decided: February 3, 1987.
JANE NASON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS BENEFICIARY OF THE TRUST UNDER THE WILL OF BERTHA A. HUDSON; HARRY NASON, AS TRUSTEE OF THE TRUST UNDER THE WILL OF BERTHA A. HUDSON; AND RALPH W. BRENNER, AS TRUSTEE OF THE TRUST UNDER THE WILL OF BERTHA A. HUDSON, PETITIONERS
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; AL BENEDICT, AUDITOR GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA ET AL., RESPONDENTS
Original jurisdiction in the case of Jane Nason, individually and as beneficiary of the Trust under the Will of Bertha A. Hudson; Harry Nason, as Trustee of the Trust under the Will of Bertha A. Hudson; and Ralph W. Brenner, as Trustee of the Trust under the Will of Bertha A. Hudson v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Al Benedict, Auditor General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al.
Elizabeth A. Read, with her, Carol A. Mager, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, for petitioners.
Clarence A. Dickerson, Solicitor for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board of Chester County.
Kathleen F. McGrath, Deputy Attorney General, with her, Allen C. Warshaw, Director, Executive Deputy Attorney General, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for respondents.
Judges Craig, Doyle and Colins, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Colins.
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 431]
Jane Nason, a mentally retarded individual, and two trustees of a testamentary trust (Trust) under which she is a beneficiary (Petitioners)*fn1 have filed a mandamus action
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 432]
in our original jurisdiction against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare and certain state officials (Commonwealth Respondents),*fn2 and Chester County and certain county officials (County Respondents)*fn3 seeking to compel the respondents to pay for her interim care at a private facility until she can be placed in a state facility. Before us are Petitioners' motion for summary judgment and cross-motions for summary judgment filed by both the Commonwealth and County Respondents. We deny Petitioners' motion and grant summary judgment in favor of both the Commonwealth Respondents and the County Respondents.*fn4
The material facts in this case are undisputed. Jane Nason is a mildly retarded 61-year-old adult who currently resides at the Devereux Foundation (Devereux) in Chester County, a private, state-licensed residential school for the mentally handicapped. She was placed in Devereux by her family at age nine, and since 1972 her care has been paid for through income from the Trust. In recent years, however, the cost of her care at Devereux has exceeded the income of the Trust, resulting
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 433]
in some depletion of the Trust principal.*fn5 Consequently, Nason's family sought to have her placed in a state-operated facility in order to reduce the expense of her care.
In January 1983, Nason was accepted for placement in the state-operated mental retardation facility at Embreeville Center (Embreeville) in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Due to a chronic shortage of available beds, however, Nason was unable to be admitted and instead was placed on a waiting list for the facility. Consequently,
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 434]
she has continued to reside at Devereux. This present suit has been brought under the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 (MH/MR Act), Act of October 20, 1966, Special Sess., P.L. 96, as amended, 50 P.S. §§ 4101-4704, to compel the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Chester County to pay for Jane Nason's interim care at Devereux until she can be admitted to Embreeville, and to gain reimbursement for all amounts heretofore expended for her interim care.
In support of their motion for summary judgment, Petitioners rely on Section 507 of the MH/MR Act, 50 P.S. § 4507. In relevant part, that provision reads:
(a) Except as provided in sections 501, 502 and 505, the Commonwealth shall pay for the following:
(4) Interim care of mentally retarded persons, who have been removed from their homes and who, having been accepted, are awaiting admission to a State facility.
50 P.S. § 4507(a)(4). Petitioners contend that, since none of the exceptions in Sections 501, 502 or 505 apply,*fn6 the language of Section 507(a)(4) absolutely compels public payment for Jane Nason's interim care. We disagree.
In making their argument, Petitioners urge that we disregard the dictates of another provision of the MH/MR Act, Section 503, 50 P.S. § 4503, in particular, Section 503(a), which provides:
(a) Neither the State nor a county shall be required to expend public funds under this act on behalf of a mentally disabled person until such person, who has been admitted or committed or
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 435]
is receiving services or benefits under this act, shall have exhausted his eligibility and receipt of benefits under all other existing or future, private, public, local, State or Federal programs.
50 P.S. § 4503(a) (emphasis added). Here, the Petitioners seek public funding for Jane Nason's interim care at Devereux, despite the existence of a sizeable trust fund which specifically provides that the trust income and principal is to be used to fund her care at that facility.*fn7 Although this is a question of first impression, we believe it is clear that the trust fund in this case is precisely the sort of "private program"*fn8 under which the Legislature intended benefits should be exhausted before the MH/MR Act requires payment from the public fisc for a mentally handicapped person's interim care. Accordingly, we hold that, before Jane Nason can be entitled to public payment for her interim care at Devereux,*fn9 she must first exhaust her benefits under the Trust; that is, she must exhaust both the income and the principal of the Trust.
Our interpretation of Section 503(a) of the MH/MR Act is consistent with the mandates of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972,*fn10 particularly Sections 1921 and 1922, 1 Pa. C.S. §§ 1921-22, which require that we not only ascertain legislative intent, but also recognize that particular provisions of a statute are to be construed
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 436]
harmoniously, if possible, with the statute's other provisions. The MH/MR Act contains other provisions requiring a mentally handicapped person or those legally responsible for such person to bear at least a portion of the cost associated with the individual's care. See Sections 501, 502, 504 of the MH/MR Act, 50 P.S. §§ 4501, 4502, 4504. To permit the beneficiary of a trust fund to avoid paying for his or her own interim care, although he or she is financially able to do so, would be inconsistent with the scheme established by the MH/MR Act.
Additionally, Section 1922(5) of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. C.S. § 1922(5), creates a presumption favoring the public interest over any private interest. By construing Section 503(a) of the MH/MR Act to include trust funds, the public interest is served by requiring that those with the resources to pay for their interim care do so before burdening the public at large.
Accordingly, we hold that because the Petitioners have no clear legal right to relief, their motion for summary judgment is denied, and because neither the Commonwealth Respondents nor the County Respondents have any present obligation to fund Jane Nason's interim care at Devereux until the Trust is depleted,*fn11 we grant their cross-motions for summary judgment.
Now, February 3, 1987, the motion for summary judgment of petitioners Jane Nason, Harry Nason, and Ralph W. Brenner is hereby denied, and the cross-motions for summary judgment of respondents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, the Secretary of Welfare, the County of Chester,
[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 437]
the Chester County Commissioners, the Chester County Mental Health/Mental Retardation Board, and the Administrator of the Chester County Mental Health/Mental Retardation Board are hereby granted.
Petitioners' motion denied. Respondents' motion granted.
Dissenting Opinion by Judge Colins:
I cannot agree with the majority's interpretation that "private" and "program" as used in Section 503 of the MH/MR Act, 50 P.S. § 4503, ipso jure, equate to a requirement that both the principal and interest of this trust must be depleted.
I agree with Petitioners that the language of Section 507(a)(4) of the MH/MR Act, 50 P.S. § 4507(a)(4), absolutely compels the Commonwealth's payment for Jane Nason's interim care.