County of Sacramento v. Loeb

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation160 Cal.App.3d 446,206 Cal.Rptr. 626
PartiesCOUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. Al M. LOEB, as Director, etc., Defendants and Appellants. Civ. 22891.
Decision Date27 September 1984

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., N. Eugene Hill, Asst. Atty. Gen., Robert L. Mukai, Deputy Atty. Gen., for defendants and appellants.

L.B. Elam, Sacramento, and Richard J. Moore, County Counsel, Oakland, Anthony L. Wright, Auburn, and Charles L. Harrington, Deputy County Counsel, Oakland, for plaintiffs and respondents.


CARR, Acting Presiding Justice.

In these consolidated proceedings, respondent state officers and agencies (hereafter "the State") appeal from the granting of a peremptory writ of mandate to plaintiffs County of Sacramento and the County of Alameda (hereafter "the Counties"). The dispute centers on the Counties' claims against the State for amounts concededly underpaid in previous fiscal years for the State's share of expenditures under the Short-Doyle Act. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5600 et seq.) The writ issued by the superior court is three-fold: (1) it compels the director of State Department of Mental Health to submit the Counties' claims to the State Board of Control (Board) with his recommendation that the claims be approved; (2) it commands the Board to determine whether any current appropriation is available for Short-Doyle purposes and, if so, to approve payment of the Counties' claims from such appropriation; and (3) it requires the State Controller to pay the claims once approved by the Board.

On appeal, the State contends: (1) mandate does not lie to control the Board's discretion; (2) although there may be current Short-Doyle appropriations, these funds are not "available" as they have already been allocated for current year needs; and (3) the Controller cannot be mandated to pay claims in the absence of an appropriation therefor. We conclude the State misperceives the nature of the Board's discretion. Further, that the trial court's order requires the existence of an appropriation available in fact before the controller is commanded to make payment. For those reasons, we shall affirm.


The purpose of the Short-Doyle Act is to "organize and finance community mental health services for the mentally disordered in every county through locally administered and locally controlled community mental health programs." (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5600.) To do this, the act establishes "a uniform ratio of local and state government responsibility for financing mental health services." (Ibid.) That ratio is set at "90 percent state funds and 10 percent county funds, irrespective of where or by whom the services are provided, ..." (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5705, subd. (a).)

Each county submits a Short-Doyle plan for mental health services in the county to the state director of Mental Health. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5650 et seq.) The director reviews each plan to ensure it meets certain standards. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5752.) If approved, the director then determines the amount of state funds available for each county plan from the funds appropriated for mental health services and allocates the funds accordingly. (Welf. & Inst.Code, §§ 5703, 5753.) The director possesses great discretion in the initial allocation of funds. (County of Alameda v. Lowry (1975) 45 Cal.App.3d 736, 740, 119 Cal.Rptr. 725.) Moreover, the director has The counties obtain reimbursement for the state's share of Short-Doyle expenditures by filing claims with the State Department of Mental Health. (Welf. & Inst.Code, §§ 5714, 5714.1.) "Each claim for state reimbursement shall be payable from the appropriation made for the fiscal year in which the expenses upon which the claim is based are incurred, ..." (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5714.1.) Short-Doyle expenditures are subject to payment, regardless of how the county provides the services (by contract, joint operation, etc.). The director may, however, make investigations and audits of such expenditures as he deems necessary. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5712.) The controversy in the present case arose from such an audit.

                discretion to reallocate any savings occurring during the year in Short-Doyle services.  (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5708.)   However, once a county Short-Doyle plan is approved it becomes a contractual arrangement between the county and the state.  (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5707.)   Counties may elect to appropriate more than their 10 percent share, but in no event can they be required to do so.  (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 5709.)

The undisputed facts, as found by the trial court, are as follows: "As a result of an audit, the State Department of Mental Health determined that it owes Sacramento County $137,023.00, plus interest, for the State share of Short-Doyle expenditures underpaid to the County for fiscal year 1975-1976. The audit was completed in June 1980. On December 3, 1980, the State Department of Mental Health submitted a claim to the Board with a recommendation that the Board allow the claim to be paid from the general fund. On April 17, 1981, the Board approved the claim to the extent it involved state funds ($26,141.00) but not federal funds, and included this portion of the claim in a special appropriations bill submitted to the Legislature. The Legislature deleted the claim from the bill, and the Department of Mental Health notified the County on December 15, 1981 that it could not settle the claim.... [p] With regard to Alameda County, as a result of an audit, the Department of Mental Health determined that it owes Alameda County $420,132.00, plus interest, for the State share of Short-Doyle expenditures underpaid the County for fiscal years 1971-1972 through 1976-1977. The audit was completed in April 1980. The Department of Mental Health sought the federally funded portion of the State share from the Department of Health Services and submitted a claim to the Board for the State general fund portion. Like Sacramento County's claim, the Alameda County claim was included in the special appropriations bill but was deleted by the Legislature, and the amount claimed has not been paid." 1

The Counties' inability to obtain satisfaction of their claim from the Legislature led to the mandate proceeding presently before us.


The State first contends that mandate is inappropriate to order performance of a discretionary act by the Board, relying on the familiar proposition that mandamus will not lie to control the discretion of a judicial officer or board. (See Hurtado v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 574, 579, 114 Cal.Rptr. 106, 522 P.2d 666.) But there is an equally well established exception to the cited rule in that the writ will lie if the discretion of the officer or board can be exercised in only one way. (Ibid.) We conclude the present case is within the exception, and the writ was properly issued.

The Board became a necessary party to this action because the Department of Mental Health's audits did not reveal the underpayments until well after the fiscal year in which the shortfalls occurred. The Short-Doyle Act does not provide a mechanism for reimbursement once the period for presenting such claims expires (see Welf. & Inst.Code, §§ 5714, 5714.1) and we must look to general budgetary principles. The Government Code permits disbursements in liquidation of encumbered appropriations for two years after the last day an appropriation is available for encumbrance. (Gov.Code, § 16304.1.) Upon expiration of this two-year period, however, "the undisbursed balance in any appropriation shall revert to and become part of the fund from which the appropriation was made. Subsequent to reversion any unpaid encumbrance against the appropriation may be paid, with approval of the Board of Control, from any current appropriations available for the same purposes." (Ibid.) Pursuant to this section, the Board of Control's approval is a prerequisite to payment of the funds which the State concedes it owes. It is this approval the State contends cannot be controlled by mandamus. We disagree.

The State Board of Control is an administrative board exercising quasi-judicial powers. (Chas. L. Harney, Inc. v. State of California (1963) 217 Cal.App.2d 77, 97, 31 Cal.Rptr. 524.) It has the statutory authority to make rules and regulations (Gov.Code, § 13920), whose purpose is to establish an orderly procedure to advise the Legislature of claims against the State where there has been no provision for their payment. (Id., at p. 96, 31 Cal.Rptr. 524.) As the board acts in a quasi-judicial capacity, we perceive its function as that of an arbiter of the validity of claims against the state. (See Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 2, § 630.) It is empowered to conduct investigations, examine witnesses and receive evidence to make the determination of validity. (Gov.Code, § 13911.) Where the facts are undisputed, however, the validity of a claim becomes a question of law susceptible to but one conclusion. (Dufton v. Daniels (1923) 190 Cal. 577, 581, 213 P. 949; see also Hurtado v. Superior Court, supra, 11 Cal.3d at p. 579, 114 Cal.Rptr. 106, 522 P.2d 666.) In such circumstances, mandate is appropriate to control an abuse of the board's discretion. (Dufton v. Daniels, supra, 190 Cal. at p. 580, 213 P. 949.) In Hammel v. Neylan (1916) 31 Cal.App. 21, 159 P. 618, the statute provided for a per diem payment to local sheriffs for the cost of transporting prisoners to and from state prisons. (Id., at p. 25, 159 P. 949.) The statute further provided that the expenses " 'shall be allowed by the board of examiners and collected from the state.' " (Ibid.) The petitioner submitted his claim in the proper form to the board, which refused to approve the claim on the ground the petitioner had been overpaid in preceding years. (Id., at pp. 22-23, 159 P. 949.) The court held mandamus would lie to compel approval of the claim, as the...

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