Legislative Intent Of Assembly Bill 218 Was To Revive Causes Of Action Previously Barred By Government Claims Presentation Requirements

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Apr 29, 2020

In 2015, a high school teacher was convicted of felony unlawful sexual intercourse with E.D., a minor. The school principal previously disciplined the teacher for inappropriate contact with another student on at least one occasion, but the principal did not report the conduct to any authorities and did not take any steps to monitor the teacher’s contact with other female students.

In 2016 when E.D. was 19, she filed a lawsuit against the school district, the principal, the teacher, and others, and alleged claims of sexual abuse, negligence, and failure to supervise teachers and protect students. E.D. and her foster mother also sued for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

E.D. and her foster mother argued the Government Claims Act did not require them to first present a claim to the District due to the exemption for claims of sexual abuse of a minor stated in Government Code section 905, subdivision (m). However, the District and the principal argued a District regulation required E.D. to present a claim to the District and, furthermore, the exemption from the Government Claims Act did not apply to the foster mother’s claims because she was not the abused minor. The District board policy stated: “Any and all claims for money or damages against the district must be presented to and acted upon in accordance with Board policy and administrative regulation. Compliance with district procedures is a prerequisite to any court action ….” The District’s administrative regulation provided: “Claims for money or damages specifically excepted from Government Code [section] 905 shall be filed no later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action.” E.D. argued the Board policy and regulation circumvented the legislature’s intent to exempt victims of childhood sexual abuse from government claims presentation requirements.

The trial court rejected E.D.’s arguments and dismissed her lawsuit against the District and principal, and dismissed the foster mother’s lawsuit entirely. E.D. and her foster mother appealed.

Under the Government Claims Act, an individual must present personal injury claims against public entities to the entity within six months of accrual of the injury. Government Code section 905 exempted claims made pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 relating to childhood sexual abuse that occurred on or after January 1, 2009. However, Government Code section 935 stated local entities may prescribe claims presentation requirements, subject to specified restrictions, for claims “which are excepted by Section 905” and “are not governed by any other statutes or regulations expressly relating thereto.”

While this case was pending before the Court of Appeal, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 1053 in 2018, which E.D. argued demonstrated the argument that the Legislature never intended Government Code section 935 to allow the District to impose its own claims presentation requirements on claims of childhood sexual abuse as described in Section 905, subdivision (m).

Furthermore, in 2019, the Legislature adopted Assembly Bill 218, which extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault and revived any claim based on childhood sexual assault that was not yet final that would otherwise be barred as of January 1, 2020, because of the expiration of any applicable statute of limitations, claim presentation deadline, or other time limit. The bill clarified that the revival provisions also applied to any pending action filed before the bill’s enactment, including any action that would have been barred by the laws in effect before the bill’s enactment.

E.D. argued that due to the enactment of Assembly Bill 218, if her action was previously barred by her failure to timely file a claim with the District, the bill now revived her lawsuit. The District argued Assembly Bill 218 was unconstitutional because it imposed liability and sanctions that were not previously actionable. However, the Court of Appeal noted that legislation reviving the statute of limitations on civil law claims does not violate constitutional principles.

The Court of Appeal held that the legislative intent behind Assembly Bill 218 was clear: the Legislature wanted to allow individuals to bring lawsuits previously barred by government claims presentation requirements. While the District argued against other provisions in the bill, it offered no reason for finding the claim revival provisions of the bill unconstitutional. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court should not have dismissed E.D.’s lawsuit because she was exempt from the claims presentation requirement established by the District’s policy.

E.D. and her foster mother next argued the foster mother’s lawsuit should not be dismissed because the purpose of Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 was to allow a victim of childhood sexual abuse sufficient time to recognize and reveal her injury, and it would therefore make no sense to subject a parent’s claims arising from the child’s abuse to a six-month government claims presentation requirement. However, the Court of Appeal held that the plain language of Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 demonstrated it was aimed at the direct victim of sexual assault, not the victim’s parent or other third party. Additionally, nothing in the legislative history of Government Code section 905, subdivision (m) or Assembly Bill 218 suggested the Legislature intended the childhood sexual abuse exception to the government claims presentation requirement to apply to causes of action asserted by a party other than the victim of the childhood sexual abuse. Absent discernable legislative intent, the Court of Appeal could not conclude the Legislature intended to provide the foster mother the same rights as E.D. in this context. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that the foster mother’s causes of action were barred by her failure to file a timely claim with the District.

Coats v. New Haven Unified Sch. Dist. (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 415.