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Boe v. Department of Human Services

367 N.J. Super. 572, 844 A.2d 531 (App. Div. 2004)

LIENS; INSTITUTIONAL—An institutional lien attaches immediately to property belonging to persons who have been committed to an institution and on the real and personal property of those chargeable with support and maintenance of such persons.

The owner of residential property executed a deed transferring its title to herself and her son, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Then, they borrowed money and executed a mortgage on the property. Four months later, the mother was committed to a psychiatric hospital. After ten months, the hospital filed a lien for the cost of her care and maintenance. She was released shortly thereafter and died three years later. The hospital tried to realize on the lien.

The son sued the hospital, claiming that if a creditor obtains a lien against less than all co-tenants, it may enforce the lien only against the interest of the debtor. In the case where the co-tenants are joint tenants and the debtor dies, the lien against the debtor’s interest is extinguished. The lower court denied the son’s motion, holding that the mother’s estate was liable for the care given to her at the hospital and that the hospital’s lien was valid. The Appellate Division affirmed, opining that neither the State nor its taxpayers should be burdened with the cost to take care of a person who has the means.

Although the son contended that a judgment lien does not sever a joint tenancy and that title passes to the surviving joint tenant free and clear of the lien, this lien is a statutory lien and not a judgment lien. There had been no final judgment against the mother in favor of the hospital. Thus, there was no judgment to execute. The hospital had obtained an institutional lien against the property as a method of collection and a New Jersey statute provides that an institutional lien attaches immediately to property belonging to persons who were committed and to the real and personal property of the person chargeable by law with support and maintenance of the committed persons. The mother’s closest family member was her son, who obtained the bulk of her estate. The Court also found the son chargeable with the mother’s support. Therefore, the State was well within its right to look to the son’s interest in the house to satisfy that debt. Further, the mother’s death did not destroy the institutional lien against the property because the lien had been perfected against the son’s real property as well.


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