Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Maine Supremes Allow State To Dodge Liability For Grossly Breaching Its Duty Of Care When Acting As Public Guardian For Disabled Man When It Unloaded His Home For Less Than Half Its Assessed Value, Allowed Another House To Reach State Of Disrepair That It Became Uninhabitable, Peddled His Personal Belongings (& Euthanized His Beloved 10-Year Old Cat)

In Rockland, Maine, the Portland Press Herald reports:
  • The state is immune from liability for selling the waterfront house of a man in its care for well below its value,(1) allowing another home he owned in Rockland to fall into disrepair,(2) selling off his personal belongings and euthanizing his cat.(3)

    The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday [March 2] in the lawsuit brought on behalf of William Dean against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

    The ruling comes nearly four years after the original lawsuit was filed and nearly six months after the high court justices heard arguments on the matter. Dean has died since that hearing, succumbing to natural causes on Oct. 16. He was 71.

    Cynthia Ann Dill, Dean’s Portland-based attorney, said Thursday that she respects the ruling but urged the Maine Legislature to expressly provide by statute that when the DHHS acts as a public guardian it is “accountable for damages caused when, as in this case, the duty of care is so grossly breached.”

    Dean suffered from mental health issues throughout his life. Among other things, he had Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that made it difficult for him to interact with other people.
    In December 2015, Justice Andrew Horton of the Maine Business and Consumer Court in Portland ruled that the lawsuit could go forward on the single issue of whether the state breached its fiduciary duty while it served Dean’s conservator in 2012 and 2013.

    The DHHS appealed that lower court ruling. Assistant Attorney General Christopher Taub argued that the state is immune from liability under the Maine Tort Claims Act. He said there are exceptions to the immunity, but only when it is spelled out in other laws approved by the Maine Legislature.

    The Supreme Court justices agreed, saying there is nothing in the state’s probate laws that waives immunity, even when the state serves as a conservator for someone in its care.
For more, see State can’t be sued for selling property, euthanizing cat of man in its care, Maine’s top court rules (William Dean died before the conclusion of his four-year case, but now his attorney wants legislation to make the state accountable when ‘the duty of care is so grossly breached’).
(1) According to the story:
  • [T]he waterfront cottage [...] was sold for $205,000, even though the town had the property – 1 acre with 100 feet of ocean frontage and the 1,000-square-foot, two-story cottage – assessed for tax purposes at $476,840.
(2) The story states that:
  • The state also tried to sell the Rockland home on Broadway, but a pipe burst during the winter when there was no heat and caused major flooding, which then led to mold throughout the home, making it uninhabitable.
(3) According to the story:
  • In an October 2015 interview, Dean said the state’s decision to euthanize his longtime companion, a 10-year-old Himalayan cat named Caterpillar, bothered him the most. guardianship

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