may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re: The Estate of Gloria J. Brandt,
a/k/a Gloria Jean Brandt, Deceased.
Filed April 20, 1999
Affirmed and remanded
Roseau County District Court
File No. P39844
Michelle E. Moren, Roseau County Attorney, 606 Fifth Avenue Southwest, Room 10, Roseau, MN 56751 (for respondent Roseau County)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Steven J. Lokensgard, Assistant Attorney General, 900 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2127 (for intervenor State of Minnesota)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Craig Brandt, personal representative of the Estate of Gloria J. Brandt, appeals the district court's judgment, which found that respondent Roseau County is entitled to reimbursement of medical assistance benefits received by Alvin K. Brandt, Gloria Brandt's predeceased spouse. The estate argues that 42 U.S.C. § 1396p (1994) does not allow such claims for reimbursement and preempts Minn. Stat. § 256B.15 (1998). We affirm and remand.
From 1989 until his death on September 9, 1996, Alvin Brandt received medical assistance benefits totaling $180,532.38. Gloria Brandt, who never received medical assistance, died on September 5, 1997. Gloria Brandt's estate consisted of a contract for deed with a life estate in homestead property valued at $33,500 and a vendor's interest in a contract for deed on non-homestead property valued at $46,000.
On February 11, 1998, Roseau County Social Services filed a claim against Gloria Brandt's estate. The county sought reimbursement for medical assistance benefits received by Alvin Brandt during his life. Craig S. Brandt, the estate's personal representative, disallowed the claim. The county then filed a petition in district court for allowance of the claim. The district court determined that Minn. Stat. § 256B.15 does not exceed the authority granted to the states by Congress and allowed the claim. Neither the estate nor the county presented evidence proving or disproving that the property in Gloria Brandt's estate included assets that were marital or jointly owned at the time of Alvin Brandt's death. The estate appeals.
We conduct a de novo review of a district court's interpretation of federal statutes. Dullard v. State, Dep't of Human Servs., 529 N.W.2d 438, 442 (Minn. App. 1995). The purpose of statutory interpretation is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1998). Under the preemption doctrine, conflicts between federal and state law are to be resolved in favor of federal law. Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 152-53, 102 S. Ct. 3014, 3022 (1982). A federal statute preempts the operation of a state statute if compliance with both the federal and state provisions is physically impossible. Highland Chateau, Inc. v. State, Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 356 N.W.2d 804, 809 (Minn. App. 1984).
Medical assistance is a cooperative federal/state program that is optional to the states, but once a state decides to participate, it must comply with federal law. Estate of Atkinson v. State, Dep't of Human Servs., 564 N.W.2d 209, 210 (Minn. 1997). Specifically, federal law requires states to "comply with the provisions of section 1396p * * * with respect to * * * recoveries of medical assistance correctly paid." 42 U.S.C. § 1396a (a)(18) (1994). The federal statute does not expressly permit states to seek reimbursement for medical assistance from the estate of a recipient's surviving spouse.
Amended in 1993, section 1396p(b), entitled "Adjustment or recovery of medical assistance correctly paid under a State plan," provides:
(1) No adjustment or recovery of any medical assistance correctly paid on behalf of an individual under the State plan may be made, except that the State shall seek adjustment or recovery of any medical assistance correctly paid on behalf of an individual under the State plan in the case of the following individuals:In contrast, the Minnesota statutory scheme specifically allows claims against the estate of a medical assistance recipient's surviving spouse:
* * * *
(B) In the case of an individual who was 55 years of age or older when the individual received such medical assistance, the State shall seek adjustment or recovery from the individual's estate, but only for the medical assistance consisting of --
(i) nursing facility services, home and community-based services, and related hospital and prescription drug services, or
(ii) at the option of the State, any items or services under the State plan.
* * * *
(2) Any adjustment or recovery under paragraph (1) may be made only after the death of the individual's surviving spouse, if any * * *
* * * *
(4) For purposes of this subsection, the term "estate," with respect to a deceased individual --
(A) shall include all real and personal property and other assets included within the individual's estate, as defined for purposes of State probate law; and
(B) may include, at the option of the State * * * any other real and personal property and other assets to which the individual had any legal title or interest at the time of death (to the extent of such interest), including such assets conveyed to a survivor, heir, or assign of the deceased individual through joint tenancy, tenancy in common, survivorship, life estate, living trust, or other arrangement.
42 U.S.C. § 1396p(b) (1994).
Subd. 1a. Estates subject to claims. If a person receives any medical assistance hereunder, on the person's death * * * or on the death of the survivor of a married couple, either or both of whom received medical assistance, the total amount paid for medical assistance rendered for the person and spouse shall be filed as a claim against the estate of the person or the estate of the surviving spouse in the court having jurisdiction to probate the estate.
* * * *
Subd. 2. Limitations on claims. * * * A claim against the estate of a surviving spouse who did not receive medical assistance, for medical assistance rendered for the predeceased spouse, is limited to the value of the assets of the estate that were marital property or jointly owned property at any time during the marriage.
Minn. Stat. § 256B.15 (1998).
The current version of section 1396p expressly allows states to define a medical assistance recipient's estate to include other assets in which a decedent held "any legal title or interest at the time of death," including "assets conveyed * * * through joint tenancy, tenancy in common, survivorship, life estate, living trust or other arrangement." 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(b)(4)(B). By enacting this language, Congress unambiguously authorized "a state to define an individual's estate to include non-probate assets." In re Estate of Jobe, ___ N.W.2d ___, ___, No. C4-98-1851, slip op. at 6 (Minn. App. Mar. 23, 1999); see also In re Estate of Thompson, 586 N.W.2d 847, 850-51 (N.D. 1998) (holding that amendment of section 1396p reveals congressional intent to broaden states' estate recovery programs and allow states to recover benefits paid from estate of recipient's surviving spouse).
Despite the broad language of section 1396p, the estate nevertheless argues that Minn. Stat. § 256B.15 impermissibly allows states to seek reimbursement from the estate of a recipient's surviving spouse. We disagree. If the federal statute precluded recovery from a surviving spouse's estate, portions of the federal statute would be rendered meaningless. Specifically, section 1396p(b)(4)(b)'s broad definition of "estate" and section 1396p(b)(2)'s requirement that medical assistance recovery "be made only after the death of the [recipient's] surviving spouse" would lose their significance. A statute should be construed so that no word, phrase or sentence is "superfluous, void or insignificant." Owens v. Federated Mut. Implement and Hardware Ins. Co., 328 N.W.2d 162, 164 (Minn. 1983). In order to avoid rendering parts of section 1396p superfluous, we interpret the federal statute to allow a claim against the estate of a medical assistance recipient's surviving spouse. Accordingly, compliance with both the state and federal statutes is possible and the county's claim against the estate was properly allowed by the district court.
In this case, the district court did not determine whether the property in Gloria Brandt's estate was marital property or jointly owned under Minn. Stat. § 256B.15, subd. 2 at the time of Alvin Brandt's death. Despite the parties' arguments to contrary, this issue was necessarily raised when the county brought its claim against the estate and was not decided in favor of the county in the district court. Accordingly, we remand to the district court to determine whether the property in Gloria Brandt's estate was part of her husband's estate as defined by Minn. Stat. § 256B.15, subd. 2. As the claimant, the county bears the burden of proving the nature of Alvin Brandt's interest in the property at the time of his death. Holman v. All Nation Ins. Co., 288 N.W.2d 244, 248 (Minn. 1980) (stating that, in absence of statutory provision to the contrary, "party who must allege a given fact also has the burden of proving it").
Affirmed and remanded.