2016 Mass. App. Div. 31

December 11, 2015 - February 25, 2016

Appellate Division Northern District

Court Below: District Court, Lowell Division

Present: Swan, P.J., Coven & Nestor, JJ.

No brief filed for the plaintiff.

Brian T. Akashian for the defendant.

NESTOR, J. Plaintiff is a nursing home that sought to recover payment for services provided to the now deceased Muriel Heroux in August and September of 2012. The defendant is Muriel Heroux’ son. He acted as her attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney.

Muriel Heroux was admitted as a resident of the plaintiff’s healthcare center in March of 2011. An admission agreement providing the terms and conditions for the care of Muriel Heroux was executed for her by the defendant. Muriel Heroux had

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executed a durable power of attorney naming the defendant as her attorney-in-fact in July of 2009. That durable power of attorney continued to be in effect at the time of the admission. Subsequent to her admission, the defendant applied on Muriel Heroux’ behalf for Medicaid, also known as MassHealth, benefits. In November of 2012, the defendant was notified by MassHealth that it was denying benefits for the period of August 1, 2012, through September 13, 2012. The denial was based on what MassHealth determined were “disqualifying transfers of $12,350 between 12/6/11 and 8/1/12 (loans to son).” As a result of that MassHealth disqualification, the plaintiff failed to receive payment of $13,973.52 for August and September, 2012.

At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the trial judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of alleged breach of contract and negligence. The breach of contract claim was dismissed because the trial judge determined that there was not sufficient credible evidence to find that the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a contract requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff for services rendered to Muriel Heroux. The negligence claim was dismissed as the trial judge determined that the misappropriation of funds by the defendant from his mother was an intentional act.

As to the plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty, the trial judge did properly find that the defendant had a fiduciary duty to use Muriel Heroux’ funds for her benefit and to pay for her obligations, and that he could not take those moneys for his own personal use. It is clear from the evidence that the defendant breached that fiduciary duty by converting money from his mother’s account and using it on himself. The trial judge ordered that as a result of the breach of fiduciary duty by the defendant, the plaintiff was entitled to recover the amount taken of $12,276.00. The trial judge reasoned that but for the defendant’s breach of fiduciary duty, the money would have been available as payment to the plaintiff.

The central tenet of a fiduciary relationship is the duty on the part of the fiduciary to act in the best interest of the other party within the scope of the fiduciary relationship. Doe v. Harbor Sch., Inc., 446 Mass. 245, 252 (2006). A fiduciary relationship exists “between two persons when one of them is under a duty to act for or to give advice for the benefit of another upon matters within the scope of the relation.” Korper v. Weinstein, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 433, 437 n.10 (2003), quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 874 comment a (1979).

A fiduciary relationship can be created by law or by the nature of the parties’ interactions. The circumstances that might create a fiduciary relationship are varied and not subject to a precise definition. If the fiduciary relationship is not created by law, then the existence of a fiduciary relationship is a mixed question of law and fact. Doe, supra at 252.

In the instant case, there is no fiduciary relationship created by law between the plaintiff and the defendant. In addition, there were no facts produced at trial to support a finding that any fiduciary relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant. The parties had a business relationship. That business relationship cannot be transformed into a fiduciary relationship merely because trust was reposed by one party in the other party. Davidson v. General Motors Corp., 57 Mass. App. Ct. 637, 643 (2003).

The defendant clearly owes a fiduciary duty to his mother. It is also clear he violated that fiduciary duty. However, a plaintiff must show that a defendant owes him or her a fiduciary duty to succeed. See Spinner v. Nutt, 417 Mass. 549, 552 (1994). The plaintiff here has failed to show that a fiduciary relationship existed.

The judgment is reversed.


[Note 1] Doing business as Fairhaven Healthcare Center.

[Note 2] Also known as Robert E. Heroux.