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State v. Schoenrock

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 26, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Tammy Jo Schoenrock, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Nicholas B. Wanka, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Paul Engh, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         The alleged omission of an element of the crime of theft by false representation under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(a)(3)(iii) (2016), in a jury instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, Justice.

         The question presented to us is whether the district court committed reversible error when it declined to include the phrase "with intent to defraud" in its jury instruction on the elements of theft by false representation under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(a)(3)(iii) (2016). Following a jury trial, appellant Tammy Jo Schoenrock was convicted of two counts of theft by false representation for submitting timesheets and receiving payments for personal care assistant services that she did not perform. The court of appeals affirmed her convictions, concluding that the district court did not err because its jury instructions fairly and adequately explained the law. We need not decide whether the omission of the phrase "with intent to defraud" from the jury instruction on the elements of theft by false representation was error because, even assuming that it was, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

         FACTS

         Appellant Tammy Jo Schoenrock's elderly mother, M.S., was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. M.S.'s health plan, Medica, authorized M.S. to receive personal care assistant (PCA) services. A PCA is a person employed by a health care agency to provide various personal services that allow the recipient of those services to live at home rather than move to a care facility. To work as a PCA, the person must pass a background check, complete required training, and receive a Certificate of Training. During the training, an individual is taught the role and responsibilities of a PCA, as well as how to respond to medical and non-medical emergencies, to control infection, to lift and transfer individuals properly, and to deal with challenging behaviors.

         To be paid by the agency, the PCA must complete timesheets recording the hours that he or she has worked. The agency is reimbursed by the State of Minnesota or the recipient's health plan. The PCA's timesheets must be accurate for the proper distribution of those funds.

         Schoenrock completed training, passed a competency test and a background check, and was hired by an agency, Accra Care, to serve as M.S.'s PCA. Schoenrock also signed documents acknowledging that "[t]he PCA . . . can only be paid for work done when the PCA is physically present and providing medically necessary care for the [recipient]" and "cannot submit a timesheet for hours not worked." J.M., Schoenrock's close friend, became M.S.'s responsible party. A responsible party acts on behalf of a PCA-services recipient who is unable to make decisions in her own best interests. A recipient's PCA and responsible party cannot be the same person, and they both must sign the PCA's timesheets.

         Schoenrock began to serve as M.S.'s PCA in spring 2010. For about a year, Schoenrock and M.S. lived together in Eden Prairie, during which time Schoenrock provided PCA services to M.S. Schoenrock was authorized to claim payments for a maximum of 9 hours of PCA services a day. In January 2011, M.S. started an adult day program. That month, Schoenrock contacted a manager at Accra Care to discuss how she should fill out the online timesheet now that M.S. was attending the day program. According to Schoenrock, the manager said, "Well, since your mother lives with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can just put any hours down. Just do not go over your maximum hours."

         In May 2011, M.S. became unable to navigate the stairs in Schoenrock's home. Consequently, M.S. moved in with Schoenrock's sister, L.S., who lived in a single-level home in Fergus Falls. L.S. had not passed a background check, completed the required PCA training, or received a Certificate of Training. Schoenrock informed Accra Care and Medica that she would continue to provide care for her mother by "making the trip back and forth" between Eden Prairie and Fergus Falls. Employees of Accra Care and Medica believed that M.S.'s move to Fergus Falls was a temporary solution while Schoenrock considered renovations to her Eden Prairie home.

         After M.S. moved in with L.S., Schoenrock initially visited L.S.'s home frequently, occasionally spending Friday night and leaving on Saturday morning. These visits gradually declined in frequency, causing L.S. to assume the role of caregiver for M.S. But Schoenrock continued to communicate with the various care facilities and nurses to ensure that M.S. received the proper care and treatment. When M.S.'s needs increased, Accra Care ...


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