“Plain meaning” requires narrow definition of who qualifies for enhanced relocation benefits

City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, (2nd Dist. Ct. of App.) 2015 DJDAR 1724, (February 10, 2015).

The Los Angeles Municipal Code, as part of its rent stabilization ordinance, guaranteed certain displaced tenants relocation assistance. Any head of household who is “handicapped” as defined by the Calif. Health & Safety Code Section 50072 is deemed a “qualified tenant” under the code section and received an enhanced payment.

The real party in interest in the case, Mr. Wade, was evicted by his landlord after his rental unit was deemed an illegal rental by the city. Mr. Wade argued he was entitled to the enhanced payment due to his disability, but his request was denied at the administrative level because he was a single person, and according to the city not the head of a household. He filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus pursuant to Calif. Code of Civ. Proc. Section 1094.5. Finding that the term “head of household” can be an individual who is the head of a household of one, the Superior Court held the application for the writ in abeyance and directed the city to conduct an additional administrative hearing. The city appealed.

While the Court of Appeal found that the lower court had not actually issued the writ and its decision was therefore not a final judgment, it treated the appeal as a petition for writ of mandate and, applying the plain language principle of statutory construction, held that since Calif. Health & Safety Code Section 50072 specifically defined “handicapped” as including a “family in which the head of household is suffering from an orthopedic disability impairing personal mobility…”, a single person, like Mr. Wade, could not be a “qualified tenant” and he was consequently not entitled to the enhanced relocation assistance payment.