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In re Rogiers

October 23, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF JENNIFER ROGIERS, DECEASED.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Hudson County, 285377.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Winkelstein, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued September 18, 2007

Before Judges Skillman, Winkelstein and Yannotti.

Jennifer Rogiers was born on September 30, 1983, severely handicapped as a result of a cervical cord injury doctors inflicted upon her at birth. On her behalf, her mother, Rosa Rogiers (Rogiers), filed a medical malpractice claim and recovered a $2.6 million judgment that was placed in a trust for Jennifer's benefit.

On September 2, 2005, Jennifer died intestate and without children. The issues on appeal concern the disposition of the remaining trust monies, which totaled approximately $1.1 million.

Throughout Jennifer's lifetime, she was in her mother's custody. Her mother received funds from the trust to attend to Jennifer's needs. After Jennifer died, her father, Ruben Martinez (Martinez), sought half of the balance remaining in the trust as his intestate share under New Jersey intestacy laws. Rogiers challenged his entitlement to share in Jennifer's estate, and sought reimbursement for expenses she incurred and services she provided on Jennifer's behalf during her lifetime. Rogiers also claimed she was entitled to retroactive child support, though she made no claim for child support while Jennifer was alive.

Following cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial judge rendered an oral opinion that he memorialized in an August 16, 2006 order. In paragraph one of the order, he denied Rogiers's request for retroactive child support. In paragraph seven, he granted Martinez's request to share in Jennifer's estate, and ordered that the estate be divided evenly between Martinez and Rogiers. In paragraphs two through six of the order, the judge addressed Rogiers's claims for retroactive child support and reimbursement for monies she expended for Jennifer's care. He granted Rogiers's request for reimbursement in the amounts of $178,776, $13,894, and $134,287.83 for various services and expenditures. Because he concluded that Rogiers removed Jennifer from the jurisdiction contrary to a court order, the judge denied Rogiers's request for reimbursement in connection with medical services while she and Jennifer were in Ecuador, and her request for $2000 per month for living expenses.

On appeal, Rogiers asserts that because Martinez did not contribute to Jennifer's support during her lifetime, he does not qualify as her parent under the New Jersey intestacy laws, and as a result, he is not entitled to any portion of Jennifer's estate. She also asserts that she is entitled to retroactive child support and payment for all of the expenses claimed. Martinez has filed a cross-appeal, challenging the trial court's reimbursement award to Rogiers. He further asserts that disputed factual issues precluded summary judgment as to Rogiers's reimbursement claims.

We conclude that Martinez qualifies as a parent under the intestacy laws regardless of whether he contributed to Jennifer's support during her lifetime. We also conclude that the trial court correctly denied retroactive child support.

Accordingly, we affirm paragraphs one and seven of the order. As to Rogiers's claims for reimbursement, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

The medical malpractice suit, filed in New York, settled on August 14, 1989. Rogiers received $150,000 for her loss of Jennifer's services, and $2,595,000 was placed in trust for Jennifer. The settlement order reads, in pertinent part: the remaining balance of $2,595,000 . . . be paid . . . to Rosa Rogiers and Irving Trust Company, [now Bank of New York (the Bank)] co-guardians of the property of the infant Jennifer Rogiers[,] and that said funds shall be deposited for the use and benefit of the infant plaintiff Jennifer Rogiers with [the Bank]. They shall . . . ...


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