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Financial Exploitation Case to be Published

Posted Thursday, May 22, 2014 by John S. Palmer

On May 14, 2014, the Court of Appeals granted a motion to publish the court’s recent opinion holding that stealing drugs from a vulnerable adult for self-destructive purposes falls within the definition of “financial exploitation” under the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act.

The case involved a hospice patient residing in a Bellevue adult family home who had been prescribed morphine as part of her end-of-life treatment. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) determined that the morphine was stolen by Estera Gradinaru, the owner of the adult family home, and concluded that the theft constituted financial exploitation as defined by the Act, which at the time defined “financial exploitation” to include the illegal or improper use of a vulnerable adult’s property for another person’s “profit or advantage.”

Ms. Gradinaru claimed she took the morphine as part of a failed suicide attempt, and therefore did not take it for her “advantage.” The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that financial exploitation includes “the illegal or improper use of a vulnerable adult’s property to further a goal of the person who took that property” even if that goal is self-destructive.

The court’s opinion in this case (Gradinaru v. DSHS, decided March 24, 2014) was unpublished at the time it was issued. Unpublished opinions are still public records; however the court rules prohibit parties in subsequent cases from citing them as binding legal precedent. An opinion will typically be deemed to have precedential value, and published, if it:

DSHS subsequently moved to publish the court’s decision. As noted in my initial blog post on this case the court may have initially decided not to publish the opinion because it dealt with a prior statutory definition of “financial exploitation,” thereby limiting its applicability to future cases (the definition was broadened in 2011, but the theft occurred before the definition was changed.) The order to publish does not state the grounds for granting the motion, but most likely the court found that the case is of general public interest or importance.

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