Filial Support is Alive and Well for those who receive care in Pennsylvania

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Tucker Arensberg, P.C.

In its April 26, 2019 Opinion in the matter of Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt, et al., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania’s filial support statute applies to a support claim by a Pennsylvania healthcare provider against parents domiciled in New Jersey for care provided in Pennsylvania to their disabled adult son.

The Melmark Opinion expands upon the application of Pennsylvania’s filial support statute, 23 Pa.C.S. § 4603(a)-(c), which was applied most notably by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas to hold that a son was liable for his mother’s nursing care bill of nearly $93,000.

Pennsylvania’s filial support law generally provides that a spouse, child or parent who has “sufficient financial ability” of an indigent person has “the responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist [such] indigent person, regardless of whether the indigent person is a public charge”.  23 Pa.C.S. § 4603(a)-(c).

In the Pittas case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held Mr. Pittas responsible for the cost of his mother’s nursing home care because he had net income in excess of $85,000 and because he did not otherwise establish that he lacked sufficient financial ability to financially support her.  

In its Pittas Opinion, the Superior Court also determined Pennsylvania’s filial support statute does not require that other possible sources of income be considered before proceeding against any one of the financially responsible relatives listed in the statute.   The Superior Court suggested in Pittas that there is joint and several liability under Pennsylvania’s filial support statute, such that a claimant could proceed against any one of the statutorily responsible relatives regardless of the financial ability of any other relative, even if more sufficient.  

In Pittas Superior Court found that the meaning of “indigent” as used in the filial support statute “includes, but is not limited to, those who are completely destitute and helpless…” and that it “also encompasses those persons who have some limited means, but whose means are not sufficient to adequately provide for their maintenance and support.”

In its Melmark Opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed a conflict between the filial support law of New Jersey, the state where the indigent son and his parents were legally domiciled, and Pennsylvania’s filial support law. Notably, New Jersey’s filial support law does not impose liability for individuals younger than 55 years of age unless the indigent person is the party’s spouse or minor child. 

Alex Melmark suffered from severe mental and physical disabilities and needed assistance with nearly all activities of daily living.  He and his parents, Dr. Clarence and Barbara Schutt, lived in Princeton, New Jersey.  However, in 2001, Alex’s parents, who were also his court appointed guardians, placed him in the Melmark non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Due to a protracted dispute over public funding for Alex’s care, Melmark filed a filial support claim against Dr. and Mrs. Schutt in Pennsylvania under its filial support law. 

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the conflict between Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s filial support law.  The Schutts could not be liable under New Jersey law because Alex was under age 55 and not a minor at the time care was provided, while the Schutts could be liable under Pennsylvania law because does not apply such age restriction.

The Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania’s filial support law applied and that the Schutts could be liable under this statute. In its conflicts of law analysis the Court noted, in pertinent part, that Pennsylvania had a stronger interest in applying its law as all of the relevant facts occurred in Pennsylvania, notably that the Schutts voluntarily brought their son Mark to reside at the Melmark facility in Delaware County and personally funded other services for his benefit in Pennsylvania.

Link to the Supreme Court’s Melmark opinion.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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