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Basden v. Wagner

February 2, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Gail D. Ohanesian, Judge. Reversed with directions. (Super. Ct. No. 05CS01349).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholson, J.


A state administrative agency's nonsensical interpretation of the statute here at issue, and the harm it causes people, illustrates why courts do not always defer to an agency's interpretation.

Since 1999, plaintiff Michelle Basden, a disabled adult, received medical and personal care in her home through the In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS). IHSS is a state social welfare program designed to avoid institutionalization of incapacitated persons. It provides supportive services to aged, blind, or disabled persons who cannot perform the services themselves and who cannot safely remain in their homes unless the services are provided to them. The program compensates persons who provide the services to a qualifying incapacitated person.

Plaintiff's mother provided care to plaintiff and was compensated for it under the IHSS program. The bulk of plaintiff's care consisted of protective supervision.

At the same time plaintiff's mother provided care to plaintiff, she also provided care to plaintiff's brother, Andrew, who also was a disabled adult who lived at the home. The IHSS program compensated plaintiff's mother for the care she gave to Andrew.

Upon moving to a different county, plaintiff and Andrew's participation in the IHSS program was reassessed as required by law. Both sought to have their mother continue providing their in-home care funded under the IHSS program, and to do so effectively full-time for each. Plaintiff again sought compensation for her mother primarily to provide protective supervision.

The new county approved Andrew's receiving IHSS-funded care from his mother. However, it determined plaintiff was not sufficiently incapacitated to require protective supervision services, and it denied plaintiff those services at IHSS expense.

Plaintiff appealed the county's decision to the state Department of Social Services (Department), the agency responsible for implementing the IHSS program. Defendant John A. Wagner, the Department's director (the Director), denied plaintiff's appeal, but he did so differently than did the county. Relying on a statute the county did not reference, the Director determined plaintiff did not qualify for any IHSS-funded care from her mother, including protective supervision services.

The statute, subdivision (e) of Welfare and Institutions Code section 12300 (section 12300(e)), in general, prevents compensating a parent under the IHSS program for providing in-home services to a "child" unless the parent has left "full-time employment" to care for the child. The Director decided plaintiff's mother had not left full- time employment to care for plaintiff as she was already employed full- time under the IHSS program caring for Andrew. The Director denied plaintiff's appeal on this ground, concluding plaintiff was not entitled to any compensated in-home service provided by her mother.

Plaintiff sought extraordinary relief in the trial court. The trial court, however, agreed with the Director and denied plaintiff's writ petition.

Plaintiff appealed the trial court's judgment. Before us, she claims the Director erred in applying section 12300(e) to her because section 12300(e)'s limitation applies only to parents of minor children, not to parents of adult children such as her. Following our request for additional briefing, plaintiff also claims section 12300(e) does not apply because her mother's in-home, full-time, IHSS-funded care for Andrew does not constitute full-time employment for purposes of the statute.

We agree with plaintiff on the latter point and reverse the trial court's judgment. Section 12300(e)'s reference to full-time employment does not include providing in-home, full-time, IHSS-funded care by a parent to a child so as to bar the parent from being compensated for providing in-home, full-time, IHSS-funded care to another of her children. To interpret the statute otherwise would frustrate the IHSS program's very purpose.*fn1


In 1973, the Legislature enacted the IHSS program to enable aged, blind or disabled poor persons to avoid institutionalization by remaining in their homes with proper supportive services. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12300 et seq.)*fn2 "Supportive services" are described in discrete categories, such as "domestic services," "personal care services," and "protective supervision," to name a few.*fn3 , *fn4 (§ 12300, subd. (b).)

The Department promulgates regulations that implement the program, and county welfare departments administer the program under the Department's supervision. Counties process applications for IHSS, determine the individual's eligibility and needs, and authorize services. The county either obtains and pays the provider of the services, or it pays the ...

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