IN RE: BEATRICE T. et al.

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Court of Appeal, Third District, California.

IN RE: BEATRICE T. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. SACRAMENTO COUNTY WELFARE DEPARTMENT, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. BEATRICE T. et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Civ. 17314.

Decided: December 08, 1978

Lee B. Elam, County Counsel, Craig Rasmussen, Monte L. Fuller, Deputy County Counsels, Sacramento, for plaintiff and respondent. Michael A. Peritore, for defendants and appellants.

Beatrice and Olga T., dependent children of the juvenile court, appeal through their guardian from an order denying their motions (under Welf. & Inst.Code, § 9051 ) for relief from a claim by Sacramento County (County) against their estates for support, care and maintenance.

Both parents of Beatrice and Olga (15 and 16 years of age respectively at the time of the action appealed from) died when the girls were of tender years. For the purpose of administering their estates, consisting principally of the proceeds of a wrongful death action involving their father's death, a guardianship proceeding (No. 17951) was instituted in Solano County Superior Court in August 1969; in January 1973 it was transferred to Sacramento County (Probate Proceeding No. 74570). Since June 3, 1973, when they were made wards of the juvenile court, the girls have been placed by the court in a number of foster homes, the last of which is the Stanford Lathrop Memorial Home in Sacramento. The County of course has paid the foster homes for the care and maintenance of the minors. But no payments were ever made by the guardian to the County, to reimburse it for such expenditures. A written demand for such reimbursement was made upon the guardian on June 24, 1976, but was ignored.

On June 7, 1977, the County filed a petition in the guardianship proceeding, pursuant to section 903 and to Probate Code sections 1502 and 1503, for an order directing the guardian to pay “prior and current costs for care and maintenance” of Beatrice and Olga. The total accumulated amount demanded for Beatice was $14,639.54 and for Olga $7,194.30; additional current amounts were requested for each passing month. The “Current Account and Report of Guardian” dated June 1, 1977, for the period November 22, 1971 to February 1, 1977, showed the balance then on hand as $14,411.51 for Beatice and $15,715.90 for Olga.

On August 4, 1977, while the County's petition was pending in probate court, an unverified “claim and notice of motion” in behalf of each of the girls was filed in Juvenile court2 seeking relief from financial responsibility pursuant to section 905. It asserted that the estate was “financially unable to bear the pecuniary burden of reimbursement.”

On August 29, 1977, two documents were filed in support of the claim. The first was a declaration3 recounting the financial data contained in the last guardianship account and indicating that $15,716.10 (sic) was presently on hand for Olga and $14,411.51 for Beatrice; it also stated that “the depletion of this fund for the purpose of reimbursement to the county for the care, support and maintenance of the minor would cause severe injury to the psychological well-being of the minor.” The second was a medical report by a psychiatrist, rendering the professional opinion that failure to preserve the guardianship money and deliver it to the minors upon attaining majority will have an adverse effect upon their psyche.

On August 18, 1977, there was filed in the juvenile court a report from the Social Service Supervisor of Sacramento County assigned to the case. It detailed the monies expended by the County for which reimbursement was sought, reported the monies on hand in the guardianship accounts, and explained a minor difference in cost of care between the two girls.

A hearing on the claim was held in the juvenile court on August 30, 1977. Present were counsel for the County, for the guardian, for the minors, and for the Stanford Home. No further evidence was offered, and it was represented to the court that all financial information was before it and further investigation would add nothing. The matter was taken under submission. On August 31, 1977, the claim was denied. Thereafter the probate court granted the petition before it and ordered the guardian to pay the County's demands as to each girl for both past and continuing current expenses of care, except for $3,500 to be retained in each girl's account, $1,500 to be used for attorney's fees and costs of administration “and $2,000.00 for each ward.”4 The appeal followed.

Defendants do not claim on appeal that the guardianship estates did not have the literal financial ability to reimburse the County for the cost of their care and maintenance. They do not assert financial obligations omitted from the guardianship accounts. They contend, as they did in the juvenile court, that the considerations involved in a claim under section 9055 are not solely financial; that ultimate emotional consequences to those accountable (the minors) must be interpolated into the phrase “financially unable to pay;” and that when this has been done here, defendants are financially unable to pay, hence should not pay, and the juvenile court's ruling should be reversed.

Section 905 is incapable of such a construction. Its language is simple and clear, as is the legislative objective. (§ 900 et seq.)

Section 903 provides: “The father, mother, spouse, or other person liable for the support of a minor person, the estates of such persons, and the estate of such minor person, shall be liable for the cost of his care, support, and maintenance in any county institution in which he is placed, detained, or committed pursuant to the order of the juvenile court, or for the cost to the county in which the juvenile court making the order is located, of his care, support, and maintenance in any other place in which he is placed, detained, or committed pursuant to the order of the juvenile court. The liability of such persons (in this article called relatives) and estates shall be a joint and several liability.” (Emphasis added.)

Section 906 provides: “The county officer or officers designated by the board of supervisors of the county shall collect all costs and charges … The officer shall promptly notify any person liable for such costs and charges in writing that the law provides that if the person liable believes that he is unable to pay such costs and charges such person may claim such inability upon appropriate forms which shall be furnished by the officer.” (Emphasis added.)

Both statutes are mandatory. The estate shall be liable for and the county shall collect the costs of care. There is no power or discretion to do otherwise, except pursuant to section 905 which makes it clear that the only factors to consider are pecuniary. (See fn. 5, ante.)

The legislative intention is consistent with the general rule regarding minor's guardianships. Every guardian of an estate of a minor must use it for the “support, maintenance and education of the ward.” (Prob.Code, § 1502.) If the guardian neglects to supply such care and a third person does so, the probate court may order reimbursement from the estate. (Prob.Code, § 1503.) Thus had there been no juvenile court wardship here, the guardian would have been required by law to use the estate to support defendants and presumably would have done so. No sound reason exists why this ultimate liability for a minor's support should be altered by the existence of a juvenile court proceeding and the fact that the care and support are furnished at public expense.

Defendants here are not being treated any differently by the law than the thousands of other minors who have estates in guardianship. Upon attaining adulthood, all such wards would prefer to receive their guardianship estates without depletion for their support during minority.6 Some possibly have and will suffer some adverse emotional effect by such depletion. But all must accept the reality that their guardianship estate, rather than the public, bears the primary responsibility for their care and support.

The judgment is affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  Unless otherwise noted, section references henceforth are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.

2.  We observe that Welfare and Institutions Code section 905 requires that a claim of this type be filed with “the county officers designated by the board of supervisors,” not with the juvenile court. (See fn. 5, infra.) But the claim has not been challenged upon this ground, either in the trial court or here; nor has it been asserted that the appropriate county officer did not make an adequate investigation and report to the juvenile court. Accordingly we treat the claim as properly presented and administered.

3.  The declarant was the attorney who represents the minors on appeal. At the time of the declaration he was counsel of record for the Stanford Home. At the hearing he argued extensively in support of the claim.

4.  The County has not appealed; hence we do not address the issue of the propriety of this $2,000 retention in the face of the continuing public expenditures.

5.  Section 905 reads as follows:“Except as otherwise ordered by the juvenile court, the county officers designated by the board of supervisors may reduce, cancel, or remit the amount to be paid … for the care, support, and maintenance of a minor person placed or detained … pursuant to an order of the juvenile court … on satisfactory proof that the estate … is unable to pay the cost of such … care, support, and maintenance.“If the representative of the estate … claims that the minor's estate … is financially unable to pay the amounts established under this article for the care, support, and maintenance of … the minor, he may make such claim in writing to any such officer … The officer shall, upon receipt of such a claim, make an investigation to determine whether the minor's estate or responsible relative is financially able to pay the amounts established under this article, or any part thereof, and report the results of his investigation to the juvenile court. On receipt of the officer's report, the juvenile court shall hear and determine the claim, and may order that the representative of the estate … pay all of the amounts established under this article, or any part thereof, which the juvenile court finds that the estate … is financially able to pay.” (Emphasis added.)

6.  Indeed so would we all, wards and nonwards. But it is axiomatic that there is financial cost involved in bringing a child to maturity; it is equally axiomatic that whoever expends that cost suffers a pro-tanto reduction in assets.

PARAS, Associate Justice.

REGAN, Acting P. J., and EVANS, J., concur.