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In re Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of Eddie

May 1, 2009; as modified May 14, 2009


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Kern County. Louie L. Vega, Commissioner. (Super. Ct. No. S-1500-PB-55764) Kern County.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wiseman, Acting P.J.


In this appeal we hold that Welfare and Institutions Code section 7275*fn1 does not violate equal protection when applied to allow the state to seek reimbursement from the conservator of an Alzheimer‟s dementia patient who was committed to a state hospital, as a pretrial detainee, charged with the murder of his wife.


In September 2005, 78-year-old Thomas Edde, who suffers from Alzheimer‟s dementia, tragically murdered his wife Loretta after an argument. Criminal proceedings were initiated and the trial court found Thomas incompetent to stand trial within the meaning of Penal Code section 1368. The court ordered that Thomas be committed to Patton State Hospital for treatment and care pursuant to Penal Code sections 1370 and 1370.1, with the goal that Thomas be restored to competency. Criminal proceedings were suspended. A conservatorship over Thomas‟s estate was established in October 2006 in superior court case No. S-1500-PB-55764 (conservatorship action). Thomas‟s daughter April Edde was appointed conservator. Respondent Kern County Public Guardian Kris Grasty (public guardian) is the current conservator of Thomas‟s person and estate.

After Loretta’s murder, John D. Denney was appointed the administrator of Loretta’s estate in superior court case No. S-1500-PB-54799 (probate action). Denney appears in this appeal as a real party in interest. Denney filed a Petition to Determine Felonious and Intentional Killing in the probate action and a civil wrongful death action on behalf of Loretta‟s estate and her four adult children. Denney negotiated a settlement with April Edde of the wrongful-death claim and all other claims against Loretta‟s estate. Denney then filed a petition seeking court approval of the settlement reached. The public guardian objected to the settlement on the ground that April Edde had violated her fiduciary duty in negotiating its terms. Appellant State of California Department of Developmental Services (DSS or state) objected on the ground that it had a claim on the estate in the amount of $200,423.67 for the cost of Thomas‟s care pursuant to section 7275. April Edde was removed as conservator and the court appointed the public guardian as Thomas‟s conservator. Denney and the public guardian negotiated an alternative settlement, which included an agreement that, in exchange for a payment of $50,000 from Loretta‟s estate to Thomas‟s estate, Thomas would release all remaining claims against the assets he held jointly with Loretta and those assets of Loretta‟s in which he held a beneficiary interest.

At the same time, DSS filed a petition for instructions in the conservatorship action and for an order that the conservator pay its claim. The public guardian objected, as did Denney, in his role as administrator of Loretta‟s estate, on equal-protection grounds.

While these matters were pending, and after Thomas had been at Patton for approximately 16 months, the trial court concluded that it was unlikely Thomas‟s competency would be restored. The court ordered that Thomas be released from custody and placed in a secured residential facility. The court retained jurisdiction and criminal proceedings remained suspended.

Because both the petition to pay and the objection to the alternative settlement involved the same issues, i.e., whether DSS was entitled to recover the cost of Thomas‟s care and from whom, the matters were heard together. The two matters were not, however, consolidated. The court approved the alternative settlement and denied DSS‟s claim, finding it would be a violation of equal protection to allow DSS to recover the cost of Thomas‟s care. Two separate orders were filed. The order overruling the objection to the proposed alternative settlement was filed on March 20, 2008. No appeal has been taken from that order. Consequently, in this opinion, we only address issues raised in the appeal from the conservatorship action, to which DSS prematurely filed a notice of appeal on February 22, 2008. The order denying the petition for payment, which ultimately was prepared by Denney, was filed April 23, 2008.


I. Scope and Timing of the Notice of Appeal

As we have indicated, the notice of appeal was filed before the order was formally entered. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.104(a).) In the interest of judicial economy, we will consider the premature notice as having been filed immediately after the order was entered on April 23, 2008. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.104(e); see also In re Marriage of Gray (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 504, 514; Matera v. McLeod (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 44, 59.)

The notice of appeal is very limited in scope. The appeal currently before us arises out of the conservatorship action only. As a result, we do not have jurisdiction to review any order from the probate action. (Hollister Convalescent Hosp., Inc. v. Rico (1975) 15 Cal.3d 660, 666 [appellate court has no jurisdiction to hear appeal absent timely filing of notice of appeal]; accord, Estate of Hanley (1943) 23 Cal.2d 120, 122.) The order in the probate action approving the settlement agreement resolved all challenges to assets held in Loretta‟s estate to which Thomas had claimed an interest, either as a surviving spouse, as a surviving joint tenant, or as a beneficiary. The order also found that DSS has no claim for reimbursement from Loretta‟s estate for costs incurred in caring for Thomas. With respect to Loretta‟s estate, the order approving the settlement and denying the state‟s claim is now final law of the case and binding upon DSS. It is not subject to review by this court.

As a result, our analysis is limited only to review of the order filed in the conservatorship action and extends to whether DSS is entitled to seek reimbursement from Thomas‟s estate, as it exists after the settlement order approved in the probate action. (Soldate v. Fidelity National Financial, Inc. (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1069, 1073 [appellate court‟s jurisdiction on appeal limited in scope to notice of appeal and order appealed from; where no appeal from separately appealable order, court cannot review issues arising out of nonappealed order]; accord, Polster, Inc. v. Swing (1985) 164 Cal.App.3d 427, 436.) Consequently, we do not consider whether DSS is entitled to ...

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