contract was violated in a breach of contract claim). But this particular claim, brought by a governmental body pursuant to Social Security Law sections 104 and 369 for recovery of payment for medical services, has a limitation period that primarily depends on the date the governmental body discovered that the recipient of the services had assets that could be used for repayment.
Applying this “discovery” rule is a bit tricky. First, if the City discovered assets during Julius’ life, then the limitation period would run from the date of that discovery. Upon Julius’ death, the period would be tolled for 18 months and then continue for the remainder of the period. Through their investigation, Antonelli & Antonelli obtained proof that the City discovered Julius’ assets in 2003—about a year before his death. Therefore, it appeared the six-year limitation period started in 2003 (upon discovery of assets), ran to 2004 (the date of death), was tolled for 18 months, and then expired in 2010. Yet the City filed its claim in 2014.
On the other hand, if the City did not discover assets until after Julius’ death, then the limitation period would have begun once a fiduciary was appointed for the estate in 2015. This would have given the City until 2021 to serve its claim—an extra 11 years. The claim, having been served in 2014, would have been timely if this rule were applied.
Heirs Win Summary Judgment Dismissing City's Claim
The heirs moved for summary judgment, arguing that since the City discovered Julius’ assets before he died, then the statute of limitations expired in 2010, thereby barring the 2014 claim. The City cross-moved for summary judgment to uphold the claim, arguing that the statute of limitations should be determined to have started upon appointment of the Public Administrator in 2015. The Surrogate held in favor of the heirs and dismissed the claim, rejecting the City’s contention that the claim was made before the limitation period expired.
(*A small portion of the City’s claim was granted on the basis that a portion of the decedent’s assets were not discovered until after the decedent’s death. As to those assets, the statute of limitations started upon the appointment of the Public Administrator.)
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