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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. GRAVES

April 22, 1952

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
v.
GRAVES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEECH

This is an action by the District of Columbia to recover from the estate of a deceased patient in Saint Elizabeths Hospital the cost of the patient's care for which the District has not been reimbursed.

The decedent, Edward Charlton Graves, was adjudged of unsound mind and committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital on September 27, 1944. On November 6, 1944, his wife was appointed committee of his person and estate. On March 23, 1945, the committee was ordered, among other things, to pay to the District of Columbia on account of the expenses of the patient's care the sum of $ 40 per month. This amount was paid to the District of Columbia throughout the period of the patient's confinement. On January 5, 1951, the patient died while still confined at the Hospital. By stipulation dated December 3, 1951, filed in this cause, it was agreed between the parties that the cost of the decedent's care during the period of his confinement at Saint Elizabeths for which the District of Columbia has not been reimbursed, is $ 4,955.13.

 The order of March 23, 1945, providing for payment of $ 40 per month was based on consideration of the need of the patient's dependent wife for support, and included a provision that the committee should pay to herself the sum of $ 50 per month for her own maintenance. Subsequently, by order of September 20, 1950, the wife's allotment was increased to $ 100 per month.

 On February 2, 1951, decedent's widow was appointed administratrix c.t.a. of his estate. The District of Columbia filed a claim against the estate for the balance of $ 4,955.13, which was rejected by the administratrix. The District then filed this suit.

 A review of the official files of this court in the mental health and administration proceedings (M.H. No. 27535 and Administration No. 77037) shows the transfer on April 30, 1951, from the committee to the administratrix of cash in the amount of $ 554.28 and securities valued at $ 17,452.75, and that a dividend of $ 137.70 was due on certain stock. It has been stipulated by counsel for the respective parties that the present net value of the estate is $ 17,245.51.

 The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action on which relief could be granted, and the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. Both motions were denied. At the time the case came on for hearing on the merits, counsel for the plaintiff and defendant moved for reconsideration of their motions, and thereafter filed memoranda supporting their respective views.

 On further consideration of the matter, I have concluded that the District of Columbia is entitled to be reimbursed out of the estate of the decedent for the balance of the cost of the patient's care. I hold, further, that even if the estate were inadequate to satisfy the entire amount due, the District would be entitled under the statute to a judgment for the entire balance and to be paid its pro rata share out of the proceeds of the estate on the same basis as any other creditor.

 The pertinent sections of the District of Columbia Code, 1940 Edition, are Secs. 21-307, 21-318, and 21-319.

 Section 21-307 provides in part:

 '* * * In case any such person adjudged to be of unsound mind has property, real or personal, the equity court of said District shall have full power in the same cause to appoint a committee or trustee of the person and estate of such person, according to the provisions of section 21-301, and such committee or trustee shall reimburse, out of the funds of the lunatic, the District of Columbia for all court costs expended or incurred by it and for all moneys by it expended or costs incurred in caring for and treating such insane person up to the time of such appointment. (Feb. 23, 1905, 33 Stat. 740, ch. 738, Sec. 1.)' (Emphasis supplied.)

 It has already been determined by the Court of Appeals that the estate of a deceased insane person is liable under this section for the cost of his confinement. In Fitzhugh v. District of Columbia, 71 App.D.C. 290, 109 F.2d 837, it was held that the 1905 Act changed the law to provide that maintenance thereafter furnished to insane persons was to be furnished not as an absolute charity, but upon the condition and expectation of reimbursement if the financial condition of the beneficiary should change; that the Act made the insane person liable for the support furnished him, subject only to his ability to pay; that the expense of the insane person's maintenance is a liability of his estate, to be enforced under the general statutes for the administration of a lunatic's property; that the statute of limitations is inapplicable; and that an unsatisfied claim for such expense, after discharge of the committee, may be filed in probate proceedings and prosecuted accordingly. The Fitzhugh case did not involve the question of support for dependents. However, it is to be noted that Sec. 21-307 makes no mention of the needs of dependents of an insane person. On the contrary, it specifically states that the committee shall reimburse the District out of the funds of the lunatic 'for all moneys by it expended or costs incurred in caring for and treating such insane person'.

 Section 21-318, which was enacted as part of the 1939 revision of the law of the District of Columbia providing for commitment of insane persons, reads:

 'The father, mother, husband, wife, and adult children of an insane person, if of sufficient ability, and the committee or guardian of his or her person and estate, if his or her estate is sufficient for the purpose, shall pay the cost to the District of Columbia of his or her maintenance, including treatment in Saint Elizabeths Hospital or in any other hospital to which the insane person may be committed. It shall be the further duty of said commission, to examine under oath, the father, mother, husband, wife, adult children, and committee, if any, of any alleged insane person whenever such relatives live within the District of Columbia, and to ascertain the ability of such relatives or committee, if any, to maintain or contribute toward the maintenance of such alleged insane person: Provided, That in no case shall said relatives or committee be required to pay more than the actual cost to the District of Columbia of maintenance of such alleged insane person.

 'If any person hereinabove made liable for the maintenance of an insane person shall fail so to provide or pay for such maintenance, the court shall issue to such person a citation to show cause why he should not be adjudged to pay a portion or all of the expenses of maintenance of such patient. The citation shall be served at least ten days before the hearing thereon. If, upon such hearing, it shall appear to the court that the insane person has not sufficient estate out of which his maintenance may properly be fully met and that he has relatives of the degrees hereinabove mentioned who are parties to the proceedings, and who are able to contribute thereto, the court may make an order requiring payment by such relatives of such sum or sums as it may find they are reasonably able to pay and as may be necessary to provide for the maintenance of such insane person. Said order shall require the payment of such sums to the Board of Public Welfare annually, semiannually, or quarterly as the court may direct. It shall be the duty of the board to collect the said sums due under this section, and to turn the same into the treasury of the United States to the credit of the ...


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