In many juvenile court matters, one of the tools that the CPS or DCFS will utilize is the Child Abuse Central Index. If your name was recently placed on the Index, it is because a county child welfare agency (such as CPS, CWS, Health & Human Family Services Agency–different counties use different names) conducted an investigation into an incident and concluded that you abused or neglected a child. That county agency then sent a notice to the Department of Justice to have your name placed on the CACI. When a CPS agency investigates an allegation of abuse, the agency can conclude the investigation by making one of three findings: 1) that the allegation is substantiated, 2) that the allegation is inconclusive, or 3) that the allegation is unfounded. Only investigations that result in substantiated findings result in the alleged abuser being placed on the CACI. Investigations that result in inconclusive or unfounded findings do not result in a CACI listing. Therefore, your name was put on the CACI because the social worker or social worker supervisor involved in the investigation of child abuse allegations against you deemed the allegations to be substantiated. There is a long list of people and organizations that have access to the CACI.
The ones you really care about include:
- Potential future employers
- Law enforcement
- State licensing agencies
- Non-profit organizations at which you may wish to volunteer
Here is a recent case in which the appeal was brought by Petitioner, the Second District reversed a Los Angeles County trial court’s summary judgment for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services in P’s petition for a writ of mandate under CCP §1094.5 “seeking to overturn the decision to keep his name on the Child Abuse Central Index.”
Plaintiff and appellant Jay Alford filed a grievance after the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) placed his name on the Child Abuse Central Index. After a grievance hearing, the Department decided no modification should be made to the previously substantiated allegations of child abuse by plaintiff, resulting in his name remaining on the Child Abuse Central Index. The Department denied the grievance and served its written decision upon plaintiff by mail.
Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, seeking to overturn the decision to keep his name on the Child Abuse Central Index. (All statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.) The trial court granted summary judgment for the Department on the ground that plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandate was barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff contends the Department did not serve notice of its decision in compliance with the statute and, for that reason, the statute of limitations did not bar his petition. We agree and therefore reverse.
The Department gave notice to plaintiff by mail on October 13, 2015, and plaintiff received it on October 20, 2015. Plaintiff did not file his petition until February 17, 2016, four months after the notice was served. But the notice did not clearly tell plaintiff when the decision became final. First, the notice said the decision “is final,” and that section 1094.6 required plaintiff to file any petition no later than “the 90th day on which the petition is deemed final.” But the notice also said the decision would become final “90 days from the date it is placed in the mail.” ...
Here, the Department’s notice created considerable doubt about when its decision became final. The Department concedes its notice confused plaintiff but contends plaintiff’s confusion over the language in the notice—the sentence stating that “[t]he decision will become final 90 days from the date it is placed in the mail”—could not change plaintiff’s obligation to follow the time limits in the statute. The Department asserts that the just-quoted sentence, when read together with the rest of the notice, could only be reasonably understood to mean that plaintiff could not file a writ if he waited more than 90 days from the date of the mailing of the decision.
We disagree. The notice could be reasonably understood the way the Department construes it, but it also could be reasonably understood to mean the decision was not final until 90 days after it was placed in the mail. The notice tells plaintiff that section 1094.6 “requires you file any petition . . . no later than the 90th day on which the decision is deemed final,” and that sentence is followed immediately by the sentence telling plaintiff the decision “will become final 90 days from the date it is placed in the mail.” We are not surprised that plaintiff misunderstood these words, and we do not think it is permissible to fault plaintiff for the Department’s lack of clarity.
In short, agencies like the Department must comply with statutory requirements. One of those is that, “[i]n making a final decision,” the agency is to provide notice that the time for seeking judicial review is governed by section l094.6. (§ 1094.6, subd. (f).) An agency must not add confusing information to the required notice that could mislead affected parties about the timing for seeking judicial review. That is what happened here.
The Department’s notice made it reasonable for plaintiff to believe its decision would not become final until 90 days after it was mailed, and under that scenario, his petition would have been timely. Given the statutory goal of eliminating any doubt as to the date a decision is final (Donnellan, supra, 86 Cal.App.4th at p. 1105), we cannot countenance the Department’s creation of ambiguity on that very point. The Department’s notice did not comply with the statute, and so the statute of limitation did not bar plaintiff’s petition.
If you have a matter, when the child welfare office is involved (CPS or DCFS), call the Law Offices of H. William Edgar and Attorney Nicole Anderson. Get the results that your family deserves.