Thursday, June 08, 2017

In Re Jesse S. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 7, 2017)

This is another awesome opinion.  One that you know is written by Justice Bedsworth even before you've finished reading the second page.

Great analysis, great thoughts, great caring.

The opening pretty much summarizes the holding, so I'll reprint those first four paragraphs in full:

"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. 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. 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."

Beautiful.  Extraordinarily well done.

I just want to add one tiny additional perspective.

When I first read those opening paragraphs, I thought that we'd be dealing with a case where Jesse was the good guy and the adoptive parents were total jerks.  They were getting paid by the state but not supporting Jesse, yet there was nothing Jesse could do to get back in foster care.  Those bastards!

But as I read the rest of the facts, I gotta tell you, the adoptive parents actually come off pretty darn well, and I had the exact opposite reaction to the parties as I had when I read the opening paragraphs of the opinion.

Justice Bedsworth ends the opinion by saying:  "This appears to be a case without villains," and then explains that both Jesse and the adoptive parents seem to be acting reasonably (or at least within their discretion).  Truth be told, Justice Bedsworth may be being -- in my view, anyway -- overly charitable to Jesse.  You'll have to read the full facts of the opinion to get the details, but suffice it to say that at least one way to interpret these facts -- albeit one that makes Jesse look not so great -- is that he's a kid with a keen sense of entitlement, who's happy to do drugs, leech off the system, would rather be homeless than stop smoking weed in his parents' house, totals cars he's given since he likes to text while driving them, and now just wants to get back at his "controlling" parents by taking away the little money they're given from the state to support him while he nonetheless keeps the cell phone, medical insurance, and other stuff he gets from his parents, all the while now seeking additional benefits from the dependency system as well.

Now, I'll freely admit, I could easily be reading these facts wrongly.  Maybe the adoptive parents are in fact to blame.  Maybe they're overly controlling.  Maybe Jesse is a hardworking, regular 20-year old who just wants what every kid wants.  Maybe my perspective on this comes too much from being a parent myself -- a parent of kids who, while generally awesome (and I truly mean that:  awesome), can rightly on occasion be accused IMHO of feeling entitled to their way a bit too much.

So, yeah, I can agree that there are no one's a villain here.  But it may also be case that at least one party might not be a saint as well.  And that person might potentially be the opposite of the one you thought if you only read the first four paragraphs of the opinion.