the court's constitutionally circumscribed job description.
In addition to making policy arguments, the defendants rely heavily on a New York state court case which held that a similar "proportionate share" system did not run afoul of federal law. In In the Matter of Samuelson, 493 N.Y.S.2d 784, 789, 110 A.D.2d 187, 193 (1985), a state appeals court ruled that the state was not barred from seeking recovery from the decedent's sole heir, her son, even though her blind and disabled daughter was still alive. The court concluded that the state could seek recovery from the son because doing so would not contradict the purpose of the federal law. See id.
Because this case is not binding, the court chooses not to follow it for several reasons. First, Congress is better situated to explain its own intentions through plain statutory language than is a state appellate court. Second, "it is inappropriate for a court to invoke the 'broad purpose' of a statute to invalidate specific provisions." Transcon Lines v Sterling Press, 58 F.3d 1432, 1437 (9th Cir 1995). Third, at least two New York courts that have since looked at the issue have declined to follow Samuelson. See In the Matter of Andrews, 650 N.Y.S.2d 470, 471, 234 A.D.2d 692 (1996); In the Matter of Burstein, 611 N.Y.S.2d 739, 740, 160 Misc. 2d 900 (1994). Fourth, unlike the situation in Samuelson in which there was no immediate need for the brother to care for his disabled sister, the facts of this case indicate that Dalzin is in the direct care of Smith.
Furthermore, it is not, as the defendants imply, inconceivable that Congress intended the statute to read as it was actually written, passed and signed. In fact, there are least three reasons why Congress may have crafted the law the way it is. First, one need not look further than the facts of this case to realize that sheltering the siblings of disabled people from recovery claims will, in many instances, benefit the disabled heirs as well. Smith, as the court imagines many siblings would, is taking care of his disabled brother Dalzin. Obviously, a rule that protects Smith's assets is likely to allow him, at least to some degree, to take better care of Dalzin. In fact, it appears from the facts that such a rule will allow the pair to remain in their home.
The defendants claim that the "hardship" provisions in the state law address some of these situations. The notion that the state's hardship provisions somehow obviate the need to follow the clear language of 42 USC 1396p(b)(2) is, however, belied by the fact that the federal law itself directs states to provide for such hardship provisions as well. See 42 USC 1396p(b)(3). It is therefore clear that Congress intended the hardship provisions to supplement the clear meaning of 42 USC 1396p(b)(2), not replace it.
Second, in other situations, the court imagines that a parent may be unwilling to leave a sizeable portion of his estate to a disabled child, especially a child with a severe mental disability or other condition that may render that child financially irresponsible. A parent may instead choose to leave the estate to a more responsible child so that he could then take care of his disabled sibling. Under a "proportionate share" system, however, there is a disincentive against such arrangements because the state could file a recovery claim against the entire estate even though it would be used, in part, to benefit the disabled child. Congress may have written the law as it is in order to prevent states from imposing this disincentive.
Of course, a parent may be able to circumvent this disincentive through the use of a trust fund, but as the facts of Samuelson demonstrate, some parents may have neither a keen understanding of probate law nor the resources to obtain competent legal help. See Samuelson, 493 N.Y.S.2d at 789 (mother attempted to express her testamentary intent through precatory and therefore unenforceable language); see also 42 USC 1396p(d) (governing trusts in this same context).
Third, in certain situations, it might not be possible to separate the inheritance of various heirs until after the state's recovery claim has been paid. For example, in California, the intent of the testator as expressed in a will controls the legal effect of dispositions made within the will. See Cal Prob Code § 6140(a). When an estate is insufficient to cover both its devises and its debts, some of the devises must be abated. See 12 Witkin, Summary of California Law § 622. If the testator provides, as Jane Longshore did, that abatement is to occur before the equal division of the estate, then any claim by the state for recovery will necessarily reduce the inheritance of all heirs, including the disabled children. This runs counter to the purpose of the federal law.
For the foregoing reasons, the court:
(1) GRANTS plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (Doc # 14, Pt # 1);
(2) GRANTS plaintiffs' motion for permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from enforcing California's "proportionate share" system against them (Doc # 14, Pt # 2); and
(3) DENIES the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc # 21, Pt # 1).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
VAUGHN R. WALKER
United States District Judge
JUDGMENT. - ENTERED IN CIVIL DOCKET Nov 18 1997
Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 58
In accordance with this court's order of November 14, 1997, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED; plaintiffs' motion for permanent injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing California's "proportionate share" system against them is GRANTED; and defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
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