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Whether the Surrogate’s Court has the authority to modify the 100% allocation ordered by Supreme Court. Matter of Hoyte, 2021 NY Slip Op 21090


This case involves the distribution of settlement proceeds following the untimely death of the decedent, raising questions of jurisdiction and allocation between personal injury and wrongful death claims. The petitioner, Clathina McMillan-Hoyte, seeks approval for the distribution, while the Albany County Department of Social Services (DSS) objects, asserting a Medicaid lien on the personal injury portion.

In New York, the allocation between personal injury and wrongful death claims involves a determination of how to distribute settlement proceeds.  Recoveries designated for wrongful death, governed by EPTL 5-4.4, are distributed among the decedent’s distributees according to their pecuniary injuries. This process aims to prevent creditors from accessing funds allocated to wrongful death, emphasizing the distinct nature of these claims. Such allocations are subject to careful legal scrutiny, providing a framework for just and equitable distribution in cases involving both personal injury and wrongful death.

Background Facts
Decedent died intestate a resident of Albany County on January 14, 2013 at the age of 53 years. He was survived by his wife and six children. Supreme Court allocated 100% of settlement proceeds to wrongful death, prompting DSS’s objection, citing a $72,129.60 Medicaid lien on the personal injury component. Surrogate’s Court, concurrently handling estate matters, now considers jurisdiction and the proposed allocation.

The Petitioner, the decedent’s wife and estate administrator Clathina McMillan-Hoyte, filed a motion or summary judgment dismissing the objections of DSS.

The primary issue revolves around the jurisdictional authority of Surrogate’s Court to modify the 100% allocation ordered by Supreme Court. DSS contends Surrogate’s Court has jurisdiction, challenging Supreme Court’s assessment of facts. Petitioner asserts Supreme Court’s competence and highlights the lack of supporting facts for a personal injury claim.

Surrogate’s Court, affirming Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, dismisses DSS’s objections. The court emphasizes that Supreme Court’s determination on allocation, including the Federal court’s portion, falls outside Surrogate’s Court’s purview. The 100% allocation to wrongful death remains unaltered.

The court underscores Supreme Court’s authority to address all aspects of wrongful death actions. The allocation between personal injury and wrongful death was fully determined in Supreme Court, precluding Surrogate’s Court from modifying it. DSS’s failure to move in Supreme Court or present new facts further supports the dismissal of objections.

  1. Jurisdictional Authority: The court reiterates Supreme Court’s competence in handling all aspects of wrongful death actions, including allocation, emphasizing its inviolate authority in legal and equitable matters.
  2. Distribution Principles: The court reinforces that recoveries allocated to wrongful death adhere to EPTL 5-4.4, distributed to decedent’s distributees without creditor claims.
  3. Creditor Entitlement: DSS’s objection based on a Medicaid lien is rejected, as the allocation to wrongful death precludes creditors from sharing in the distribution among distributees.
  4. Opportunity for Motion: The court notes that DSS had ample time to move for reconsideration in Supreme Court but refrained from doing so.
  5. Supporting Facts: The court underscores the alignment of facts in the underlying action with Supreme Court’s determination of a 100% allocation to wrongful death.

Following the dismissal of its objections, the DSS faces limited options to recover the owed funds. DSS could explore the possibility of appealing the decision, seeking reconsideration, or pursuing alternative legal avenues. However, given the court’s clear determination and the underlying facts supporting the allocation to wrongful death, DSS might find it challenging to overturn the decision.

To recover the owed funds, theDSS could explore the option of pursuing other assets within the decedent’s estate. DSS might investigate whether there are additional resources or properties that could be subject to a lien or claim. This could involve a thorough examination of the estate’s financial records, real estate holdings, or any other valuable assets that may be used to satisfy the outstanding debt. Pursuing alternative assets within the estate could be a strategic approach for DSS to recoup the funds owed, depending on the available resources and the overall financial situation of the estate.

Surrogate’s Court affirms Supreme Court’s jurisdiction and upholds the 100% allocation of settlement proceeds to wrongful death. The dismissal of DSS’s objections underscores the court’s adherence to established jurisdictional boundaries and the principles governing the distribution of wrongful death recoveries. This decision constitutes the final ruling in this matter, providing clarity on the allocation of settlement proceeds in the context of a wrongful death action.

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