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Estate of Marusich v. State, ex rel., Dept. of Health, Office of Healthcare Financing/Equalitycare

Supreme Court of Wyoming

December 10, 2013

The ESTATE OF Joan M. MARUSICH, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
STATE of Wyoming, EX REL., DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, OFFICE OF HEALTHCARE FINANCING/EQUALITYCARE, Appellee (Respondent).

Page 1273

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1274

Representing Appellant: Craig C. Cook and Dennis C. Cook of Cook & Associates, P.C., Laramie, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Craig C. Cook.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Kristin M. Nuss, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Nuss.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

Page 1275

KITE, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] After Joan M. Marusich died, the State of Wyoming ex rel. Department of Health, Office of Healthcare Financing/Equalitycare (Department) filed a lien against the home she owned with her husband, William Marusich, as tenants by the entirety. The Department sought to recover the cost of Medicaid benefits paid on behalf of Mr. Marusich, who had predeceased Mrs. Marusich. The Estate of Joan M. Marusich (Marusich Estate) filed a petition to remove a false lien. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department, ruling tat under the relevant federal and state laws, the lien was appropriate. After the district court entered a final judgment on the amount of the lien and denied the Marusich Estate's motion to amend the petition, the estate appealed.

[¶ 2] We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 3] The Marusich Estate presents the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether property owned by a married couple as tenants by the entireties may be subject to a lien against property in the estate of the surviving spouse for recovery of Medicaid expenses paid solely on behalf of the predeceased spouse.
2. Whether the remedial provisions of W.S. § 29-1-601(b) may be invoked against appellee as claimant on a legally groundless and impermiss[i]ble recorded claim of lien.
3. Whether the district court erred when it denied a motion to amend petition to conform the pleadings to the underlying cause of action in quiet title that was argued by the parties on cross motions for summary judgment.

The Department's issues are similar, though phrased differently.

FACTS

[¶ 4] The material facts of this case are undisputed. Mr. and Mrs. Marusich had been married almost forty-four years when Mr. Marusich died in 2005. At the time of his death and for several years before, Mr. Marusich was an inpatient in a nursing home, and he received Medicaid benefits to assist in paying for his care. Mrs. Marusich continued to live in the marital home, which they owned as " husband and wife." Mrs. Marusich did not receive Medicaid benefits and died intestate in February 2012.

[¶ 5] On April 6, 2012, the Department filed a lien against the Marusiches' home to recover Medicaid expenses of $160,410.66 paid on behalf of Mr. Marusich. On April 11, 2012, the district court opened the Marusich Estate. Although notification of the probate was published in the local newspaper, the Marusich Estate did not send a notice to the Department and, accordingly, it did not file a claim in accordance with probate law. On April 19, 2012, the estate's attorney and co-administrator executed and recorded an Affidavit of Survivorship, stating that Mrs. Marusich had full survivorship interest in the marital property upon Mr. Marusich's death in 2005.

[¶ 6] On August 8, 2012, the Marusich Estate filed a Petition to Remove False Lien against the Department, pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 29-1-601(b) (LexisNexis 2013).[1]

Page 1276

The Department answered asserting the lien was valid, counterclaimed for a judgment in the amount of the lien and requested an order allowing sale of the property to satisfy its lien. The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment, and, after a hearing, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department and against the Marusich Estate on the validity of the lien but concluded there was a genuine issue of fact regarding the proper amount of the lien. The parties subsequently stipulated as to the amount of Medicaid benefits paid by the Department on behalf of Mr. Marusich and the district court entered a final judgment. The district court also denied the Marusich Estate's motion to amend its petition. The Marusich Estate filed a timely notice of appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 7] With regard to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department, we look to W.R.C.P. 56(c):

The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
We review a district court's summary judgment rulings de novo, using the same materials and following the same standards as the district court. The facts are reviewed from the vantage point most favorable to the party who opposed the motion, and we give that party the benefit of all favorable inferences that may fairly be drawn from the record.

Michael's Constr., Inc. v. American Nat'l Bank, 2012 WY 76, ¶ 8, 278 P.3d 701, 703-04 (Wyo.2012); Grynberg v. L & R Exploration Venture, 2011 WY 134, ¶ 16, 261 P.3d 731, 735-36 (Wyo.2011). This case requires interpretation of the relevant statutes which is a question of law subject to our de novo standard of review. Western Wyo. Constr. Co. v. Bd. of County Comm'rs of Sublette County, 2013 WY 63, ¶¶ 10, 15, 301 P.3d 512, 514-16 (Wyo.2013); Vogel v. Onyx Acceptance Corp., 2011 WY 163, ¶ 21, 267 P.3d 1057, 1063 (Wyo.2011).

[¶ 8] The district court has discretion in ruling on a motion to amend a pleading, and we will not reverse its decision unless it abused its discretion. Jasper v. Brinckerhoff, 2008 WY 32, ¶ 8, 179 P.3d 857, 862 (Wyo.2008). The core inquiry under the abuse of discretion standard is whether the district court could have reasonably concluded as it did. Fix v. South Wilderness Ranch Homeowners Ass'n, 2012 WY 96, ¶ 12, 280 ...


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