Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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In the case concerning the estate of Frances R. Mason, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled on two key issues. First, it considered whether the Massachusetts Medicaid program, MassHealth, could enforce a lien (known as a TEFRA lien) against a member's property after the member's death. The Court concluded that, under Massachusetts law, MassHealth can only enforce such a lien if the property is sold during the member's lifetime. Therefore, MassHealth could not enforce its lien against Mason's property, which was not sold until after her death. This ruling is a restriction on MassHealth's ability to recover Medicaid benefits paid.Second, the Court addressed the timing of MassHealth's claim for recovery of Medicaid benefits paid on Mason's behalf. The Court concluded that the three-year statute of repose of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) does not apply retroactively to bar MassHealth's claim against the estate of a member who died prior to the effective date of the MUPC. Accordingly, MassHealth's claim against Mason's estate, which was filed nearly nine years after her death, was not barred by the MUPC's three-year statute of repose.The facts of the case were as follows: Frances R. Mason was a recipient of Medicaid benefits from MassHealth. From January to August 2008, MassHealth paid for her care in a residential nursing facility. In May 2008, MassHealth imposed a TEFRA lien against Mason's home, as she was expected to be permanently institutionalized in the facility. Mason died in August 2008 without the property having been sold. MassHealth filed a claim to recover the Medicaid benefits paid for Mason's care in August 2018, after the executor of Mason's will had opened formal probate proceedings in June 2017.The disposition by the Court was to affirm the order of the Probate and Family Court judge insofar as it struck MassHealth's lien against Mason's home, and to reverse the order insofar as it dismissed MassHealth's claim against her estate. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion. View "In re Estate of Mason" on Justia Law

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In this case involving a facility that operated under the protection of a thirty-six-year-old consent decree the Supreme Judicial Court held that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in concluding that the Department of Developmental Services failed to establish that the consent decree should be terminated based on the evidentiary record before the probate court.In question was the treatment and welfare of individuals who suffered from severe developmental and intellectual disabilities that caused them to engage in grievous self-harm and other life-threatening behaviors. The individuals lived in group homes under the care of Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc. (JRC), a facility that employed the use of aversive interventions such as electric skin shock as part of its treatment approach. In the 1980s and 1990s State agencies disrupted JRC's operations, after which the consent decree was issued. Years later, the agencies bound by the decree moved for its termination, but the probate and family court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the Department's arguments against continued enforcement of the consent decree were unavailing. View "Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc. v. Commissioner of Dep't of Developmental Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the single justice of the appeals court reversing the denial of Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and vacated the injunction, holding that the single justice abused her discretion in enjoining Defendants from enforcing their December 2021 amended COVID-19 vaccination policy.Plaintiffs - the Boston Firefighters Union, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and others - filed a complaint challenging Defendants' unilateral amendment of the COVID-19 vaccination policy for all city of Boston employees, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The superior court denied Plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief, but a single justice of the appeals court reversed and ordered the entry of a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the single justice abused her discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction because the potential harm to the city resulting from the spread of COVID-19 clearly outweighed the economic harm to employees. View "Boston Firefighters Union, Local 718, Internat'l Ass'n of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO v. City of Boston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded these consolidated cases seeking a judgment declaring the parties' respective rights to each of the remainder proceeds of two annuity contracts, holding that the cases were governed in all material respects by the Court's decision today in Dermody v. Executive office of Health & Human Servs., 491 Mass. __ (2023).In each of these cases, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (Commonwealth) claimed entitlement to remainder proceeds of the two annuity contracts up to the amount of medical assistance paid on behalf of an institutionalized spouse, whose eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits was obtained through the purchase of an annuity during the relevant "look-back" period, as defined under 42 U.S.C. 1396p(c). The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Commonwealth was entitled to remainder proceeds from the annuities to the extent of benefits it paid on behalf of the institutionalized spouses in this case. View "Executive Office of Health & Human Services v. Mondor" on Justia Law

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In this case where Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the Massachusetts Constitution protects a fundamental right to physician-assisted suicide, thereby immunizing the practice from criminal prosecution, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the proposed right, as defined by Plaintiffs, was not supported in the relevant provisions of the Constitution.Plaintiffs were a licensed physician who wished to provide physician-assisted suicide and a retired physician who had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Plaintiffs brought a civil action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that terminally ill patients with six months or less to live have a constitutional right to receive a prescription for lethal medication in order to bring about death in a manner and time of their choosing. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not protect physician-assisted suicide; and (2) the law of manslaughter prohibits physician-assisted suicide without offending constitutional protections. View "Kligler v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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In this case involving licenses to operate a retail marijuana dispensary the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Land Court judge ordering the issuance of a special permit to Plaintiff and the issuance of a second injunction, holding that the second injunction exceeded the permissible scope of the judge's authority.After denying Plaintiff's application for a special permit license to operate a recreational marijuana establishment in the City of Taunton the City granted a special permit to a different applicant. Plaintiff filed a complaint challenging the denial of its special permit application. The Land Court judge found the City's denial of Plaintiff's special permit application was arbitrary and capricious and enjoined the City from conducting previously-scheduled licensing proceedings to consider applications from nonparties seeking licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries and from issuing any of the four licenses to the pending applicants. A single justice vacated the preliminary injunction. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portion of the judgment concerning the city council's licensing hearings and otherwise affirmed, holding that the injunction exceeded the scope of the judge's authority but that the judge did not err in determining that the City's denial was arbitrary and legally untenable. View "Bask, Inc. v. Municipal Council of Taunton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed this case challenging two emergency orders issued by Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. pursuant to the Massachusetts Civil Defense Act, holding that the case was moot.During the state of emergency occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Commonwealth the Governor issued sixty-nine emergency orders. Ariana Murrell, individually and as manager of Liberty Tax Service, challenged two of those orders and the statewide face-covering requirements associated with them - Orders 37 and 55. The trial court held that the two orders were not preempted by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. 651 et seq., and that the public interest required an order shutting down Liberty Tax. Murrell filed an interlocutory appeal, but while the appeal was pending, the Governor issued Order 69, which lifted most COVID-19 related orders and restrictions. The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the interlocutory appeal, holding that Order 69 revoked Orders 37 and 55 while interlocutory appeal was pending, rendering this case moot. View "City of Lynn v. Murrell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court judge denying Plaintiffs' second request for a preliminary injunction, holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs, a class of inmates in Department of Correction (DOC) facilities, brought this complaint alleging that the conditions of their confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and seeking to enjoin the DOC to use various measures to reduce the incarcerated population. After the class was certified Plaintiffs filed a second emergency motion for a preliminary injunction seeking an immediate reduction in the incarcerated population. The motion judge denied Plaintiffs' second motion for preliminary relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on their Eighth Amendment claim, and therefore, the superior court did not err in denying their second motion for preliminary relief. View "Foster v. Commissioner of Correction" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Commissioner of Correction's exercise of the "commissioner's certification" provision in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 18(a) to retain K.J. at Bridgewater State Hospital violated article 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.K.J., an adult man who faced criminal charges in the district court and the superior court, was committed involuntarily to Bridgewater. The commitment was subsequently extended. This appeal concerned the medical director of Bridgewater's most recent petition to have K.J. again recommitted for one year under section 18(a). The judge found that K.J. did not require strict custody and therefore, as required by section 18(a), issued an order committing K.J. to a lower security Department of Mental Health (DMH) facility. Despite that order, the Commissioner exercised the "commissioner's certification" provision in section 18(a) to retain K.J. at Bridgewater. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered that K.J. be transferred to a DMH facility, holding (1) the commissioner's certification provision of section 18(a) violates article 30; and (2) the remainder of section 18(a) is capable of separation. View "K.J. v. Superintendent of Bridgewater State Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this case for a new hearing held pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7 and 8, holding that the trial judge erred in allowing an expert witness to testify on direct examination about the basis of his opinion when the facts were neither within the expert's personal knowledge nor otherwise admitted into evidence during the proceeding.The Department of Mental Health filed a petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 7 and 8 to recommit P.R. to a mental health facility. The judge held a full hearing on the merits of the petition. During the hearing, P.R.'s psychiatrist testified for the Department. The judge ultimately found that P.R.'s commitment should continue, and the appellate division affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case, holding (1) the trial court erred by allowing the psychiatrist to testify about unadmitted medical reports on direct examination, and the error was prejudicial, requiring a new hearing; and (2) the judge did not err by not making a statement of written or oral findings before ordering commitment under sections 7 and 8. View "In re P.R." on Justia Law