Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits
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Defendant Leola Allen plead guilty to committing felony welfare fraud in 1993, 1997, and 2000 (and to committing felony perjury in 2000). At sentencing in each case, the trial court ordered Allen to pay direct victim restitution and various fines and fees. In 2018, Allen petitioned pursuant to Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.42 seeking discretionary "expungement" of her convictions on the basis she had been rehabilitated. She also sought to stay, dismiss, or delete her court-ordered fines and fees because she asserted she was unable to pay them. The prosecution opposed the expungement requests because Allen still owed about $9,000 in direct victim restitution; the prosecution did not oppose the request for relief from the fines and fees. The trial court denied Allen's petitions based on her outstanding victim restitution obligations, but did not directly address her request for relief from the fines and fees. On appeal, Allen argued that under the recent decision in California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019), the trial court's denial of her expungement petitions violated her due process or equal protection rights because she was financially unable to pay the victim restitution. Alternatively, Allen contended the trial court erred in its conclusion her outstanding restitution obligations deprived the court of the authority to grant discretionary expungement. The Court of Appeal found Duenas was materially distinguishable: it involved revenue-generating assessments and a punitive restitution fine, whereas this case involves voter-mandated direct victim restitution intended to make the victim whole. Furthermore, the Court agreed with the analysis of numerous courts that rejected Duenas's due process framework. On remand, however, the Court directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings: (1) because the trial court did not directly address Allen's request for relief from the court-ordered fines and fees (other than victim restitution); and (2) because the record was unclear regarding whether Allen paid all the victim restitution owed in connection with her convictions in 2000. In all other respects, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff argued that the Housing Authority abused its discretion in terminating her participation in the Section 8 Housing Program in the absence of any fraud, and that the Housing Authority did not have the discretion to terminate plaintiff's participation in the Program based on a misreport. The Court of Appeal held that the Housing Authority may not terminate a participant from the Program for an immaterial misreport, but that a false answer to a question about marital status did not fall within that category. The court affirmed the trial court's finding that plaintiff's false statements support her termination from the Program even in the absence of fraudulent intent, and affirmed the trial court's judgment finding that adequate grounds existed to terminate plaintiff from the Program. The court directed the trial court to remand the case to the Housing Authority to consider whether to exercise its discretion to take into account other circumstances in determining the appropriate remedy for plaintiff's violations. View "Crooks v. Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Skelton sustained an ankle injury in 2012, and a shoulder injury in 2014, while working for the DMV. In the latter incident, she also claimed to have sustained an injury to her neck. Skelton filed separate workers’ compensation benefits applications. Skelton sought to be reimbursed for her wage loss for time missed at work for medical treatment and for medical evaluations (temporary disability indemnity (TDI)). Skelton’s work hours were not flexible, and she could not visit her doctors on weekends. She initially used her sick and vacation leave but eventually, her paycheck was reduced for missed time. She was then “forced to miss doctors’ appointments.” Skelton’s shoulder injury was found permanent and stationary in November 2017. Her ankle injury was not yet permanent and stationary at the time of the hearing. DMV contended that Skelton was not entitled to TDI because she had returned to work, citing Labor Code section 4600(e)(1). The Appeals Board affirmed that Skelton was not entitled to TDI for wage loss to attend medical treatment appointments following her return to work but was entitled to TDI for wage loss to attend medical-legal evaluations. The court of appeal affirmed. DMV’s obligation to pay temporary disability benefits is tied to Skelton’s actual incapacity to perform the tasks usually encountered in her employment and the resulting wage loss. View "Skelton v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-relator Matthew Omlansky, by virtue of knowledge gleaned as a state employee involved with the Medi-Cal program, brought this qui tam action in the name of the State of California alleging that defendant Save Mart Supermarkets (Save Mart) had violated the False Claims Act in its billings to Medi-Cal for prescription and nonprescription medications, charging a higher price than cash customers paid in violation of 2009 statutory provisions capping Medi-Cal charges at a provider’s usual and customary price (“statutory cap”). Per the trial court, the gist of the alleged fraud upon Medi-Cal, Save Mart generally offered a lower price for medications to cash customers, and would also match a lower price that a competitor was offering (although it appears from an exhibit to the complaint that the latter applied only to prescriptions), but did not apply these discounts from its list prices in the billings it submitted to Medi-Cal. The State declined to intervene. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the original complaint because all of the alleged violations occurred during a period when the 2009 statutory cap was subject to a federal injunction. Plaintiff then filed an essentially identical amended complaint. The only significant change was an allegation in paragraph 45 that Save Mart’s billing practices favoring cash customers continued from December 2016 to March 2017 after the expiration of the injunction, specifying six examples of “illegal pricing.” The court sustained Save Mart’s demurrer to this pleading as to two of the six grounds raised, and denied leave to amend. It entered a judgment of dismissal. Plaintiff timely appealed, but the Court of Appeal concurred with the grounds for the trial court’s ruling, thereby affirming dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint. View "Omlansky v. Save Mart Supermarkets" on Justia Law

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Rodriguez, a Gulf War veteran, served as a Santa Cruz police officer. 1995-2007. He applied for industrial disability retirement in 2011 with the California Public Employee’s Retirement System based on his PTSD diagnosis that was caused in part by his work for the city. After litigation, the city granted Rodriguez disability retirement but denied his claim of industrial causation. He began receiving benefits in December 2016. Rodriguez requested a finding that his disability was industrial from the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in April 2017. The Board concluded that Rodriguez’s disability was industrial, but that he was barred from receiving industrial disability retirement benefits because his claim for a finding of industrial causation was untimely under the five-year time limitation in Government Code section 21171. The court of appeal reversed. Section 21171 applies only to rescind, alter or amend an earlier industrial determination. Section 21174 applies to initial determinations and states that a retiree claiming an industrial disability that is disputed will not receive the additional benefits “unless the application for that determination is filed with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board... within two years after the effective date of the member’s retirement.” If a claimant applies for a determination of industrial causation within two years of retirement but more than five years after the injury, the Board cannot modify its determination that an injury is industrial or not; nothing precludes the Board from making the initial determination of industrial causation. View "Rodriguez v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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In February 2015, Johnson’s landlord under the Housing and Community Development Act Section 8 housing assistance program (42 U.S.C. 1437f(o)) served a “lease violation notice” informing Johnson that she had violated her lease by following another tenant to his apartment and using profanity. In June 2015, Landlord issued a “notice to cease” stating that management had received a complaint from a resident alleging that she had used pepper spray against him. On February 29, 2016, Landlord served a “ninety-day notice of termination of tenancy.” In June, when Johnson failed to vacate, Landlord filed an unlawful detainer action. In August, the action was settled by a stipulation; Landlord agreed to reinstate Johnson’s tenancy on the condition that she conform her conduct to the lease. Landlord retained the right to apply for entry of judgment based on specified evidence of breach. In October, Landlord applied for entry of judgment, claiming that Johnson violated the stipulation. Johnson was evicted in January 2017. In February, the Oakland Housing Authority, which administers the Section 8 program, terminated Johnson's benefits. The court of appeal found no violation of Johnson’s procedural due process rights in terminating her from the program. Johnson was given sufficient notice of the grounds for termination: she failed to supply the Authority with required eviction documentation; she committed and was evicted for serious repeated lease violations. The hearing officer did not abuse its discretion in refusing to excuse the violation. View "Johnson v. Housing Authority of City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) manages contributions made by employees and member school districts to the State Teachers’ Retirement Fund. (Ed. Code 22000.) In 2014, the Baxter petitioners, formerly employed by the Salinas Unified High School District sought to prevent CalSTRS from continuing to reduce their monthly retirement benefit payments and to restore prior monies they claimed CalSTRS had wrongfully withheld to recoup overpayments made as a result of a years-long miscalculation by the District. The trial court held that a three-year limitations period barred CalSTRS from recouping the prior overpayments. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the continuous accrual theory applied. A second suit challenged the reductions. Before the court of appeal addressed Baxter, the trial court granted relief in the second suit, finding CalSTRS’s claims time-barred. The court of appeal followed Baxter, holding that the continuous accrual theory applies. CalSTRS was time-barred from pursuing any claim against teachers as to pension benefit overpayments made more than three years before CalSTRS commenced an action but is not time-barred from pursuing any claim concerning periodic overpayments to teachers and adjustments to teachers’ future monthly benefits, where the payment accrued not more than three years prior to commencement of an action. The reduction in benefits made by CalSTRS did not constitute the commencement of an “action.” CalSTRS constructively commenced an “action” when these teachers filed their verified petition and complaint in the superior court on February 1, 2016. View "Blaser v. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Medi–Cal, California’s program under the joint federal-state Medicaid program (Welf. & Inst. Code 14000), provides health care services to certain low-income individuals and families, including the aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women, and others. (42 U.S.C. 1396). Beginning in 2013-2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits, sometimes with severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care. Applicants and an advocacy organization sued the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The court ordered DHCS to make Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days unless certain exceptions applied. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to abstain but California law does not impose on DHCS a duty to make all Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days. There is an obligation to determine Medi-Cal eligibility within 45 days under federal regulation 32 CFR 435.912(c)(3)(ii), but that obligation is subject to exceptions so that the underlying obligation is not sufficiently clear and plain to be enforceable in mandate. It was not clear whether DHCS was out of compliance with an overall performance benchmark of processing 90% of applications within 45 days; absent such evidence, it was error to issue writ relief applicable across-the-board. View "Rivera v. Kent" on Justia Law

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While Ethan Lomeli's guardian filed suit against medical care providers for his catastrophic birth injuries, Medi-Cal paid for his care before and during the lawsuit. After Lomeli settled with defendants, the Department moved to impose a lien on the settlement and the trial court granted the motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that federal law did not block the Department's lien. The court rejected Lomeli's analysis from the dissent in Tristani ex rel. Karnes v. Richman (3rd Cir. 2011) 652 F.3d 360, 379–387, and adopted the majority's holding that two provisions of the Social Security Act did not bar state Medicare liens. The court also held that collateral estoppel did not bar the lien and the court's lien calculation of $267,159.60 was correct. In this case, substantial evidence supported the trial court's reality-based approach to determine the reasonable value of plaintiff's pretrial claim. View "Lomeli v. State Department of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's order denying plaintiffs' request, following the death of their daughter, that the remainder of their daughter's special needs trust be distributed to them rather than to the Department of Health Care Services as reimbursement for Medi-Cal payments for their daughter's medical care. The court held that the mandatory recovery rules for special needs trusts apply to the trust remainder; plaintiffs' interpretation of Probate Code section 3605 conflicts with federal law; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' opinion letter supports the Department's position that section 3605 permits the Department to recover for the daughter's Medi-Cal expenses; public policy considerations weigh in favor of permitting reimbursement to the Department; and the trust itself requires reimbursement to the Department. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to show that the Department's claim impermissibly included services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Lanterman Act. View "Gonzalez v. City National Bank" on Justia Law