TN 11 (01-16)
PR 08605.006 California
A. PR 15-188 Evidence Establishing State Agency as Proper Applicant of the Number Holder: Acceptability of Non-Certified Copies of Court Documents
Date: September 9, 2015
In the State of California, a court minute order is acceptable evidence that a state agency has legal custody of a number holder.
You asked whether a California court minute order may establish a State agency’s legal custody of a number holder (NH) for purposes of the State agency applying for a Social Security card on the NH’s behalf. Specifically, you asked whether accepting minute orders for this purpose was consistent with Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RM 10205.050.B.3.
Yes. A California court minute order is acceptable evidence that a State agency has legal custody of an NH. However, the State agency must provide an original or certified copy of the minute order as required by POMS RM 10205.050.B.3.
The California Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) submitted non-certified copies of minute orders to the Pasadena, California field office to establish its legal custody of number holders for the purpose of applying for Social Security cards on their behalf. An example of one such minute order provides that DCFS was to “continue to meet the needs of the children” while it attempted to locate an adoptive home for them. The minute order is unsigned.
Under the Social Security Act (Act), the Commissioner must take affirmative measures to assure the agency assigns social security account numbers to all eligible individuals. Social Security Act § 205(c)(2)(B)(i), 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(B)(i). An applicant for an original Social Security card number is required to submit “convincing evidence of age, U.S. citizenship or alien status, and true identity.” 20 C.F.R. § 422.107(a); see also POMS RM 10210.010.A. All documents submitted as evidence for an original Social Security card number must be “originals or copies of the original documents certified by the custodians of the original records and are subject to verification.” 20 C.F.R. § 422.107(a).
If an individual is physically or mentally unable to file an application for a social security number (SSN), another person or entity may apply on the individual’s behalf. See POMS RM 10205.025.B.3. In such cases, the third party applicant must establish a relationship to and custody/responsibility for the individual. Id. A State agency with legal custody of an individual may apply for an SSN on the individual’s behalf under certain circumstances. See POMS RM 10205.050. First, the State agency is only a proper applicant when no one higher on the priority list in POMS RM 10205.025 exists. See POMS RM 10205.050.A; RM 10205.025.B.3.e. Second, the State agency must provide evidence of the individual’s age, identity, and citizenship/lawful status. See POMS RM 10205.050.B; RM 10210.010.A. Third, the State agency must provide (1) evidence of the identity of the applicant (i.e., the identity of the State-agency employee); (2) evidence the applicant has authority to act on behalf of the State agency; and (3) evidence of the State agency’s relationship to, custody and responsibility for the individual. POMS RM 10205.050.B.
To satisfy the third element of POMS RM 10205.050.B, the State agency must submit court documents establishing that it has custody of the individual. POMS RM 10205.50.B.3. Generally, the court custody documents must be originals or certified copies. Id.; see also POMS GN 00301.030 (general guidelines on acceptability of documentary evidence). Photocopies or computer printouts of the court custody documents are only acceptable when: (1) the State agency submitting the application is the custodian of the original records, and (2) the individual signing the application is an employee of the agency with custody of the record. POMS RM 10205.50.B.3.
Pursuant to California Welfare & Institutions Code § 300, a child comes within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and the court may adjudge him or her as a dependent child of the court if the child is at risk of serious harm under the care of his or her parent or guardian. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 300, 360(d). Under such circumstances, the court may terminate the rights of the parent(s) and order that the child be placed for adoption. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 366.26(b)(1). If the court orders a child free from the custody of both parents, the court shall at the same time order the child referred to the State Department of Social Services, county adoption agency, or licensed adoption agency for placement. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 366.26(j). The Department of Social Services, county adoption agency, or licensed adoption agency “shall be responsible for the custody and supervision of the child and shall be entitled to the exclusive care and control of the child at all times” until the court grants a petition for adoption. Id.
A. Minute Orders as Acceptable “Court Documents”
Here, DCFS submitted a minute order as evidence of its relationship to and custody of certain children. The minute order provides that the children are dependents of the court under California Welfare & Institutions Code § 300. The order also provides that the court will continue the hearing date to allow DCFS further efforts to locate an adoptive home for the children, and DCFS will “continue to meet the needs of the children.”
The substance of the minute order indicates that the children are dependents of the juvenile court and placed within the care of DCFS pending their adoption. Although the court document is in the form of an unsigned minute order, agency policy does not specifically prohibit use of minute orders to establish custody. See POMS RS 10205.050.B.3.
Moreover, under California law, minute orders generally carry the same weight and effect as a formal written order signed by the judge. See generally Cal. Ct. R. 8.104 (appealable judgments include orders entered in the minutes; but, if a minute order directs that a written order be prepared, then the date of the written order is used for purposes of setting timeframes for appeal); Simmons v. Superior Court In and For Santa Barbara County, 52 Cal. 2d 373, 378-79 (Cal. 1959) (in granting a motion for a new trial, “when the court orders the clerk to enter a minute order, the order so entered in the minutes is a written order of the court, and no formal writing signed by the court and filed with the clerk is necessary”; “[t]he act of instructing the clerk to enter the order in the minutes, whether in chambers or on the bench, followed by entry in the minutes is the equivalent of signing a formal order and filing it with the clerk”); Hughey v. City of Hayward, 24 Cal. App. 4th 206, 208-209 (Cal. Ct. App. 1994) (applying former Rule 2(b)(2) of the California Rules of Court, now Rule 8.104); Wright v. Groom Trucking, 206 Cal. App. 2d 485, 488 (Cal. Ct. App. 1962) (“An order of dismissal, entered upon the official minutes of the court, while not in the form of a judgment in the strict sense, constitutes a final judgment from which an appeal may be taken”).
Accordingly, a California court minute order may serve as a “court document” under POMS RM 10205.050.B.3 to establish that DCFS has custody and care of the dependent children.
B. Form of Evidence: Non-certified Copies or Computer Printouts
DCFS submitted a non-certified copy of the California juvenile court’s minute order to establish its relationship to and custody of the children in question. However, POMS RM 10205.050.B.3 provides that the agency will accept a photocopy or computer printout of court custody documents only if two conditions are met: (1) the agency submitting the application is the custodian of the original documents or records, and (2) the individual signing or attesting the application is an employee of the agency with custody of the record. POMS RM 10205.50.B.3.
The juvenile court clerk keeps and maintains the records of the juvenile court and is therefore the custodian of these records. See Cal. Gov. Code §§ 69844-69846, 68150-68153; see also Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, Trial Court Records Manual (revised Jan. 1, 2014), available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/trial-court-records-manual.pdf. Juvenile case files are confidential, and only certain individuals and entities may access the records therein. See Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 827. DCFS, serving as California’s licensed social services agency for court-dependent children, is one such entity that may lawfully access juvenile court files. Id. DCFS is not, however, the custodian of these court records.
Because DCFS is not the custodian of the original minute order, it may not rely on a non-certified photocopy or computer printout of the minute order to establish custody. See POMS RM 10205.050.B.3. Rather, DCFS must submit an original or certified copy of the minute order to support its applications for Social Security cards.
A juvenile court minute order constitutes a “court document” that may serve as evidence that DCFS has custody and care of certain individuals. Nevertheless, DCFS must produce an original or certified copy of such a minute order for use in applying for a Social Security card, pursuant to POMS RM 10205.050.B.3.
“Every direction of a court or judge, made or entered in writing, and not included in a judgment, is denominated an order.” Cal. Civ. Pro. § 1003. A judge can issue an order in two ways: the preparation and filing of a formal written order, or instructing the clerk to enter an oral order in the minutes, followed by entry of the order in the permanent minutes. See McHale v. State of California, 125 Cal. App. 3d 396, 399 (Cal. Ct. App. 1981) (“‘(t)he act of instructing the clerk to enter the order in the minutes, whether in chambers or on the bench, followed by entry in the minutes is the equivalent of signing a formal order and filing it with the clerk.’”) (citing Simmons v. Superior Court, 52 Cal. 2d 373, 379 (cal. 1959)); Cal. Ct. R. 8.104(c) (the entry date of an appealable order is either the date the order is entered in the permanent minutes unless the minute order calls for the preparation or a separate written order; or, where the order is not entered in the minutes, the date the signed order is filed); Cal. Ct. R. 3.1312(a) (unless the court “orders otherwise,” the prevailing party on a motion shall prepare a proposed order).
On September 1, 2015, OGC contacted the records clerk for the Edmund F. Edelman Children’s Court, which handles juvenile dependency cases for Los Angeles County. The records clerk informed us that it maintains its juvenile case records in paper form. Additionally, the records clerk informed us that the court does not charge DCFS a fee to certify copies of minute orders.