A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the a local nursing home cannot exert long-arm personal jurisdiction over a California man whose mother is a resident in the nursing home and who fell behind in paying her bills because of a dispute with federal Medicaid officials.
The Appellate Division in a published decision said the son’s connections with New Jersey were so tenuous that it would be unfair and unjust to force him to come across country to defend the action.
“Because we conclude that the quantity and nature of the California resident’s contacts with New Jersey are so remote and insufficient to hale him into New Jersey to defend this action would offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice,’ we affirm the trial judge’s decision to dismiss the case,” wrote Appellate Division Judge Arnold Natali Jr., joined by Judges Clarkson Fisher Jr. and Thomas Sumners Jr.
The plaintiff nursing home, Egg Harbor Care Center, has been seeking to recoup about $19,000 from defendant Corey Pagano, a resident of San Diego. His mother is Patricia Scheraldi, and she is a resident of EHCC, according to the decision.
Before moving to New Jersey, Scheraldi was a resident of Virginia. She designated power of attorney to Pagano, the court noted.
Scheraldi eventually moved back to New jersey, where she had lived decades prior, and moved in with her sister, Betty Davis. After suffering a stroke and and a broken hip, she moved into the Egg Harbor Care Center, according to the decision.
Pagano applied for Medicaid benefits on Scheraldi’s behalf, but that application was denied because there was a bank account under Pagano’s control that contained about $4,700, the court said. After months of negotiations, mostly through letters and telephone calls, Medicaid officials agreed to pay for Scheraldi’s care after the bank account was exhausted, the court said.
EHCC, however, filed a lawsuit against Pagano, seeking to recoup $19,000 it claimed it was owed in the months in which Medicaid declined to pay for the costs of Scheraldi’s care.
Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Joseph L. Marczyk dismissed the case, saying New Jersey had no personal jurisdiction over Pagano.
According to the decision, Pagano had not lived in New Jersey for more than three decades and had not even visited the state in at least 17 years. The judge also noted that Scheraldi and her sister had entered into to contract with EHCC on their own, with no participation from Pagano.
EHCC appealed, but the Appellate Division panel affirmed Marczyks’ ruling.
“This absence of any contractual relationship with Egg Harbor, when combined with his lack of residency and lack of any physical presence for such an extended period, fairly characterizes his contacts as ‘attenuated,’” Natali wrote.
“We conclude that it is inappropriate for a court to find a nonresident defendant such as Pagano subject to personal jurisdiction,” Natali said.
Pagano’s attorney, Jennifer Carlson of the Vineland office of Richard Pescatore, said she and her client were pleased with the ruling, but declined to comment further.
EHCC’s attorney, Kevin Englert of the Kinnelon office of Laurie Fierro, declined to comment on the decision.