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In Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District v. Superior Court, California Appellate Court Permits Local Claim Presentation Requirements on Exempted Causes of Action

On February 22, 2018, the California Court of Appeal decided Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District v. Superior Courtand reversed a trial court judgment that had denied the Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District’s demurrer and holding that Plaintiff’s claim was not statutorily exempt from the claim presentation requirement due to the District’s locally imposed claim presentation requirements.

In her first amended complaint, Jane Doe alleged that she was molested by her teacher between April 2013 and July 2013, while she was a high school sophomore. Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District counseled the teacher about his behavior and suggested the teacher find employment elsewhere. The District did not report the teacher’s behavior to law enforcement. When the teacher was arrested for molesting another student at his new place of employment, Ms. Doe alleged that she began to understand that the teacher had manipulated and exploited her. Ms. Doe then reported the molestation to her guardian.

According to the first amended complaint, Jane Doe filed her civil action against the District on September 14, 2015. Ms. Doe did not file a tort claim with the District, a public entity. In her pleading, Ms. Doe alleged that she did not present such a claim because under Govt. Code section 905(m), she was exempt since her claim was for childhood sexual abuse.

At the trial court level, the District demurred to the first amended complaint. The District acknowledged that Govt. Code section 905(m) exempted claims of childhood sexual abuse from the claim presentation requirement. However, the District cited Govt. Code section 935, which authorizes local public entities to impose their own claim presentation requirements. On January 4, 2008, the District enacted Board Policy 3320 and Administrative Regulation 3320, which provided that “any and all claims for money or damages against the district shall be presented to and acted up in accordance with Board policy and administrative regulation.” Administrative Regulation 3320 set a six-month time limitation for the filing of all claims for money or damages specifically excepted from Govt. Code section 905. On demurrer, the District argued that Ms. Doe failed to comply with the District’s presentation requirement and that Ms. Doe’s action was time barred.

In its Order, the California Court of Appeal found that Govt. Code sections 905(m) and 935 were perfectly clear, even when read together. Section 905 created 15 exemptions from the state-mandated claims presentation prior. Section 935 permits local public entities to enact their own procedures to cover these exempted claims. The Court found that the language of both sections was clear and unambiguous. Section 935 expressly permitted the District to impose its own claim procedures, despite the provision in section 905 excepting causes of action for childhood sexual abuse from compliance with the Government Claims Act’s claim presentation procedures.

Ms. Doe attempted to argue implied repeal and statutory inconsistency. However, the Court found these arguments without merit due to the clear language in both the Government codes and the related board policy and administrative regulation. The Court also noted that the enactment of the District’s local claim presentation requirements pre-dated Ms. Doe’s action.

Ultimately, the Court found that compliance with the claim presentation requirement was an element of Ms. Doe’s cause of action against the District. She was required to allege compliance, or excused noncompliance, with that requirement. Because her first amended complaint did not allege compliance or excused noncompliance, the California Appellate Court sustained the District’s demurrer to the first amended complaint.

COMMENT

This decision further upholds the intention of the Government Claims Act, which is to confirm potential governmental liability to rigidly delineated circumstances. As such, public entities should consider implementing their own claim procedures under Section 935 to specifically provide a limitation on excepted claims under section 905(m).

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