Thursday, November 15, 2007
S.C. to Decide if Counties Must Pay for Foster Child’s Car Insurance
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review a First District Court of Appeal ruling that counties need not cover the cost of car insurance for children in foster care.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 6-1, with only Justice Marvin Baxter voting not to take the case, to grant the petition in In re Corrine W., A115584.
The county’s Bureau of Child and Family Services placed her in foster care at age 16 after she reported that her mother’s boyfriend had been molesting her since she was five years old, a decision that was confirmed by a dependency court judge after her mother waived reunification services.
Corrine, who is represented by Mill Valley attorney Courtney Phleger, filed a motion in August of last year to have the county pay for insurance so that she can legally drive a car. Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Stephen Houghton denied the motion, reasoning that because many parents cannot afford insurance or require their children to pay for their own insurance, such payments are not required by Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 202(a).
The statute requires the county to provide foster each foster child with “custody, care, and discipline as nearly as possible equivalent to that which should have been given by his or her parents.”
“Public funds are intended to provide the minor with the necessities. Driving an automobile at age sixteen is not a necessity.”
Justice Patricia Sepulveda, writing for the Court of Appeal’s Div. Four, agreed. In doing so, she rejected the contention that federal law requiring states to pay for “liability insurance with respect to” foster children as a condition of participation in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children Foster Care Program mandates payment of automobile liability insurance.
The justice explained that since automobile liability insurance is a specific type of liability insurance, and since nothing in state or federal law specifically requires payment of automobile liability insurance costs for foster children, an intent to require such payments cannot be inferred. “...[H]ad Congress or the Legislature intended to specifically reimburse foster families for automobile liability insurance, it could have (but has not) done so.”
Sepulveda noted that the minor’s attorney told Houghton that Corrine’s mother could not afford auto liability insurance for her, “no doubt also a financial reality for many fit and loving parents,” the jurist commented.
“Like the juvenile court, we are sympathetic with the minor’s desire to drive a car; however, federal and state law do not require the Bureau to pay for her automobile insurance,” the justice said.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Agreed to decide whether insurance products are covered by the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which prohibits specific deceptive or unfair acts in the sale or lease of goods and services. Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal held on Aug. 22 in Fairbanks v. Superior Court (Farmers New World Life Insurance Co.), B198538, that insurance is neither a “good” nor a “service.”
•Agreed to review a 2-1 decision of the Fourth District’s Div. One, in which the majority held that the terms of a purported option contract, by which a tenant claimed to have been given an option to purchase the leased property from the landlord, were too uncertain to enforce. The case is Patel v. Liebermensch, D048582.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company