Winn ex rel. Winn v. Plaza Healthcare, Inc – 2/14/2006

February 22, 2006

(In re Estate of Winn): Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A “Late-Appointed” Personal Representative Under Section 14-3108(4) Of The Arizona Revised Statutes Cannot Prosecute Claims On Behalf Of The Decedent’s Estate.

George Winn brought suit on behalf of his deceased wife, Mary Winn, against Plaza Healthcare in its various capacities. He claimed, among other things, that Plaza Healthcare violated the Adult Protective Services Act. A.R.S. § 46-455(B). The violations allegedly occurred in 1999 when Mary Winn died. Mr. Winn did not become a personal representative for her estate until 2004—one year after he filed suit and five years after the alleged violations.

The Superior Court granted Plaza Healthcare’s motion for summary judgment. It concluded that, because Mr. Winn was a “late-appointed” personal representative, he did not have power to prosecute the claim.

Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. It agreed with the lower court that  § 14-3108(4) of the Arizona Revised Statutes did not authorize Mr. Winn to assert the claim on behalf of the estate. Ordinarily, the personal representative would be the proper party to bring the claim. Mr. Winn, however, waited too long before he was appointed. Under Arizona law, if the personal representative is appointed more than two years after the decedent’s death, “the personal representative has no right to possess estate assets as provided in § 14-3709 beyond that necessary to confirm title thereto in the rightful successors to the estate.” A.R.S. § 14-3108(4). Because the claim on behalf of the estate constituted an estate “asset,” Mr. Winn had no power to possess and prosecute it. This reading of the statute accords with the plain language and effects the legislative intent of speedy administration of estates by encouraging timely appointments of personal representatives.

Judge Portley authored the unanimous opinion.