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Gheen v. State ex rel. Department of Health

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 30, 2014

JAMES THOMAS GHEEN and EDWARD DALE GHEEN, Appellants (Petitioners),

Page 919

Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County. The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge.

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

Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Donna A. Murray, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Murray.

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


Page 920

KITE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] The State of Wyoming, ex rel. Department of Health, Division of Healthcare Financing/Equalitycare (the Department) filed a lien against two properties to recover the cost of Medicaid benefits paid on behalf of Peggy Gheen. Mrs. Gheen's sons, James and Edward Gheen (hereinafter " Gheen sons" ), filed a petition to remove a false lien and quiet title, claiming they were the rightful owners of the properties pursuant to quitclaim deeds recorded after their mother's death. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department, ruling that under the relevant federal and state laws, the lien was appropriate.[1] The Gheen sons appealed.

[¶2] We affirm.


[¶3] The Gheen sons present the following issues on appeal:

I. Whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to determine sua sponte the validity of the quitclaim deeds transferring property to [the Gheen sons] when [the Department] lack[ed] standing to question the grantor's donative intent at the time of due execution of the conveying deeds, or in the alternative whether it erred as a matter of law by nullifying two uncontested quitclaim deeds.
II. Whether the remedial provisions of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 29-1-601(b) may be invoked against [the Department] as claimant on the legally groundless and impermiss[i]ble recorded claim of lien against property known to belong to [the Gheen sons], as individuals against whom [the Department] ha[s] no rights to recover, as a matter of public record.

The Department states the issues as:

I. Federal and state law require [the Department] to seek reimbursement from the real and personal property in which an individual had any legal title or interest at the time of death in

Page 921

order to recover amounts paid for medical assistance. [The Department] provided medical assistance to Peggy Gheen during the last three months of her life. After Mrs. Gheen died[,] [the Department] placed a lien on two parcels of land in which Ms. Gheen had an interest.
Ms. Gheen's sons brought a petition to remove the lien claiming it was false or frivolous because they had recorded deeds which they found after their mother died. Although the deeds were dated in 2006, they were not delivered to the Gheen [sons], the Gheen [sons] did not know of them until after their mother's death, and they were not recorded until 2011.
Did the district court correctly rule that, as a matter of law, there had been no conveyance of the property in 2006 and that [the Department] could record a lien against it?
II. Wyoming's prohibition against frivolous liens invalidates liens filed against the property of a government official based on that official's performance or nonperformance of official duties. Did the district court correctly determine that this statute does not apply to a lien filed by [the Department] against Ms. Gheen's property and correctly dismiss the Petition to Remove False Claim filed pursuant to Wyoming Statute § 29-1-601(b)?[2]


[¶4] This matter involves two Goshen County, Wyoming properties--a residence and a farm. Dale Gheen, who was Mrs. Gheen's husband and the Gheen sons' father, passed away in 2001. Mr. and Mrs. Gheen owned the residential property as tenants by the entireties, and after Mr. Gheen's death, Mrs. Gheen filed an affidavit stating she was the sole owner pursuant to her right of survivorship. The farm property was distributed through Mr. Gheen's intestacy proceedings, with an undivided one-half distributed to Mrs. Gheen and an undivided one-quarter interest to each of the Gheen sons. Mrs. Gheen executed quitclaim deeds for her interests in the residential and farm properties to the Gheen sons and they were notarized on December 29, 2006. She did not, however, inform her sons about the deeds or record them.

[¶5] On May 4, 2010, James Gheen applied for Medicaid benefits on behalf of Mrs. Gheen. In the application, he indicated that Mrs. Gheen owned the residential property and an interest in the farm property. The Department approved Mrs. Gheen's application, and she received $10,508.54 ...

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