Reasonable attorney fees did not include underlying administrative hearing process against Social Services, court determines


In K.I. v. Wagner, 2014 DJDAR 5546 (2014), the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District granted partial attorney fees in a social security proceeding. An attorney represented a minor who was disabled by autism and seizures. The representation was done on a pro bono basis. The goal was to obtain approval for an increase in the hours the minor could receive for in-house medical and mental health support.

After an administrative hearing, the Director of Social Services declined the request for increased support. The minor challenged the declination of benefits through a petition for writ of mandate to the superior court.

After the appeal to the superior court, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment in favor of the minor. Counsel then moved for fees under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10962. The fee request was partially for work on the writ and also for work related to the underlying administrative hearing. The trial court concluded that Section 10962 precluded an award of fees for the underlying administrative proceeding.

The minor appealed the declination of fees to the court of appeal. The court of appeal noted that an individual who is denied state or local social services may challenge the denial through an administrative hearing process administered by the state Director of Social Services. If the party receives an unfavorable administrative decision, the exclusive remedy thereafter is to challenge the ruling through a petition for writ of mandate.

Section 10962 governs the judicial review process and provides for reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing party involving litigation in the superior court. Although Section 10962 allows a party to recover reasonable attorney fees for the writ proceedings, it does not provide for an award of fees in the underlying administrative hearing process. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s rulings on that basis.



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