The Underdog Wins One

December 11, 2014

In a recent Opinion issued on November 24, 2014, by the Honorable John W. Herron of the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, the Court sustained the claim of Smith Kane Holman client Dorothy Martin (“Dorothy”), in the matter of Estate of Rose Rubenstein, Deceased, Phila. O.C. No. 337DE of 2011.

Dorothy was hired in the late 1980s to provide nursing services to husband and wife, Emmanuel and Rose Rubenstein (“Decedent”).  After Emmanuel’s death in 1990, Dorothy continued to provide nursing services to Decedent.  Shortly after her husband’s death, however, Decedent needed 24-hour nursing care and assistance.  Dorothy’s duties escalated by necessity to include hiring, firing and training caregivers while continuing to provide caregiving services to Decedent herself.  In the later years of Decedent’s life Dorothy was pressed into duty to act as Agent Under the General Power of Attorney of Decedent.  In that role, she handled all of Decedent’s financial obligations, ensured the maintenance and repair of Decedent’s home (in which Dorothy and the other caregivers, including Quinette Rodgers and Alice Collin, gave Decedent the very definition of tender loving care), and oversaw Decedent’s medical care, including accompanying Decedent to all of her medical appointments. Indeed, the scope of Dorothy’s duties far exceeded the role of the typical caregiver and, we argued on her behalf, were more in line with the duties of a care manager.

Although Decedent paid Dorothy a fair, if a bit low, wage for her nursing services, Decedent never compensated Dorothy for the vast realm of financial, household, and management services she provided from 1990 through Decedent’s death in 2010. Decedent suffered from dementia for many years prior to her death and, although Dorothy as Agent could have given herself a raise, Dorothy chose not to do so because it just did not seem fair to Dorothy to give herself a raise when her boss lacked the ability to understand that sort of thing.  After Decedent’s death, Dorothy filed a claim seeking payment for the pre-death services she provided during Decedent’s lifetime.

The Administrator of the Estate denied the claim, taking the position that the payments accepted by Dorothy for her nursing services during Decedent’s lifetime barred Dorothy from being paid post-death for those wholly different services for which Decedent never compensated Dorothy.  When the Administrator denied Dorothy’s claim formally in the Account he filed with the Court, Smith Kane Holman filed Objections to the Administrator’s Account on Dorothy’s behalf.  Because Decedent’s entire estate passed to several charities, the Attorney General, as parens patriae, (i.e. as watchdog for all charitable interests in Pennsylvania) joined into the litigation and worked with the Administrator in aggressively opposing Dorothy’s claim.

Judge Herron held a hearing on Dorothy’s Objections on May 5, 2014. We later filed comprehensive post-trial briefs on behalf of Dorothy, in which we argued Dorothy’s entitlement to compensation by the Estate for her truly extraordinary work during Decedent’s life time.  Judge Herron’s Opinion confirms this firm’s belief in the strength of Dorothy’s claim, despite the intense opposition we faced.

By clicking on the link below, you can read the thoughtful and well-written opinion of Judge Herron, which we believe fairly and equitably resolved the complicated legal issues presented by this very unique and compelling set of facts. The world needs more people in it like Dorothy Martin, and we were honored to seek and obtain justice on her behalf.

Audit Memorandum Herron