Fry v. Saenz

Decision Date08 May 2002
Docket NumberNo. C038026.,C038026.
Citation98 Cal.App.4th 256,120 Cal.Rptr.2d 30
PartiesWilliam FRY et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Rita SAENZ, as Director, etc., et al., Defendants and Respondents.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Michelle Uzeta and Melinda Bird for Protection & Advocacy, Inc. as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Charlton G. Holland, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Frank S. Furtek, Lead Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Paul Reynaga, Deputy Attorney General, for Defendants and Respondents.

SIMS, Acting P.J.

CalWORKs, which stands for "California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids" (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 11200),1 is the renamed and otherwise amended version of California's former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. (Stats.1997, ch. 270, § 50; Legis. Counsel's Dig., Assem. Bill No. 1542 (1997 Reg. Sess.); see Arenas v. San Diego County Bd. of Supervisors (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 210, 213-214, 112 Cal.Rptr.2d 845.) Like the former state AFDC, Cal-WORKs is funded in part by its federal counterpart (42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.), now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). (§§ 10100-10101, 11200.5.)

CalWORKs is administered by the Department of Social Services (the Department). (§ 11209.) CalWORKs provides aid and services to families with related children under 18 whose parent or parents cannot support them due to death, incapacity, incarceration, unemployment, or continued absence from the home. (§ 11250, subds.(a)-(c).) Section 11253 is the only exception to the cutoff of aid at age 18. (§§ 11250, 11253.)

Section 11253 provides:

"Aid may not be granted under the provisions of this chapter to or in behalf of any child who has attained the age of 18 unless all of the following apply: [¶] (a) The child is less than 19 years of age and is attending high school or the equivalent level of vocational or technical training on a full-time basis. [¶] (b) The child can reasonably be expected to complete the educational or training program before his or her 19th birthday." (Italics added.)

Section 11253, subdivision (b) (hereafter § 11253(b)) is commonly known as the "completion rule."

Defendant Department paid benefits under CalWORKs to plaintiffs William Fry, Marie LaBrash, and Audrey Griffin and their disabled children who were full-time high school students. After the children turned 18 without having completed high school or appearing likely to do so within a year, the Department discontinued benefits based on the completion rule; i.e., because it was unlikely that each child would complete high school by age 19.

Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of ordinary mandamus (Code Civ. Proc, § 1085) and administrative mandamus (Code Civ. Proc, § 1094.5), seeking a declaration that Welfare and Institutions Code section 11253(b) is unlawful as applied to disabled children and an order reinstating benefits.

Plaintiffs alleged the only reason their children cannot be expected to finish high school before their 19th birthday is because the children are disabled. Plaintiffs averred that, as applied to their disabled children, the completion rule violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq.; hereafter Rehabilitation Act), and California law requiring state-funded programs to comply with those federal statutes (Gov. Code, § 11135). According to plaintiffs the completion rule unlawfully discriminates against these disabled 18-year-old children by depriving them of a benefit available to similarly situated 18-year-old children who are not disabled.

Following a hearing, the trial court denied the petition and plaintiffs timely appealed.

We agree with plaintiffs that application of the completion rule to their children unlawfully denies them the benefits of the CalWORKs program on account of their disabilities. We shall therefore reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the trial court for the taking of evidence as to the Department's current ability to pay benefits to plaintiffs and others in the state similarly situated.


At all relevant times, plaintiffs' children were under age 19 and enrolled full time in high school.

The parties have stipulated that the children are disabled within the meaning of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act and that only their disabilities appeared likely to prevent them from completing high school by the age of 19. Thus, there is no dispute that their benefits were cut off solely due to disability.

Plaintiffs timely appealed the termination of benefits. Plaintiff LaBrash's termination was rescinded and LaBrash withdrew her appeal after her daughter's high school principal informed the Department that the child could be expected to graduate by age 19.2 After administrative hearings on the remaining appeals, defendant Saenz in her capacity as Director of the Department upheld the terminations under the completion rule. (We shall refer to defendants as the Department for convenience.)

Plaintiffs thereafter filed their writ petition in Sacramento County Superior Court. In a declaration filed in support of the petition, plaintiff Griffin averred that her child had received $652 per month in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits up until November 2000 and $807 per month thereafter, amounts in excess of the $294 per month Griffin had received under CalWORKs as the child's caretaker parent. The other plaintiffs declared that their children received no benefits other than the discontinued CalWORKs benefits.

After a hearing on the merits, the superior court denied the writ and issued judgment on all claims for defendants. The court found: "The provisions of ... section 11253(b) constitute an essential eligibility requirement, within the meaning of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The purpose of the CalWORKs program is to provide a nurturing, supportive home for a needy child. The point of demarcation between a child and an adult defines the basic program eligibility parameter with substantive financial consequences. [¶] [ ] The relief requested by petitioners would constitute a fundamental alteration of the CalWORKs program ... within the meaning of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act."

I The Trial Court Erred in Concluding that the Completion Rule Was An Essential Eligibility Requirement of Cal-WORKS

As the essential facts are undisputed, we have only questions of law before us. In reviewing the denial of a petition for writ of mandamus, whether under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085 or section 1094.5, we review questions of law de novo. (County of Sonoma v. Commission on State Mandates (2000) 84 Cal. App.4th 1264, 1278-1279, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 784; Silver v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 338, 347-348, 94 Cal. Rptr.2d 287.)

Government Code section 11135 currently provides in part: "(a) No person in the State of California shall, on the basis of ... disability, be unlawfully denied ... the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity that is ... funded directly by the state, or receives any financial assistance from the state. [¶] (b) With respect to discrimination on the basis of disability, programs and activities subject to subdivision (a) shall meet the protections and prohibitions contained in Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132), and the federal rules and regulations adopted in implementation thereof, except that if the laws of this state prescribe stronger protections and prohibitions, the programs and activities subject to subdivision (a) shall be subject to the stronger protections and prohibitions." The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act apply to any program or activity which receives TANF funds, such as CalWORKs. (42 U.S.C. § 608(d).)3

The ADA provides in part: "Subject to the provisions of this subchapter [Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.], no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." (42 U.S.C. § 12132; see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(a) (2001).) Similarly, the Rehabilitation Act provides in part: "(a) No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(20) [29 U.S.C. § 705(20)] shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance .... [¶] (b) For the purposes of this section, the term `program or activity' means all of the operations of [¶][] a department ... of a State ... government; or [¶][] the entity of such State ... government that distributes such assistance and each such department ... to which the assistance is extended, in the case of assistance to a State ... government. ..." (29 U.S.C. § 794; see also 45 C.F.R. § 84.4(a) (2001).)

Under both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, a person "qualified" to receive government benefits or services or to participate in a government program or activity is one who, "with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, ... meets the essential eligibility requirements" for such benefits, services, or participation. (42 U.S.C. § 12131(2)[ADA]; see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.104 (2001) [implementing ADA]; 28 C.F.R. § 41.32(b) (2001) [implementing Rehabilitation Act].) Plaintiffs contend the trial...

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