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In re Jesse S.

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Third Division

June 7, 2017

In re JESSE S., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
JESSE S., Defendant and Appellant. ORANGE COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent,

         Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County No. 16NP0059, Gary L. Moorhead, Judge. Affirmed.

          Marsha F. Levine, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Leon J. Page, County Counsel, Karen L. Christensen and Aurelio Torre, Deputies County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.




         This is an unusual case. It is unusual in the nature of the relief sought and even more unusual in our inability to provide that relief, even though we think it warranted. We publish our opinion in the hope the Legislature will either change the law or - by reconsidering it and leaving it unchanged - reassure us that the present system is what they intended.

         About four months before his 20th birthday in 2016, appellant Jesse S. filed, in propria persona, a request under section 388.1 of the Welfare and Institutions Code to return to juvenile court jurisdiction and the foster care system.[1] His reason was that the couple who adopted him the day before his 18th birthday were no longer supporting him, even though they were receiving payments on his behalf from California's Adoption Assistance Program (AAP). (§ 16115 et seq.). The judge denied the request, noting that under the literal language of section 388.1 the very fact the couple were still receiving AAP payments on Jesse's behalf precluded Jesse from reentry into the juvenile dependency system.

         We affirm, though reluctantly. Jesse has pointed out an anomaly in section 388.1 that the Legislature might want to address. The trial judge read current section 388.1, subdivision (a)(4), to mean exactly what it says: A nonminor between 18 and 21 is eligible for reentry into the juvenile dependency and foster care system only if his or her adoptive parents no longer provide ongoing support to that nonminor and also no longer collect AAP benefits on behalf of that minor.[2] Since there was no question Jesse's adoptive parents were still collecting adoption assistance program payments on Jesse's behalf, the judge was forced to conclude Jesse was not eligible for reentry under the statute.

         We agree with Jesse's point that the Legislature probably did not intend a former foster youth's reentry in the dependency system to depend on the glacial bureaucratic processes which govern termination of AAP payments to adoptive parents no longer supporting adopted ex-foster care youth. That said, while the literal application of the statute may yield an anomalous and unintended result in cases like Jesse's, those results are not so anomalous that we can accept Jesse's invitation to invoke the common law absurdity rule to delete what the Legislature plainly included when it drafted section 388.1. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 1858.) The problem requires a legislative fix if there is to be one.

         II. FACTS

         Jesse was born in late 1996. He entered the juvenile dependency system at age 12. He and his younger brother and sister had been living in a motel room when his biological parents turned to drugs. The last time Jesse saw his natural mother she was “behind a glass window in jail.”

         Around age 16, Jesse was placed in a foster home with a couple who adopted him the day before he turned 18. As a result of that adoption, the couple began receiving payments through a state program known as the Adoptive Assistance Program or AAP. (See § 16115 et seq.) In August 2015, Jesse moved out of their home to go to college in San Francisco. That was the last time he lived with his adoptive parents.

         As to the circumstances of Jesse's last-minute adoption, the appellate record reflects two very divergent points of view. The adoptive parents say they were reluctant to adopt because they thought Jesse might be able to access better services without adoption. They say it was Jesse who insisted they adopt him.

         Jesse recalls it differently. He says he was “rushed and pressured” into the adoption. From his standpoint - that is, at least as he saw things at age 19 in August 2016 when he initiated this case - the adoption had been a bad fit: “It seemed my adoptive parents were only capable of manipulation and judging me. When I experienced any type of failure or struggle, they would become angry and belittle me and we didn't celebrate my successes.” He says he felt too afraid to speak up about this during the period leading to his adoption.

         At any rate, an estrangement developed between Jesse and his adoptive parents during the last year he lived with them - an estrangement that worsened during his first semester of college. According to his adoptive parents, Jesse was caught smoking marijuana at home and failed subsequent drug tests. His adoptive parents supplied him with a reliable car, but Jesse totaled it when he had an accident while texting.

         Despite these peccadilloes, his adoptive parents were proud of sending him off to college to study radio and television production. But when they visited him in San Francisco his first semester, they found he had changed. Jesse had acquired a roommate who wasn't enrolled in college, and that roommate had apparently been a bad influence on him. Jesse had become “destructive and mean.” He had been “asked to leave college.” He sent his adoptive parents rude emails. They offered to provide therapy for him, but he declined it, and they concluded he had “chemical dependency issues.”

         By August 2016, the estrangement had reached the point where Jesse preferred to be homeless rather than return to his adoptive parents. However, he connected with a private foundation that arranged to find him accommodation in a private home, free of charge. The foundation also supplied him with food, toiletries and clothing. According to Jesse, his adoptive parents were “not providing any type of meaningful support, ” but we must add that Jesse had unilaterally severed any such support. He was working as a busser and host at a Santa Ana restaurant and had some money of his own. While his adoptive parents had supplied him with a cell phone and were providing medical and dental insurance, Jesse was using his own money to pay for another cell phone, and he had also made arrangements to be covered on publicly supplied medical and dental insurance under Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal.

         On August 9, 2016, Jesse filed a formal JV-468 request to return to juvenile court jurisdiction and foster care. The trial judge got to the human heart of the matter in the course of the hearing held October 2016. He wanted to know whether Jesse's adoptive parents would take him back. Jesse's counsel said the possibility of his returning was never even ...

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