CAULK v. GUIMBELLOT

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Court of Appeal, Third District, California.

Robert S. CAULK, as Director, etc. et al., Petitioners, v. SUPERIOR COURT of Sacramento County, Respondent, Mary GUIMBELLOT et al., Real Parties in Interest.

No. C015355.

Decided: February 27, 1998

Robert A. Ryan, Jr., County Counsel, Sacramento, Michele Bach, Supervising Deputy County Counsel, Sacramento, for Petitioners. No Appearance for Respondent. Northern California Lawyers for Civil Justice, Curtis L. Child, Eugenie Denise Mitchell, Karen A. Wells, Sacramento, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Melinda R. Bird, Richard A. Rothschild, and Robert D. Newman, Los Angeles, for Real Parties in Interest. California Medical Association, Catherine I. Hanson, Astrid Meghrigian, San Francisco, California Association of Hospitals & Health Systems, Lois Richardson, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, Robin B. Johansen, Joseph Remcho, San Francisco and Philip C. Monrad, Oakland, Amicus Curiae.

We again consider whether a General Assistance standard of aid adopted pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 17000.5 satisfies a county's obligation not only to provide eligible persons with food, clothing and shelter, but with medical care.  (Further statutory references to sections of an undesignated code are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.)

Section 17000 requires every county in the state to “relieve and support” the poor whenever such relief and support is not otherwise provided.   General Assistance (GA) is the program through which counties meet this obligation.

Section 17000.5 establishes a formula which counties may use to set GA grant levels.   Benefits provided pursuant to this formula are conclusively presumed to satisfy the state mandate.  (§ 17000.5, subd. (b).)  Counties that take shelter in the “safe harbor” of section 17000.5 (Ingredient Communication Council, Inc. v. Lungren (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 1480, 1485, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 216) are protected from the vagaries of “budget busting” litigation over this aspect of their welfare program (see, e.g., Poverty Resistance Center v. Hart (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 295, 271 Cal.Rptr. 214).

In Caulk v. Superior Court (1997) Cal.App. [vacated 9/26/97] (Caulk I ), we concluded a 1996 amendment to section 17000.5, which identifies medical care as a type of aid included within the terms of that provision, relieves counties of the obligation to provide indigent health care in the event they choose to rely on the safe harbor.   In the alternative, counties may continue to provide health care and reduce the GA grant accordingly.

The Supreme Court granted review and transferred the matter back to this court with directions to vacate our decision and reconsider in light of Senate Bill No. 391 (Senate Bill 391).

 Senate Bill 391 was signed into law after we issued Caulk I.   SB 391 attempts to deprive that decision of vitality by imputing a different meaning than ascribed by this court in Caulk I to the language amending section 17000.5.   The legislative attempt in Senate Bill 391 to instruct the judicial branch in the proper interpretation of a statute is ultra vires.  (See Cal. Const., art. III, § 3.) Moreover, we believe the interpretation proferred in Senate Bill 391 is wrong.   Therefore we adhere to our prior decision.

I

 General Assistance is the program of last resort for those unable to qualify for other types of public assistance.  (Boehm v. Superior Court (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 494, 499, 223 Cal.Rptr. 716.)   In a series of cases beginning with Boehm v. County of Merced (1985) 163 Cal.App.3d 447, 209 Cal.Rptr. 530, some appellate courts interpreted section 17000 to require that GA grant levels be based upon a study of minimum subsistence needs (a Boehm study).  (See, e.g., Boehm v. Superior Court, supra, 178 Cal.App.3d at p. 501, 223 Cal.Rptr. 716;  Poverty Resistance Center v. Hart, supra, 213 Cal.App.3d at p. 304, 271 Cal.Rptr. 214;  Guidotti v. County of Yolo (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1552, 1562-1563, 271 Cal.Rptr. 858;  Whitfield v. Board of Supervisors (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d 451, 460, 277 Cal.Rptr. 815.)  Section 17000.5 was enacted in reaction to these cases.  (Oberlander v. County of Contra Costa (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 535, 542, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 182.)   It authorizes counties to adopt GA grant levels equal to 62 percent of the 1991 federal official poverty line with optional, annual adjustments equal to any adjustments in benefits provided by the state under its Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.1  Since GA grant levels adopted pursuant to this section are conclusively presumed adequate, they need not be supported by a Boehm study.

Since 1983, the County of Sacramento (County) has provided health care to indigent residents through the County Medically Indigent Services Program (CMISP).   Prior to November 1, 1992, CMISP eligibility standards (the old CMISP standards) closely approximated those of state Medi-Cal at the time CMISP was inaugurated.2  On October 6, 1992, County adopted Resolution No. 92-1497, establishing new CMISP standards restricting eligibility to individuals meeting GA standards set in accordance with section 17000.5 (the new CMISP standards).   The new CMISP standards were scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1992.

Real parties in interest (plaintiffs) are individuals eligible for medical benefits under the old CMISP standards who would be denied benefits under the new CMISP standards.   On October 29, 1992, plaintiffs initiated an action in the superior court on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated against County, its Board of Supervisors, and certain County officials (collectively defendants) to enjoin implementation of the new CMISP standards.

The superior court issued a preliminary injunction granting the requested relief.   The court explained that because those eligible for a GA grant are also entitled to medical services through CMISP, County did not intend the GA grant to include subsistence medical needs.

County then adopted Resolution No. 93-0056.   As before, County set GA standards in accordance with section 17000.5.   This time, however, County expressly declared the GA standards include an allowance for subsistence health care, thereby eliminating County's obligation to provide such care independently.   However, in the exercise of its police powers, County directed that CMISP eligibility nevertheless be extended to those meeting GA standards.3

On January 26, 1993, defendants moved to dissolve the preliminary injunction or to stay its operation pending appellate review.   The superior court denied the motion, concluding the new CMISP standards fail to satisfy County's obligations under section 17000.   The court indicated medical benefits are not subject to section 17000.5 and, hence, must be provided in addition to GA benefits, with eligibility established according to subsistence medical needs.

 Defendants appealed from both the order granting the preliminary injunction and the order denying the motion to dissolve it.   Defendants also initiated the instant mandamus proceeding to compel the trial court to vacate these orders.   We issued an alternative writ and suspended proceedings on the appeal pending resolution of this matter.4

In 1996, the Legislature amended section 17000.5.   It now reads: “The board of supervisors in any county may adopt a general assistance standard of aid, including the value of in-kind aid which includes, but is not limited to, the monthly actuarial value of up to forty dollars ($40) per month of medical care, that is 62 percent of a guideline that is equal to the 1991 federal official poverty line and may annually adjust that guideline in an amount equal to any adjustment provided under Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11200) of Part 3 for establishing a maximum aid level in the county.   This subdivision is not intended to either limit or expand the extent of the duty of counties to provide health care.”  (Italics indicate 1996 amendment.)

On June 27, 1997, we issued our opinion in Caulk I. We concluded the language added to section 17000.5 in 1996 demonstrates a legislative intent to include health care as a form of aid covered by the safe harbor provision.   We explained counties may satisfy their obligation to provide health care either through grants computed according to the formula described in section 17000.5 or through in-kind aid.   In other words, counties choosing to utilize the safe harbor without a deduction for medical care are relieved of the obligation to provide such care.  (Caulk I [slip opn.], at p. 11.)   We issued a peremptory writ directing the superior court to dissolve the preliminary injunction.

SB 391 was signed into law and became effective on August 18, 1997.   Among other things, it added section 17000.51 to the Welfare and Institutions Code. Section 17000.51 reads:

“(a) Notwithstanding the decision in Caulk v. Superior Court, C015355, June 27, 1997, a county's discretion granted pursuant to Section 17000.5 to include, as part of a general assistance aid grant, in-kind aid with a monthly actuarial value of up to forty dollars ($40) per month of medical care, was not intended, and shall not be construed, to do any of the following:

“(1) Satisfy, in whole or in part, the duty of a county or a city or county to provide health care services to indigent and dependent poor persons under Section 17000.

“(2) Permit a county or a city and county to cease providing health care services under Section 17000.

“(3) Affect the eligibility of indigent and dependent poor persons for health care services under Section 17000.

“(b) Subdivision (a) shall cease to be implemented if, and only to the extent that, a final court decision holds that subdivision (a) imposes a state-mandated local program.

“(c) Subdivision (a) confirms, and is declarative of, rather than a change in, existing law, as provided for in Chapter 6 of the Statutes of 1996, which was intended only to provide a county or city and county with the discretion to reduce its general assistance grant level by up to forty dollars ($40) per month.”  (Stats.1997, ch. 294, § 84.)

II

 Review of an order granting a preliminary injunction is limited to “a consideration whether the trial court abused its discretion in ‘ “evaluat [ing] two interrelated factors․   The first is the likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail on the merits at trial.   The second is the interim harm that the plaintiff is likely to sustain if the injunction were denied as compared to the harm the defendant is likely to suffer if the preliminary injunction were issued.” ’ ”  (People ex rel. Gallo v. Acuna (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1090, 1109, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 277, 929 P.2d 596, citations omitted.)   Although mandamus normally will not lie to control the exercise of judicial discretion (Cooke v. Superior Court, supra, 213 Cal.App.3d at p. 408, 261 Cal.Rptr. 706), where there is no likelihood of success on the merits, discretion can be exercised in only one way and a preliminary injunction issued in favor of the plaintiff is an abuse thereof.  (See Scates v. Rydingsword (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d 1085, 1096, 280 Cal.Rptr. 544.)

 It is an established rule of law that on appeal from a judgment granting or denying injunctive relief, the law to be applied is that which is current at the time of the appellate court opinion.  (Kash Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1977) 19 Cal.3d 294, 306, fn. 6, 138 Cal.Rptr. 53, 562 P.2d 1302;  Complete Service Bureau v. San Diego Medical Society (1954) 43 Cal.2d 201, 207, 272 P.2d 497;  Cal-Dak Co. v. Sav-On Drugs, Inc. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 492, 496-497, 254 P.2d 497.) “Relief by injunction operates in futuro, and the right to it must be determined as of the date of decision by an appellate court.”  (American Fruit Growers v. Parker (1943) 22 Cal.2d 513, 515, 140 P.2d 23.)

 Purportedly relying on the foregoing rule, plaintiffs contend the question in this case is no longer what the Legislature meant in 1996 when it amended section 17000.5 but “what the Legislature means now.”   Plaintiffs are wrong.

Our task now, as it was before SB 391 was signed into law, is to determine the legislative intent underlying the 1996 amendment to section 17000.5.   SB 391 did not rewrite section 17000.5.   Rather, through the enactment of section 17000.51, the Legislature presumes to explain what was intended by the 1996 amendment.   In particular, the Legislature declares the 1996 amendment “was not intended, and shall not be construed” to satisfy a county's obligation to provide indigent health care services, permit a county to cease providing indigent health care services, or affect eligibility for indigent health care services.  (§ 17000.51, subd. (a).)  The Legislature further explains the 1996 amendment “was intended only to provide a county or city and county with the discretion to reduce its general assistance grant level by up to forty dollars ($40) per month.”  (§ 17000.51, subd. (c).)

 “[A] legislative declaration of an existing statute's meaning is neither binding nor conclusive in construing the statute.   Ultimately, the interpretation of a statute is an exercise of the judicial power the Constitution assigns to the courts.  [Citations.]”  (Western Security Bank v. Superior Court (1997) 15 Cal.4th 232, 244, 62 Cal.Rptr.2d 243, 933 P.2d 507.) “The declaration of a later Legislature is of little weight in determining the relevant intent of the Legislature that enacted the law.  [Citations.]”  (Peralta Community College Dist. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1990) 52 Cal.3d 40, 52, 276 Cal.Rptr. 114, 801 P.2d 357.)   Such post hoc interpretation by a reconstituted Legislature violates fundamental principles of separation of powers.   If the Legislature wishes to impress upon a statute a meaning different from that discerned by the courts, it may do so through the simple expedient of amendment, i.e., by legislating.   The Legislature enacts and amends statutes;  the courts interpret them.   The Legislature may not tell the courts how a statute must be interpreted any more than the courts may tell the Legislature what to enact.

 In matters of statutory construction, our fundamental concern is with the intent of the legislature which enacted the provision in question.  (Brown v. Kelly Broadcasting Co. (1989) 48 Cal.3d 711, 724, 257 Cal.Rptr. 708, 771 P.2d 406.)   In order to determine such intent, we begin with the language of the statute.  (48 Cal.3d at p. 724, 257 Cal.Rptr. 708, 771 P.2d 406.)   If the language is clear, there is no need to resort to other indicia of intent;  there is no need for further construction.  (Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735, 248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299.)   We presume the enacting body is aware of existing laws and judicial constructions in effect at the time legislation is enacted.  (People v. Weidert (1985) 39 Cal.3d 836, 844-845, 218 Cal.Rptr. 57, 705 P.2d 380.)   We also presume that when the Legislature alters the language of a given law it intends to change its meaning.  (Dix v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 442, 461, 279 Cal.Rptr. 834, 807 P.2d 1063.)

 We need look no further than the language of section 17000.5 to discern legislative intent.   Prior appellate decisions have established that a county may satisfy its section 17000 obligations through grants computed according to the formula described in section 17000.5 or, in whole or in part, through in-kind aid.  (Oberlander v. County of Contra Costa, supra, 11 Cal.App.4th at p. 545, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 182.)   Revised section 17000.5 establishes that in-kind aid “includes, but is not limited to, the monthly actuarial value of up to forty dollars ($40) per month of medical care.”   Hence, as with other types of in-kind aid, counties may either discontinue medical care for those receiving GA benefits set according to section 17000.5 or continue to provide such care and deduct up to $40 from the GA grant levels.   There is no other reasonable interpretation.   The concluding sentence of section 17000.5, subdivision (a), which indicates the subdivision “is not intended to either limit or expand the extent of the duty of counties to provide health care [,]” merely explains that section 17000.5 does not define the counties' duty to provide health care but provides an alternate means of satisfying it.

 In light of the 1996 amendment to section 17000.5, and notwithstanding SB 391, the preliminary injunction prohibiting County from implementing the new CMISP standards cannot stand.   County set GA grant levels for 1992 in accordance with section 17000.5 and restricted CMISP eligibility to those entitled to GA benefits.   Because the GA grant levels set by County do not reflect a reduction for medical benefits, County was not required to provide such benefits “in-kind” to GA beneficiaries.   Nevertheless, in the exercise of its police powers, County was free to do so.5

The alternative writ, having fulfilled its purpose, is hereby dissolved.   Because there is no likelihood plaintiffs will prevail on the merits, a peremptory writ of mandate will issue directing the superior court to dissolve the preliminary injunction and to enter judgment for defendants.   The parties shall bear their own costs.6

FOOTNOTES

1.   At the time of enactment of section 17000.5, AFDC benefit levels were approximately 62 percent of the federal official poverty line.

2.   Medi-Cal is the state program enacted pursuant to the federal Medicaid Act (title XIX of the Social Security Act;  42 U.S.C. § 1396 et seq.) to provide health care services to recipients of public assistance and others.  (Morris v. Williams (1967) 67 Cal.2d 733, 738, 63 Cal.Rptr. 689, 433 P.2d 697.)   As originally enacted, Medi-Cal eligibility was limited to “categorically linked persons,” i.e., those linked to a federal aid program by age, blindness, disability, or membership in a family with dependent children within the meaning of the AFDC program.  (County of San Diego v. State of California (1997) 15 Cal.4th 68, 77, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d 134, 931 P.2d 312.)   Later, coverage was extended to certain noncategorically linked persons who met the income and resource requirements of AFDC but who did not otherwise qualify for public assistance-“medically indigent persons” (MIP's).  (15 Cal.4th at p. 79, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d 134, 931 P.2d 312.)   By 1979, the state had assumed full responsibility for funding the state's share of the Medi-Cal program.  (15 Cal.4th at p. 79, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d 134, 931 P.2d 312.)Beginning January 1, 1983, the Legislature revised the Medi-Cal program to exclude coverage for adult MIP's, thereby effectively transferring responsibility for their health care to the counties.   The Legislature also established the Medically Indigent Services Account as a mechanism for transferring funds to the counties to supplement county health services.  (15 Cal.4th at pp. 79-80, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d 134, 931 P.2d 312;  Cooke v. Superior Court (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 401, 411, 261 Cal.Rptr. 706.)

3.   County also adopted contingent standards for CMISP eligibility (the contingent CMISP standards) to go into effect in the event the new CMISP standards are held unlawful in a final judgment.   The contingent CMISP standards set an upper eligibility limit for free health care at the corresponding GA level plus average per capita cost of indigent health care ($95) and an income disregard ($50) to compensate for any error in the use of an average per capita cost figure.

4.   Mandamus normally will not lie where there is a plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 1086.)   Our issuance of an alternative writ constitutes a determination that defendants' appeal from the trial court's orders is not an adequate remedy in this instance.  (See Cooke v. Superior Court,supra, 213 Cal.App.3d at p. 408, fn. 5, 261 Cal.Rptr. 706.)

5.   Having so concluded, we need not decide whether the contingent CMISP standards satisfy County's section 17000 obligation to provide subsistence medical care.

6.   In light of the disposition herein, plaintiffs' motion to discharge the alternative writ and deny the petition for writ of mandate is dismissed as moot.

PUGLIA, Presiding Justice.

SIMS and NICHOLSON, JJ., concur..

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