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De Vries v. Regents of University of California

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

December 9, 2016

EARL DE VRIES, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant and Respondent

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC555614, Elizabeth Allen White, Judge.

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         COUNSEL

         Judicial Watch, Inc., Sterling E. Norris and Chris Fedeli for Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Charles F. Robinson, Karen J. Petrulakis, Margaret L. Wu; Munger, Tolles & Olson, Bradley S. Phillips and Benjamin J. Horwich for Defendant and Respondent.

          OPINION

          [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 437] SEGAL, J.

         INTRODUCTION

         Federal law makes undocumented immigrants ineligible for state and local public benefits, but allows a state to " affirmatively provide[] for such eligibility" through " the enactment of a State law." (8 U.S.C. § 1621(d).) The California Constitution generally gives the Regents of the University of California plenary authority to establish rules and policies to govern the internal affairs of the University of California. The issue in this appeal is

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whether three California legislative " enactments" affirmatively provide " eligibility" under federal law for postsecondary education benefits to qualified undocumented immigrants who attend the University of California, even though the statutes require only the California State University and California community colleges to provide such benefits. We conclude that, even though the California Constitution may preclude the Legislature from actually conferring postsecondary education benefits on undocumented immigrants attending the University of California, the Legislature has made these students " eligible" for such benefits within the meaning of the federal statute. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 1996 Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Pub.L. No. 104-193 (Aug. 22, 1996) 110 Stat. 2105), which, among many other things, made undocumented immigrants[1] ineligible for certain state and local [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 438] public benefits, including benefits related to postsecondary education. (8 U.S.C. § 1621.) The same law, however, gives states authority to make undocumented immigrants " eligible for any State or local public benefit for which such [undocumented immigrant] would otherwise be ineligible under [section 1621] only through the enactment of a State law after August 22, 1996, which affirmatively provides for such eligibility." ( Id., § 1621(d).)

         The California Legislature subsequently enacted three laws addressing postsecondary education benefits for certain qualified undocumented immigrants. These laws include (1) Assembly Bill 540, which makes qualified undocumented immigrants eligible for exemption from nonresident tuition (Stats. 2001, ch. 814, § § 1-2, pp. 6652-6653); (2) Assembly Bill No. 131

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(2011-2012 Reg. Sess.) (Assembly Bill 131), which makes qualified undocumented immigrants eligible for student financial aid programs (Stats. 2011, ch. 604, § 3); and (3) Senate Bill No. 1210 (2013-2014 Reg. Sess.) (Senate Bill 1210), which makes qualified undocumented immigrants eligible for student loan benefits (Stats. 2014, ch. 754, § 3).

         The California Constitution limits the Legislature's power to regulate the University of California (UC) and the Regents of the University of California (the Regents),[2] which administers UC. (Cal. Const., art. IX, § 9, subd. (a).) Those limits traditionally extend to matters " involving internal university affairs," with a few exceptions. ( San Francisco Labor Council v. Regents of University of California (1980) 26 Cal.3d 785, 789 [163 Cal.Rptr. 460');">163 Cal.Rptr. 460, 608 P.2d 277] ( Labor Council ); see People v. Lofchie (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 240, 250 [176 Cal.Rptr.3d 579].)[3] Because of its constitutional autonomy, the Regents (rather than the Legislature) adopted three policies to provide the benefits identified in Assembly Bill 540, Assembly Bill 131, and Senate Bill 1210 to qualified undocumented immigrant students attending UC. (The Regents, policies 3106.1.C, 3202.2, 3202.3.)

         Earl De Vries, a California taxpayer, filed this action against the Regents, alleging that none of its policies qualifies under 8 United States Code section 1621(d) as a " State law" making undocumented immigrants eligible for postsecondary education benefits. De Vries further alleged that the Legislature has not enacted any statute that " affirmatively provid[es]" eligibility for the benefits UC now gives to undocumented immigrants, as required by 8 United States Code section 1621(d). Indeed, De Vries alleged that the Legislature could never confer such eligibility because the Constitution prohibits the Legislature from regulating UC. De Vries sought to enjoin the Regents " from expending or causing the expenditure of taxpayer funds and taxpayer-financed resources to exempt unlawfully present aliens from paying nonresident supplemental tuition and to allow unlawfully present aliens to apply for and participate in state-administered financial aid programs."

         The Regents demurred. It argued that the California Supreme Court's decision in Martinez v. Regents of University of California (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1277');">50 Cal.4th 1277 [117 Cal.Rptr.3d 359, 241 P.3d 855] ( Martinez ), [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 439] which held the exemption in Assembly Bill 540 from nonresident tuition complies with the

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" affirmatively provides" requirement of 8 United State Code section 1621(d), forecloses De Vries's current challenge, and that the analysis in Martinez applies equally to the financial aid program in Assembly Bill 131 and the student loan program in Senate Bill 1210. Alternatively, the Regents argued that the laws enacting Assembly Bill 540, Assembly Bill 131, and Senate Bill 1210 nevertheless satisfy the requirements of section 1621(d) with respect to UC students and, even if they did not, the policies of the Regents satisfy section 1621(d) because they have the force and effect of " state law." In opposition to the demurrer, De Vries argued that the Supreme Court in Martinez did not address UC's " unique, constitutionally independent status," nor did the Supreme Court determine " whether the Regents' resolution purportedly making Assembly Bill 540 applicable to [the University] satisfies Section 1621" because the parties in that case stipulated that Assembly Bill 540 applied to UC.

         The trial court sustained the demurrer with leave to amend, concluding that the Regents' policies satisfy 8 United States Code section 1621(d). The court cited California and United States Supreme Court authorities stating that " 'policies established by the Regents as matters of internal regulation may enjoy a status equivalent to that of state statutes.'" (See, e.g., Hamilton v. Regents (1934) 293 U.S. 245, 258 [79 L.Ed. 343');">79 L.Ed. 343, 55 S.Ct. 197]; Kim v. Regents of University of California (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 160, 164-165 [95 Cal.Rptr.2d 10]; Regents of University of California v. City of Santa Monica (1978) 77 Cal.App.3d 130, 135 [143 Cal.Rptr. 276].) Thus, the trial court ruled that the Regents' policies " adopting the exemption codified in AB540, the eligibility for state-administered financial aid programs codified in AB131 and eligibility for the student loan program codified in SB1210 would qualify as a 'State law ... which affirmatively provides for such eligibility' of State or local benefit for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1621(d)."

         After De Vries failed to file an amended complaint, the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice and entered judgment for the Regents. De Vries timely appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         De Vries makes two principal arguments. First, he argues that the Legislature has not passed any statutes affirmatively providing eligibility for benefits to UC students who are undocumented immigrants. Second, he contends the trial court erred by concluding that the Regents' policies constitute " state laws" that comply with 8 United States Code section 1621(d).

          " On review from an order sustaining a demurrer, 'we examine the complaint de novo to determine whether it alleges facts sufficient to state a cause

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of action under any legal theory, such facts being assumed true for this purpose.'" ( Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Bd. of Supervisors (2010) 48 Cal.4th 32, 42 [105 Cal.Rptr.3d 181');">105 Cal.Rptr.3d 181, 224 P.3d 920]; accord, McCall v. PacifiCare of Cal., Inc. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 412, 415 [106 Cal.Rptr.2d 271');">106 Cal.Rptr.2d 271, 21 P.3d 1189].) We also review de novo questions of statutory construction. ( Lee v. Hanley (2015) 61 Cal.4th 1225, 1232 [191 Cal.Rptr.3d 536, 354 P.3d 334]; Davis v. Fresno Unified School Dist. (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 261, 275 [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 798].) " 'We affirm if any ground offered in support of the demurrer was well taken but find error if the plaintiff has stated a cause of action under any possible legal theory. [Citations.] We are not bound by the trial court's stated reasons, if any, supporting its ruling; we review the ruling, not its [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 440] rationale.'" ( Walgreen Co. v. City and County of San Francisco (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 424, 433 [110 Cal.Rptr.3d 498]; accord, Acuna v. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1402, 1411 [159 Cal.Rptr.3d 749].)

         A. Statutory and Constitutional Framework

         1. Title 8 United States Code Section 1621

         Congress enacted 8 United States Code section 1621 as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. (Pub.L. No. 104-193 (Aug. 22, 1996) 110 Stat. 2105.) The act has over 900 sections, including section 1621, which appears in a chapter entitled " Restricting Welfare and Public Benefits for Aliens."

         Title 8 United States Code section 1621(a) provides: " Notwithstanding any other provision of law and except as provided in subsections (b) and (d), an alien who is not--[¶ ] (1) a qualified alien (as defined in section 1641 of this title),[4] [¶ ] (2) a nonimmigrant under the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 U.S.C. section 1101 et seq.], or [¶ ] (3) an alien who is paroled into the

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United States under section 212(d)(5) of such Act [8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)] for less than one year, [¶ ] is not eligible for any State or local public benefit (as defined in subsection (c))." This case concerns undocumented immigrants who do not fall within any of the exempt categories of " aliens" listed in section 1621(a).

         Title 8 United States Code section 1621(c) defines " 'State or local public benefit'" to include, among other things, " any ... postsecondary education ... benefit for which payments or assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of a State or local government or by appropriated funds of a State or local government." The parties do not dispute that the resident tuition exemption in Assembly Bill 540, the financial aid programs in Assembly Bill 131, and the student loan programs in Senate Bill 1210 are " State or local public benefits" within the meaning of section 1621(c).

         Title 8 United States Code section 1621(d) states: " A State may provide that an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States is eligible for any State or local public benefit for which such alien would otherwise be ineligible under subsection (a) only through the enactment of a State law after August 22, 1996, which affirmatively provides for such eligibility." (Italics added.) As noted, De Vries contends that neither Assembly Bill 540, nor Assembly Bill 131, nor Senate Bill 1210 " affirmatively provides for such eligibility" for UC students, and that policies the Regents adopted to implement Assembly Bill 540, Assembly Bill 131, and Senate Bill 1210 are not " enactments of State law" within the meaning of section 1621(d).

         2. The University's Status Under the California Constitution

          UC is a public trust established pursuant to article IX, section 9, subdivision (a), of the California Constitution [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 441] as follows: " (a) The University of California shall constitute a public trust, to be administered by the existing corporation known as 'The Regents of the University of California,' with full powers of organization and government, subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure the security of its funds and compliance with the terms of the endowments of the university and such competitive bidding procedures as may be made applicable to the university by statute for the letting of construction contracts, sales of real property, and purchasing of materials, goods, and services." Article IX, section 9, subdivision (f), further provides, in part: " The university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs ... ."

         " The California Supreme Court has recognized that '[a]rticle IX, section 9, grants the regents broad powers to organize and govern the university and

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limits the Legislature's power to regulate either the university or the regents.' [Citation.] This constitutional grant of power to the Regents includes both quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers, according [the Regents] 'virtual autonomy in self-governance.' [Citation.] '" The Regents have the general rule-making or policy-making power in regard to the University ... and are ... fully empowered with respect to the organization and government of the University." '" ( People v. Lofchie, supra, 229 Cal.App.4th at pp. 248-249, fn. omitted, quoting Regents of University of California v. Superior Court (1970) 3 Cal.3d 529, 540 [91 Cal.Rptr. 57');">91 Cal.Rptr. 57, 476 P.2d 457], and Regents of University of California v. City of Santa Monica, supra, 77 Cal.App.3d 130, 135.)

         As a result, " [t]he Regents may ... exercise quasi-legislative powers, subject to legislative regulation. Indeed, 'policies established by the Regents as matters of internal regulation may enjoy a status equivalent to that of state statutes.'" ( Campbell v. Regents of University of California (2005) 35 Cal.4th 311, 320 [25 Cal.Rptr.3d 320, 106 P.3d 976], quoting Regents of University of California v. City of Santa Monica, supra, 77 Cal.App.3d at p. 135; see, e.g., Hamilton v. Regents, supra, 293 U.S. 245, 258 [a Regents order making military instruction compulsory " is a statute of the [s]tate within the meaning of [a statute establishing federal jurisdiction]" ]; Campbell v. Regents of University of California, at p. 321 [a Regents policy for handling whistleblower claims under its power to govern and organize the university is treated as a statute in order to determine whether the ...


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