By Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation
The past month has seen a remarkable number of decisions in Western Center cases — mostly good, some not great. Below is a rundown, from favorable to less favorable. To learn about more of our cases, take a look at our case docket.
BACKGROUND: The California DMV was automatically suspending driver’s licenses of low-income traffic defendants who were referred by courts for “willful” failure to pay fines, without determining their ability to pay.
DECISION: As this suit progressed, the Legislature abolished license suspensions for failure to pay, but DMV continued to insist for many months that existing suspensions would not be lifted.
A judge has awarded attorneys’ fees on the case.
IMPACT: The court awarded the fees for our advocacy on the issue, and hundreds of thousands of Californians have had their licenses restored.
BACKGROUND: Los Angeles County was illegally terminating Medi-Cal recipients from rolls because of a backlog in processing annual renewal forms.
DECISION: The County of LA has tentatively agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Board of Supervisors approval. In the underlying suit, the court ruled that the County could not terminate benefits for Medi-Cal recipients who had filled out their renewal forms in a timely fashion, deeming the County’s practice an “institutional failure.”
IMPACT: Thousands of LA Medi-Cal recipients restored to Medi-Cal rolls, restoring access to health care.
BACKGROUND: The State placed an arbitrary monetary cap on coverage for a program that keeps people with severe disabilities at home and out of institutions. We argued that the cap violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
DECISION: The State has agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Legislative approval.
IMPACT: The suit resulted in lifting of Department of Health Care Services-imposed arbitrary cost caps on people with major physical disabilities, which threatened institutionalization (much costlier than in-home care).
BACKGROUND: “The evidence presented in the trial court showed that, beginning in late 2013 and early 2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits. Evidence submitted by plaintiffs showed that, in some cases, delays in determining eligibility had severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care.”
DECISION: The trial court in Rivera ordered the Department of Health Care Services to decide all non-disability Medi-Cal applications within 45 days as mandated by federal law. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the State acts legally as long as it decides at least 90 percent of applications within the 45-day period. We are petitioning for review.
IMPACT: Thanks to earlier victories in the case, hundreds of thousands of applicants have received timely benefits.
BACKGROUND: “CalWORKs applicant, Angie Christensen, lives with her husband and her children. Her husband is the noncustodial parent of additional children, and court-ordered child support is garnished from his income for the benefit of these children who do not live in the applicant’s home. Counting the garnished amounts as nonexempt income to the applicant’s family, San Mateo County determined the family’s income was too high to qualify for CalWORKs cash aid and denied the application.”
DECISION: The California Supreme Court held that for the purposes of determining CalWORKs (public assistance) eligibility, the State can count a husband’s wages and unemployment garnished to pay for children in another family as income in his current household.
IMPACT: This is a challenge for low-income households in California, because it bars access to CalWORKs for families whose incomes exceed limits before taking into account payments a parent makes to a separate household, which are resources children in the household where the parent resides can’t benefit from.
BACKGROUND: Petitioners had their welfare and CalFresh food stamp benefits electronically stolen while their benefit cards remained in their physical possession. The State reimbursed loss of cash benefits, but refused to reimburse for CalFresh loss.
DECISION: A Superior Court judge has ruled that the CalFresh recipient, whose benefits were stolen electronically through no fault of his own, cannot recoup the value of his lost benefits. We are planning to appeal.
IMPACT: This decision leaves other food stamp beneficiaries vulnerable to the insecurity of being unable to recoup loss from electronic theft.