WESTCHESTER COUNTY HEALTH CARE CORPORATION v. CEUS

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Supreme Court, Westchester County, New York.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY HEALTH CARE CORPORATION, Plaintiff, v. Antoinette CEUS, Defendant.

52920/2016

Decided: January 29, 2019

For plaintiff: Forster & Garbus LLP, by Michael J. Florio, Esq., 60 Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, PO Box 9030, Commack, NY 11725, 631-393-9400 For defendant: Jeffrey I. Klein, Esq., 200 Mamaroneck Avenue, suite 403, White Plains, NY 10601, 914-946-8855

The following papers were considered in connection with the defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3212:

This action concerns a claim brought by a medical provider against a parent, seeking payment for the cost of the treatment provided to the parent's adult child, on the theory that presentation to the provider of a health insurance benefit card listing the parent as the primary insured and the adult child as covered, amounts to a guarantee or promise by the primary insured to pay for any services rendered to the adult child.

Plaintiff Westchester County Health Care Corporation commenced this action against defendant Antoinette Ceus by filing a summons and complaint on March 8, 2016, seeking to recover $ 12,810.19 for unpaid hospital and medical services allegedly rendered on January 19, 2015. Defendant filed an answer on May 16, 2016 containing general denials and asserting one affirmative defense. In the previous motion, sequence 1, it was asserted that at the deposition of plaintiff on July 17, 2018, defendant first learned that the medical services that are the subject of the complaint were provided to defendant's daughter, Fanette Ceus (“Fanette”), who was over the age of 21 at the time the services were provided. Due to that additional information, defendant was permitted to amend her answer to add a defense based on the statute of frauds.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment, contending that as a matter of law she cannot be held liable for services rendered to her adult daughter, for which services she neither provided a guarantee nor signed a promise to pay.

Plaintiff's opposition consists of counsel's affirmation; the bill listing the services rendered, made out to defendant; a copy of the insurance card allegedly provided by Fanette at the time of her January 19, 2015 visit, listing her as a covered family member on a plan on which defendant was the named insured; and the patient consent form signed by Fanette, indicating that her health plan was 1199. Counsel for plaintiff states that “for some reason the [d]efendant's insurance coverage did not cover the medical services as provided,” while taking the position that this fact is irrelevant. The crux of plaintiff's argument, as stated in counsel's affirmation, is that, based on the information on the health insurance benefits card, defendant was the guarantor for her children, including Fanette, and that “the presentation of [d]efendant's insurance health benefit card during hospital admittance was a promise or commitment by defendant to answer for a debt incurred by those individuals listed on the insurance card.”

Analysis

To succeed on a motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, a defendant must establish its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law (see e.g. Shohet v. Shaaya, 43 A.D.3d 816, 844 N.Y.S.2d 317 [2d Dept. 2007] ).

Under the common law, absent a statutory obligation, “a parent [is] not liable for the support and maintenance of an adult child” (see Matter of Ruderman, 266 App. Div. 935, 935, 43 N.Y.S.2d 893 [3d Dept. 1943] ). In addition, it has long been held that even where a parent affirmatively requested the medical services that were provided to an adult child by a physician or medical professional, the parent is not, without more, liable for the cost of those services (see McGuire v. Hughes, 207 N.Y. 516, 519-520, 101 N.E. 460 [1913]; Crane v. Baudouine, 55 N.Y. 256, 261 [1873]; Homemakers, Inc. of Long Island v. Williams, 100 A.D.2d 505, 472 N.Y.S.2d 711 [2d Dept. 1984] ). In any event, there is no contention here that defendant requested the services provided to Fanette by plaintiff, or that she made any affirmative promise to pay for those services. Nor is there any suggestion that any statute justifies imposing responsibility for an adult child's medical bills on her parents.

Reference is made by counsel for plaintiff to the requirement by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 [2010] ), mandating coverage for children up to age 26 on their parents' insurance. However, counsel fails to note that this mandated coverage does not include any mandate for parents' continued liability for the non-covered medical expenses incurred by their children after they reach age 21.

Plaintiff cites no law, nor has this Court found any, for plaintiff's proposition that the primary insured person under a group insurance plan is personally liable as a guarantor for the cost of services provided to her adult children, based on their inclusion under her coverage. In order to claim that defendant may be held liable, in the absence of a common law obligation or a statutory obligation, plaintiff relies exclusively on the inclusion of Fanette's name as an additional insured on a health insurance card on which defendant parent is the primary insured. In effect, plaintiff treats the inclusion of Fanette's name on the insurance card as either a guarantee or a promise by the primary insured to pay for services rendered to any listed family member. However, there is no signed writing to this effect.

To be enforceable, either a guaranty or any form of promise “to answer for the debt ․ of another person,” must be in writing and executed by the party to be charged (see General Obligations Law § 5-701[a][2]; see Schwartz v. Sayah, 72 A.D.3d 790, 899 N.Y.S.2d 316 [2d Dept. 2010] ). Of course, plaintiff's insertion of defendant's name in the bill as “Guarantor” can have no legal effect in the absence of any indication that plaintiff affirmatively undertook to stand in that capacity, let alone a signed writing. Plaintiff's position amounts to, at best, a claim of an implicit promise. Such a claimed promise is unenforceable.

Defendant has established, as a matter of law, that plaintiff has no legal right to the relief it seeks in its complaint, namely, a money judgment against defendant for a debt allegedly owed to plaintiff by defendant's adult daughter. Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint is granted, the complaint is dismissed, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

This constitutes the Decision and Order of the Court.

Terry Jane Ruderman, J.

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