New Jersey Pays $100,000 in Legal Fees in Federal Lawsuit Excluding VA Pension as Income for Medicaid
Here are checks from the State of New Jersey issued to plaintiffs’ counsel as a result of the award of attorneys fees granted by the federal court in the Galletta v. Velez class action lawsuit::
As I reported in an earlier blog post, earlier this month a Consent Order was filed in federal district court in New Jersey concluding a hard-fought class action lawsuit. In the Order, the State of New Jersey agreed to amend its Medicaid program on a State-Wide basis to exclude pension benefits paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when determining an applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid benefits. Galletta v. Velez, Civil No. 13-532 (November 12, 2013) My law firm represented Alma Galletta, the named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit.
Earlier in the case, the court entered summary judgment in favor of one of the class plaintiffs in the case, ruling that the VA pension received by the plaintiff in that case may not be counted as income in determining Medicaid eligibility. After that ruling, the State of New Jersey began settlement discussions with Mrs. Galletta. As a result, the parties entered into a Consent Order that was accepted and filed by the federal court on February 6, 2015. In the Consent Order, the State of New Jersey agreed as follows:
- VA pension shall not be included as countable income during the Medicaid eligibility determination process;
- A notice will be distributed directing caseworkers to exclude VA pension as countable income in determining Medicaid eligibility;
- Plaintiff Alma Galletta will receive Medicaid eligibility retroactive to her application date; and,
- New Jersey shall pay $100,000 in attorney fees and costs.
The State just paid the $100,000 in counsel fees to the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Galletta case, and copies of the checks are shown above. No explanation was offered clarifying why the fee award was paid in six checks of varying amounts instead of a single check. Although several law firms were involved in the case and were awarded counsel fees, all checks were made payable to the Williams Cuker Berezofsky law firm, lead counsel in the case, for distribution to the parties’ lawyers.
Congratulations to my co-counsel in the Galletta class action lawsuit for their winning effort in the case, and for getting paid through the fees awarded by the court.
On February 28, 2015, I notified the Elder and Disability Law Section of the NJ State Bar Association of the receipt of checks from the State of New Jersey in the amount of $100,000 in payment of the plaintiffs’ legal fees as agreed in the settlement we achieved in the Galletta v. Velez case via email as follows:
We just received 6 checks in various amounts from the State of New Jersey in payment of counsel fees in the Galletta v. Velez case. I don’t know why 6 checks were issued instead of 1. The checks were issued to the Williams Cuker law firm, lead counsel in the case, and are to be distributed to all attorneys who participated. It’s the first time I ever got paid by New Jersey for beating the State in a case, and it’s a sweet feeling. To savor the moment, I posted the checks on my blog. Congrats to all who participated. Don Vanarelli
In response, I received the following congratulatory emails from colleagues, for which I am very grateful:
Don and all attorneys involved in the case,
I so admire your work and persistence. Thanks for letting us know that the State of New Jersey paid up – what sweet victory!
Roma K. Oster, Esq.
Don and Co-counsel,
Congratulations to all on a job well done.
Question: Understanding that this was a settlement, what determined the basis for the fee award?
Gary Mazart, Esq.
Schenck, Price, Smith & King, LLP
I think I received a check twice from the State–never $100,000. One thing I always noticed is, the State is a quicker payor. They’d make a great payor source.
John W. Callinan, Esq., Certified Elder Law Attorney
Congratulations Don. You guys earned it.
Thomas Begley, Jr., Esq., Begley Law Group
Congrats to you & your legal team & well deserved. Yes, it is a very important victory. But, I think this gives us an opportunity to step back and ask, why did it come to this? The state knew that they were on the wrong side of the law from the start, but they could care less. It may have cost taxpayers 100K, but I assume the state still saved money by not allowing folks to qualify for Medicaid prior to 12/1/14.
We need to somehow change that attitude. I assume this lawsuit victory helps.
Jerold E. Rothkoff, Esq., Rothkoff Law Group
I think it would take many more and consistent victories to change the attitude. The states stance of being tough works very well for them.
I question whether, “The state knew that they were on the wrong side of the law from the start, but they could care less.” Eligibility policies are established by non-lawyers in DMAHS eligibility group and implemented by non-lawyers at the CBOSS. Lawyers don’t get involved seriously until litigation triggers DAG involvement.
Lawrence A. Friedman, Esq.,
I don’t know about that. The Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (the State Medicaid agency) has a team of lawyers on staff and uses the State Attorney General for litigation. I’m sure the lawyers are aware of major policy decisions.
If you have had conversations regarding litigation with some of the Deputy Attorneys General, you might feel differently.
Jerold E. Rothkoff, Esq., Rothkoff Law Group
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