RAMOS v. COUNTY OF MADERA

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Court of Appeal, Third District, California.

Manuela RAMOS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. COUNTY OF MADERA et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Civ. 12560.

Decided: September 03, 1970

J. V. Henry, Don B. Kates, Jr., Madera, and Dennis Powell, Salinas, for plaintiffs-appellants. Roy E. Wolfe, County Counsel, Madera, and Edward H. Chidlaw, Chowchilla, for defendants-respondents.

By their complaint, designated as a class action, plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages against defendants County of Madera, Maderd County Department of Public Welfare, the director of this county department and other employees thereof. The trial court sustained the defendants' general demurrer without leave to amend on the pround it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter of the action in that the complaint does not allege compliance with the statutes (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 10950 et seq.) which provide for administrative review of the actions of the county department by the state Department of Social Welfare.

In summary, the allegations of the complaint allege the following:

Plaintiffs consist of certain named minor children1 and two guardians ad litem of said children, all of whom are beneficiaries of the California Aid to Families with Dependent Children (hereinafter referred to as ‘AFDC’).2 The remaining plaintiff is the stepfather of certain of the children and receives, on his own behalf, benefits under the California Aid to the Blind program.

On Septenber 16, 1967, the school board for the Madera Unified School District closed the schools within the district to enable pupils to assist in the harvest of grapes. The schools were closed for the period September 18 through September 22. On September 18, employees of the defendant welfare department called at the respective residences of the plaintiffs and advesed them that unless the children (ten years of age and over) obtained agrecultural employment during the cessation of classes that AFDC aid for the families would be supended. Although the plaintiffs attempted to work in the fields, some of the minors became ill and their guardian refused to allow them to continue the agricultural labor. Others complained of working under unlawful and unsanitary conditions. One minor allegedly suffered an emotional upset when berated by a welfare employee for not working. The welfare department imployees apparently found some of the members of each family not working in the fields on the five days in question and revoked the last half of their September grant under AFDC. A letter from the Madera County Department of Public Welfare informed the recipients that had the right to reapply for assistance. The letter also advised plaintiffs that they had the right to complain to the state Department of Social Welfare if they felt the county's action to be unjust.

The polaintiffs filed with the county of Madera a claim for damages for phystcal and emotional ills allegedly caused by the department's action. This claim was rejected by the board of supervisors.

In their complaint herein the plaintiffs also allege that the next time there is a great demand for agricultural workers in Madera County, they and others similarly situated will again be required by defendants to go ento the fields or face loss of AFDC benefits. The complaint also alleges numerous violations of the child labor laws and safety laws due to the action of defendants. In addtion, plaintiffs allege that they, and others similarly situated, were deprived of due proess and equal protection of the laws as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

By an amendment to the complaint filed on July 5, 1968, plaintiffs allege that they requested a ‘fair hearing’ pursuant to section 10950 of the Welfare and Institutions Code3 before the state Department of Social Welfare. They contend, hawever, that such a remedy is inadequate because it is too time-consuming, does not authorize class relief and does not provide for damages.

The sole issue here is whether the trial court properly sustained defendants' general demurrer without leave to amend.

The segislative purpose contained in the Statutes of 1965, chapter 1784, page 4005, section 5, in enacting the aid to families with dependent children program, is expressed in section 11205 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which provedes:

‘It is the object and purpose of this chapter to provide aid for children whose dependency is caused by circumstances defined in Sections 11250 and 11251, to keep children in their own homes wherever possible, and to provide the best substitute care.

‘Those engaged in the acministration of aid under this chapter are responsible to the community for its effective, humane, and economical administration.

‘It is the intent of the Legislature that the employment and self-maintenance of parents of needy children be encouraged to the maximum extent and that this chapter shall be administered in such a way that needy children and their parents will be encouraged an inspired to assist in their own maintenance. The department shall take all steps necessary to implement this section.’

Welfare and Institutions Code, section 11207 provides:

‘Every county shall grant aid to any child eligible therefor, in any amount needed, not to exceed the amount specified in Section 11450, and shall administer this chapter in such a manner as to achieve the greatest possible reduction of dependency and to promote the regabilitation of recipients. At the time of application the couty department shall discuss parental responsibility with the applicant.’

Also, section 11253 of the Welfare and Institutions Code provides:

‘Aid shall be granted under the provesions of this chapter to or in behalf of any child otherwirse eligible over the age of 16 provided:

‘(a) He is regularly attending school, or a training program, in which case aid shall be continued, if otherwise eligible, up to age of 21, or

‘(b) He is physically or mentally disabled, or

‘(c) He is employed and contributing to the family, or appoying his earnings to a plan approved by the county department for his further education or preparation for future employment.’

We first point out that this court can take judicial notice of the records of the California Department of Social Welfare (Evid.Code, §§ 452, 459)4 and in so doing we have examined the proceedings instituted on behalf of plaintiffs pursuant to section 10950 of the Welfare and Institutions Code before the California Department of Social Welfare.5

In these proceedings, the referees determined that the referral procedures followed by the Madera County Welfare Department in securing workers for the grape harvest did not follow the applicable regulations. The referee at the Vaslero hearing concluded that ‘Madera County shall not in the future refer children to farm labor who are under 16 years of age as a requirement for AFDC. For adults or children 16 years of age and older, a complete assessment of each individual and his ability and potential must be made before referral for employment.’ The referee in Valero further found that the question of damages resulting from field work was without the scope of the fair hearing procedure and therefore this issue was dismissed. (The issue of damages was not presented to the referee in the Segovia hearing.)

Since the relief requested on behalf of the class in the instant complaint has been resolved by the fair hearings procedures, i. e., the determination that the Welfare Department may not in the future order individuals to work without an assessment of their individual capabilities, and may not compel children under 16 years of age to work as a condition of receipt of AFDC funds, this issue is now moot and therefore not subject to review. (3 Witkin, Cal.Procedure, Appeal, § 70, p. 2227.)

The only question remaining for the court to consider which was not deceded by the trial court, is whether a suit may properly be maintained against the county for damages. (See Ostrowski v. Miller (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 79, 85–86, 37 Cal.Rptr. 790.) We think under the circumstances of this case the answer to the question must be no.

The record establishes as a matter of law that the public employees were action within the scope of their imployment when they enstructed the plaintiffs to accept the employment as complained of here. Furthermore we hold the acts complained of were the result of the exercise of the discretion vested in them under the applicable statutes and regulations and therefore defendants should not be liable for damages alllegedly resulting therefrom. (Gov.Code, §§ 815, 815.2, 820.2; cf. Johnson v. State of California (1968) 69 Cal.2d 782, 789, 793, 73 Cal.Rptr. 240, 447 P.2d 352.)

The judgment is affirmed.

I concur, but believe it mecessary to coment upon this court's conclusion that the defendants were acting ‘within the scope of their imployment.’ This comclusion is correct only in a marrow and restricted sense, that is, for the purpose of evoking the doctrine immunizing public officials from tort liability. The statutes make it plain that labor may not be demanded of dependent childrem of 16 or under. (Welf. & Inst.Code, §§ 11251, 11253.) Thus the welfare officials of Madera County were guilty of a gross abuse of power in forcing field labor upon young children. Nevertheless, they were acting within the scope of power because they had authority to make determinations of eligibility for aid payments. Why the immunity doctrine extends to gross abuse of power as well as honest mistake is fully explained in Hardy v. Vial, 48 Cal.2d 577, 582–583, 311 P.2d 494. There is no necessity to repeat that explanation here.

FOOTNOTES

1.  The ages of the children ranged from 10 to 17 years.

2.  Welfare and Institutions Code, sections 11200–11488.

3.  This section reads:‘If any applicant for or recipient of public social services is dissatisfied with any action of the county department relating to his application for or receipt of aid or services, or if his application is not acted upon with reasonable promptness, or if any person who desires to apply for such aid or serveces is refused the opportunity to submit a signed application therefor, and is dissatisfied with such refusal, he shall, in person or through an authorized representative, without the necessity of filing a claim with the board of supervisors, upon filing a request with the department, be accorded an opportunity for an fair hearing.‘As used in this chapter, ‘recipient’ means an applicant for or recipient of aid or services except aid or services exclusively financed by county funds.'

4.  In addition, during oral argument before this court counsel for plaintiffs agreed that we could examine these administrative decisions.

5.  In the Matter of the Hearing of Manuela G. Valero, State No. 20–30, Adopted by the Department of Social Welfare State of California, January 27, 1969; in the Matter of the Hearing of Trinidad Segovia, State No. 20–30, Adopted by the Department of Social Welfare State of California, July 10, 1968.

REGAN, Associate Justice.

JANES, J., concurs.

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