Bertch v. Social Welfare Dept. of Cal.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation289 P.2d 485,45 Cal.2d 524
PartiesHarrlet Jane BERTCH, Kathryn L. Brooke, Alfred A. Cheney, Andy, T. Cope, Frankie May Cope, Robert Vern Crooks, Carrie N. Crooks, Myrtle Everett, William Guy, Sophia A. Hall, Maude D. Harrel, Edward Loftus, Louise Mackay, Cornelia G. Mattox, Laura Patersen David L. Robinson, Lillian G. Robinson, Minnie E. Schroder, Eda Strever, Annie Laurie Stewart, Theresa F. Tembreull, and Lillian Wells, Petitioners and Appellants, v. SOCIAL WELFARE DEPARTMENT of the State OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent. S. F. 19232. . In Bank
Decision Date15 November 1955

Howard B. Crittenden, Jr., San francisco, for appellants.

Edmund G. Brown, Atty. Gen., Clarence A. Linn, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Raymond M. Momboisse, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent.

CARTER, Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the superior court denying a petition for a writ of mandate to review an administrative order of the State Soical Welfare Board.

Appellants, at all times here pertinent, have been and are members of a religious society named Christ's Church of the Golden Rule. The members of the church live together in a seminary or home owned by the church, located in the City and County of San Francisco, and share with each other everything they possess. In the petition it is alleged that they receive the necessities of life to the extent of an average of $17 per month from the religious society although the society is not obligated to so provide such necessities. Appellants were in residence at the seminary at the time they applied for Old Age Security benefits which were denied. (One of the original petitioners left the church and is now receiving benefits under the Old Age Security Act.) Petitioners then applied for aid to the boards of supervisors of the various counties from which they came, under the procedure set forth in the Welfare and Institutions Code, and from the denials thereof, each petitioner filed an appeal with the Social Welfare Board, Welf. & Inst. Code, § 2181.1. The board appointed a referee to hear the appeals. A hearing was had at which petitioners were represented by counsel. The referee submitted his findings to the board; the board denied the appeals. Petitioners then filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco, seeking a review of the matter both as to the law and the facts.

The basic question involved on this appeal is whether or not petitioners are 'needy' persons within the provisions of the Old Age Security Act. It is conceded that they all possess the age and residence qualifications set forth in section 2160 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. Before discussing the question of the need of petitioners, however, several preliminary matters must be first disposed of.

Petitioners argue that certain findings of the hearing officer were changed by the board without notice to them or an opportunity for them to be heard. They point to no specific finding which was changed. Petitioners contend the procedure outlined in section 11517(b, c) of the Government Code should have been followed; the board contends that the procedure set forth in sections 104.1, 104.2, 104.3, and 104.5 was the proper method. Preliminarily, it should be noted that section 11501 of the Government Code provides: 'Extent to which procedure conducted pursuant to chapter: Agencies included. (a) The procedure of any agency shall be conducted pursuant to the provisions of this chapter obly as to those functions to which this chapter is made applicable by the statutes relating to the particular agency.' (Emphasis in body of statute added.) As 'included agencies' are set forth the Department of Social Welfare and the Social Welfare Board. It is our opinion that the board's contention that the section means it is to apply only when made applicable by the statutes relating to the particular agency involved is meritorious. In different sections of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the provisions of the Government Code are made directly applicable (see sections 1624, 1925, 2304, 2305, 2355, 2356, all of which relate to permits or licenses or revocation thereof, or supervision of life-care contracts). It appears then that the board is correct in its contention that sections 104.1 et seq. of the Welfare and Institutions Code contain the controlling procedure.

Section 104.1 provides in part that any applicant or recipient for aid who is dissatisfied with the action of the county board of supervisors 'shall * * * upon filing a petition with the State Department of Social Welfare, have the right of appeal and shall be accorded an opportunity for a fair hearing. The department shall set such appeal for hearing before the State Social Welfare Board and shall give all parties concerned written notice of the time and place of such hearing.' The applicant is to appear in person either with or without counsel of his choice; the board is to consider the appeal and either dismiss it or award aid in compliance with the terms of the code. Section 104.2 provides that if such an applicant feels aggrieved by any decision of the board, he may petition the superior court of the county of his residence for a 'review of the entire proceedings in the matter, upon questions of law involved in the case. Such review, if granted, is a distinct and cumulative remedy. The State Social Welfare Board shall be the sole respondent in such proceedings.' (Emphasis added.) Section 104.5(c) provides: '(Referee's report: Final Decision..) if an appeal, hearing, or rehearing is not heard by the board, a report of the proceedings shall be prepared by the referee conducting it and the report, together with any data the party appealing may desire, shall be presented to the board for final decision. Only the board may make such final decision.'

Under section 11517(b) and (c) of the Government Code, if the proposed decision of the hearing officer is not adopted by the agency, 'The agency itself may decide the case upon the record, including the transcript, with or without taking additional evidence, or may refer the case to the same or another hearing officer to take additional evidence. * * * The agency itself shall decide no case provided for in this subdivision without affording the parties the opportunity to present either oral or written argument before the agency itself. If additional oral evidence is introduced before the agency itself no agency member may vote unless he heard the additional oral evidence.'

Petitioners contend that 'unless he who hears decides', Morgan v. United States, 298 U.S. 468, 56 S.Ct. 906, 80 L.Ed. 1288, there has been a denial of due process of law. In Leeds v. Gray, 109 Cal.App.2d 874, 242 P.2d 48, the petitioner was a referee of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board; Charges were preferred against him. He had a hearing before a hearing officer at which no board member was present. The hearing officer made no findings, no decision or recommendation. The Personnel Board reviewed the transcript of the proceedings and made certain findings, after which he was ordered demoted. The court there said in holding there had been no denial of due process: 'Petitioner, of course, was entitled to a fair and full hearing. The fact that a fact finding tribunal does not see or hear the witnesses does not in every instance constitute a denial of such hearing. For example, many court proceedings are determined upon affidavits. There the court neither sees nor hears the witnesses. A fair and full hearing is given where the fact finder fully reviews the record and an opportunity is given the parties to argue their contentions as to the credibility of the witnesses and the other matters involved in the proceeding. This was done in our case by briefs. It is true that no proposed findings or decision were submitted to the parties and no opportunity given to argue concerning them, but where the board itself is passing on the record, fully considers it and the arguments presented, on the merits, there is no requirement that the board permit further argument on its proposed findings and decision, and no logical reason therefor.' 109 Cal.App.2d at pages 883, 884, 242 P.2d at page 54. See, California Shipbuilding Corp. v. Industrial Acc. Comm., 27 Cal.2d 536, 165 P.2d 669; Cooper v. State Board of Medical Examiners, 35 Cal.2d 242, 217 P.2d 630, 18 A.L.R.2d 593. It would appear that under the situation here present where petitioners were given a full opportunity to be heard before the hearing officer whose report was then reviewed by the board, there was no denial of procedural due process of law.

Petitioners next argue that they should have been given a trial de novo in the superior court. In other words, it is contended that the trial court should have based its decision on the facts as well as the law. Petitioners rely upon Laisne v. California State Bd. of Optometry, 19 Cal.2d 831, 123 P.2d 457, and Drummey v. State Board of Funeral Directors, 13 Cal.2d 75, 87 P.2d 848, for the proposition that in reviewing an order of a statewide administrative agency, the superior court must exercise its independent judgment on the law and the facts where constitutional rights are involved. The Drummey and Laisne cases stand for the rule that an 'existing valuable privilege' may not be taken away by an administrative order without giving the person so deprived the opportunity of having the finality of such action passed upon by a court of law, 13 Cal.2d 75, 84, 87 P.2d 848, 853. Petitioners here were not possessed of a vested right, but the right to make application for old age benefits provided that they were able to comply with the statutory prerequistites therefor, Welf. & Inst. Code, § 2160 et seq. It would appear, therefore, that petitioners were not entitled to a trial de novo in the superior court.

Petitioners' major contention is that they are...

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