Nunn v. Crandall, Case No. 05CS01457, Superior Court for the State of California, Sacramento County, filed October 12, 2005.
The National Center for Youth Law is co-counsel in Nunn v. Crandall, a petition for writ of mandate against Cliff Allenby, the Director of Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Dennis Boyle, the Director of the California Department of Social Services (DSS), and DSS. Advocates sought a writ of mandate directing DSS to administer the Adoption Assistance Program in accordance with the law and directing Respondent Dennis Boyle, Director of the California Department of Social Services, to withdraw his department’s approval of the Modified Specialized Care Program. Advocates further sought a writ of mandate directing Respondent Boyle to set aside his decisions of May 27, 2005 and June 23, 2005, rejecting Petitioners’ administrative challenges to reductions in their Adoption Assistance Program benefits. Advocates also brought claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and constitutional violations.
Petitioners’ lawsuit challenged Respondents reductions to the Adoption Assistance Payments (AAP) in Humboldt County based on changes to the county’s Specialized Care Increment. Petitioners claimed that Respondents violated California law in doing so because the reductions were not based on an analysis of the individualized needs of the children or an adjustment in the State-approved basic foster care rate, as required by law. Rather, the reductions were an arbitrary and unsuccessful attempt at satisfying a bureaucratic desire to simplify Humboldt County’s specialized care program and possibly save money. In addition, Humboldt County’s plan to make these changes violated the law because it wholly failed to consider the impact on adopted children.
Briefing was completed on April 6, 2006, and the oral argument before Judge Jack Sapunor took place on May 12, 2006. On June 6, 2006, Judge Sapunor granted Petitioners’ writ of mandate and directed DSS to set aside its administrative decisions reducing Petitioners’ AAP benefits. The Court ruled that DSS must immediately restore Petitioners’ adoption assistance benefits to the original amount agreed upon by state representatives “in order to avoid a great injustice and further the important public policy objective of the Aid for Adoption of Children Act,” The Court found that Respondents had induced Petitioners to rely on representations that AAP benefits could not be adjusted without their consent and that “Petitioner parents reasonably relied on [DSS’s] statements in organizing their finances, making professional/career decisions, and making arrangements for the needs of their families.” The Court further found that “Petitioners undertook an enormous legal, moral, social and financial obligation by adopting children who otherwise likely would have remained in foster care …”
On September 11, 2006, DSS issued new administrative decisions relating to Petitioners' AAP benefits. In accordance with Judge Sapunor's order, these decisions set aside the previous administrative decisions and restored Petitioners' AAP benefits to their previous levels retroactive to December 1, 2004. Plaintiffs were subsequently provided with retroactive benefits and their current AAP benefits have been restored going forward.
Plaintiffs were awarded $395,000 in attorneys’ fees which the defendants have paid.
Counsel: Leecia Welch, NCYL; Angie Schwartz, Public Interest Law Project; Michael George, Theodore Ting, Reed Smith.
Updated March 17, 2010