Siblings reach settlement, fight against DHHS continues
Owls Head — The sibling of a local man continues her legal battle with the Department of Health and Human Services, asserting the agency inappropriately acted as guardian of her brother, selling his home for less than half its assessed value due to an outstanding tax bill, and taking possession of family heirlooms while he was hospitalized and without counsel.
David Jenny, attorney for Pam Vose, now the conservator of William Dean, said his view on the situation of why the state would act to quickly sell the home and belongings of Dean is a mixture of arrogance, power and an ignorance of the law.
Claire Dean Perry, of Liberty, first filed civil action against against the state agency, her brother, Dean, and Key Bank, in May 2013. The cases have been separated by a judge and are in differing stages of action. The case was first filed in Knox County Superior Court, and later transferred to the Business and Consumer Court.
Perry's attorney, Cynthia Dill, of Portland, said May 21 a tentative settlement has been reached between her client and Dean, but the agreement must be approved by a probate judge. According to court documents, the settlement stipulated Dean will repay his sister $112,000, nearly half the value of an account the siblings shared.
The problems for the family began when Dean was hospitalized at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital after his mental health declined, according to court papers.
Dean told the Department of Health and Human Services he felt overwhelmed by house payments and in September 2012, the agency's Elder Care Office became Dean's legal guardian. The state then sold his Owls Head property to a Massachusetts land developer for $205,000 to pay for a $5,000 municipal tax lien. The property is valued at $500,000, according to court documents.
In August 2013, a probate judge appointed Vose, his cousin, to be his permanent conservator.
DHHS's conservatorship ended in May 2013, but the agency applied to be a permanent guardian. Dill said in earlier discussions it is odd the agency would seek permanent conservatorship as a qualified and stable family member — Vose — offered to act in that capacity.
Dill said previously she has never seen a case similar to this in her 23 years of practice.
"It's really everybody's worst nightmare," she said. "You get sick, end up in the hospital, and the state swoops in."
The agency said Dean was in danger of losing his properties to foreclosure in February, and said since he had no money, the home had to be sold, according to court papers.
Dean, a gifted musician, now lives in an apartment in Rockland. Dill described Dean's personal relationship with his sister as very good, but said Perry was essentially forced to file a suit against him due to the circumstances.
Perry asserts she had agreement with her brother after he spent $240,000 without permission from a trust the two shared. The terms dictated he would repay half the amount to her, and until the debt was cleared, she was given exclusive rights to his property, according to court documents.
Before the debt was resolved, the Department of Health and Human Services, acting as a temporary guardian — and without adequately notifying the family — sold Dean's home.
Perry asserts DHHS knew of the agreement she had with her brother.
The sale of Dean's home was rushed, said Dill. She said the process had no oversight, people from the agency acting on Dean's behalf had no knowledge of real estate, and the sale was contrary to Dean's financial issues.
Perry said she was not given adequate notice or given a chance to be heard and further contends she and other family members offered to pay the outstanding taxes, but DHHS refused the offer. While the department was negotiating the sale of his home, Dean was not represented by a lawyer, state court papers.
Perry was also ordered out of the Owls Head house by DHHS, and said the department claimed she was "squatting" on the property, according to an affidavit. Her personal possessions then became property of DHHS. She has since recovered her belongings.
Valuable antiques and family heirlooms were not properly inventoried by the department, and remain unaccounted for, said court papers.
The department also entered into a contract to sell Dean's second home in Rockland for $65,000. The property is assessed at $177,000, said court papers.
Money from the sale of the Owls Head property was placed in possession of DHHS, said court papers.
The state also hired an auctioneer based in Brunswick to sell Dean and Perry's items. The state was forced to halt the sale, and remaining items were transferred to a storage unit in Warren, said Dill.
Inventory of the house was listed by the department at $2,500. David Jenny, an attorney for Pam Vose, said the family listed possessions at a $26,000 value, including three professional grade organs. Jenny said the case management specialist, who inventoried the family's possessions, did not go through the list with Dean, and only reviewed the list with another employee of DHHS. Jenny said it depends on the probate court how much oversight is given in reviewing such lists.
Perry also filed the complaint against Key Trust Company.
Key Trust Company is a trustee of a family account created by Perry and Dean's late mother. The plaintiff claims Key Trust allowed the withdrawal of money by Dean without written approval, as deemed a stipulation. Dean and Perry are the sole beneficiaries of the trust, which was set by by their mother.
The suit against the bank is still in the discovery phase.
DHHS spokesman John A. Martins said earlier this year, as the case is pending litigation, the agency has no comment.
Case attempting to void sale of home
In a separate case, Vose filed a complaint seeking judgement to void the sale of a waterfront home because the property was sold for less than half its assessed value while the state acted as guardian. This case is also pending in the Business and Consumer Court.
Attorney Jenny said May 21 the case is still in the discovery phase.
Vose said in the complaint that a management specialist for the Office of Elder Care Services, a branch of the Department of Health an Humans Services, executed the deed for an Owls Head property owned by Dean while Dean was incapacitated at a psychiatric hospital and without legal representation.
The defendant, James Peter Taylor, who bought the property in January 2013, is a commercial builder and should be familiar with real estate transactions, states the suit.
Taylor now has the property for rent on vrbo.com, weekly rentals ranging from $2,100 to $3,500 depending on the season.
The house was sold for $205,000. The entire property was valued at $476,000, therefore, the defendant knew the property was sold less than fair market value, alleges the suit.
The sale was not authorized by a court, as required by law if a property is sold at less than fair market value, the suit states, and said the defendant assumed the risk of completing the sale without authorization.
Vose is seeking the title of the property be restored to Dean, and held in trust by her.
Jenny said it is state law that a town can abate taxes for two years if somebody is unable to pay due to a disability, but that the department never attempted to contact the town regarding the outstanding taxes. He also said the family offered to pay the bill, and the department refused to accept the offer.
"This is the kind of thing that could happen to any of us, at any time, if you have a stoke, heart attack or serious illness. There are a lot of little things that need changing in the legislature so this doesn't happen to somebody again," Jenny said.
Dean's Broadway Street home, which was not sold, sustained significant water damage while his family and attorney were not able to enter the house until the state's conservatorship of him officially ended. Jenny said when the door was opened, the sound of running water was heard.
The state kept the water on, even though nobody occupied the home, but heat was off during the winter. Pipes burst, causing damage that the family is still attempting to repair.
Jenny said the state immunizes itself from responsibility of damage caused by lack of heat to a building. The cost of repair is potentially not recoverable from the state, he said.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.