In Knox v. Dean (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 4 Dist., April 24, 2012), a California Court of Appeal considered whether summary judgment in an elder abuse charge against a conservator of an elderly man was correct. The court ruled that because the caregiver’s defense was based on his mere assertion of the facts, and not a proven defense, triable issues of facts existed and summary judgment should not have been granted.
Lawrence A. Dean (“Dean”) was conservator for Blaine Knox (“Blaine”) from 2003 to 2007, during which time Blaine was 89 to 93 years old. In 2004, 2005, and 2006 Knox filed accountings of his conservatorship with probate court to which no written objections were filed. Dean filed a fourth accounting in 2007, at which time Blaine’s daughter, Donna Knox (“Donna”), filed written objections. Donna then filed suit against Dean alleging elder financial abuse, elder physical neglect, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. Among Donna’s allegations were that Dean paid for services that were not performed or not needed, benefiting himself and people with whom he had personal relationships, that he failed to provide Blaine needed medical care, and that he allowed people to live rent free or at below-market rents in apartments that Blaine owned, depriving Blaine of income to which he was entitled.
Dean moved for summary judgment which the trial court granted. Donna appealed.
The court first stated that Donna’s allegations, if proven, would establish a cause of action under the Welfare and Institutions code sections called the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. The court also ruled that since Donna had filed no objections to Dean’s first three accountings, for the time period through April 30, 2006, Probate Code Section 2103 barred action based on matters occurring prior to that date. However, she remained free to seek action based on matters happening after that date, which she outlined in her objections to the 2007 accounting. The court reviewed those allegations.
Donna asserted that Dean committed financial abuse when he purchased the services of a live-in caregiver when in fact, Blaine was self-providing and capable of caring for himself and provided testimony from physicians asserting such. Dean’s defense was his own observations that because Blaine had impaired hearing and vision, he required live-in caregivers. The court found that Dean’s assertion did not disprove Donna’s charge, and that Donna had therefore raised a triable issue of fact as to whether Dean incurred unnecessary costs to Blaine’s estate.
Donna also charged Dean with physical neglect for failing to monitor Blaine’s health and provide him with regular medical services. Dean countered that Donna failed to set forth sufficient facts to support an allegation of neglect. The court found that a plaintiff need only “set forth the ultimate facts constituting the cause of action, not the evidence by which plaintiff proposes to prove those facts.” Therefore, Donna had properly filed a cause of action for physical neglect. Dean’s mere assertion that he had monitored Blaine’s health was insufficient to support summary judgment, the court added.
Donna charged that Dean breached his fiduciary duty to Blaine by failing to rent his apartments and allowing persons to live in them free or at below-market rents. Dean countered that Donna failed to plead sufficient facts to support her claim. A claim for a breach of fiduciary duty requires the existence of a fiduciary relationship, its breach, and damage caused by that breach. Donna’s allegations met that test, the court found, and were sufficient to bring a cause of action. Summary judgment on this claim was improper because Dean had failed to establish a complete defense, the court ruled.
However, the court ruled that Donna’s claim for fraud was not valid because she had failed to show that Blaine had taken actions and been harmed in reliance on fraudulent actions by Dean. Therefore, the court found that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on the claims of elder financial abuse, physical neglect, and breach of fiduciary duty were in error and was correct only on the claim of fraud.
The judgment was reversed and remanded to the trial court with directions to enter a new order denying Dean’s motion for summary judgment and granting it only on the fraud claim.
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