Prisoner Timely Amended His Complaint To Comply With The Claims Presentation Requirement

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
DATE: Apr 05, 2023

On May 28, 2020, the State of California began transferring inmates from one prison, the Chino Institute for Men to another, San Quentin State Prison. The transferees, including Steven Malear, were at risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms if they contracted the disease. Unfortunately, Malear, and at least 1,400 other inmates, were diagnosed with COVID-19 about one month after the transfer. Malear was understandably displeased by this and wished to file a lawsuit against the State.

Certain steps are required before filing a personal injury lawsuit against a public entity. Government Code Section 945.4 states that “no suit for money or damages may be brought against a public entity on a cause of action for which a claim is required to be presented . . . until a written claim therefor has been presented to the public entity and has been acted upon by the board, or has been deemed to have been rejected.”  If the public entity provides written notice of its rejection of a claim, any suit against the public entity must be brought no later than six months after the notice is personally delivered or deposited in the mail.  If written notice is not given, the person has two years from accrual of the cause of action to file suit.

Those suing a public entity for personal injuries must allege facts demonstrating or excusing compliance with the claim presentation requirement. Otherwise, the court can dismiss the case.

Here, Malear presented a claim to the State on July 15, 2020. On July 27, 2020, Malear filed his original complaint in the superior court. The original complaint contained no allegations regarding Malear’s compliance with the claim presentation requirements.

Two days later, on July 29, 2020, the Government Claims Program notified Malear of its rejection of his claim. On October 23, 2020, Malear filed a first amended complaint that included new allegations that Malear had now complied with the claim presentation requirements. On November 3, 2020, Malear served the defendants with the first amended complaint and a copy of the original complaint. The first amended complaint was filed and served within six months after the rejection of Malear’s claim.

The State of California demurred to the complaint, alleging that Malear had not complied with the claim presentation statutes. The trial court granted this demurrer, and Malear appealed.

The Court of Appeal noted that the California Code of Civil Procedure allows a party to amend its pleadings once without leave of the court at any time before an answer, demurrer, or motion to strike is filed. Per case law, an amended complaint supersedes all prior complaints. Consistent with this rule, Malear filed a first amended complaint alleging denial of his government claim before the State of California filed an answer, demurrer, or motion to strike. The Court of Appeal held that, despite his initial failure to comply with these requirements, Malear eventually did timely comply and should have been allowed to pursue his case.

Malear v. State (Cal. Ct. App., Mar. 13, 2023, No. A163146) 2023 WL 2470850, at *1.

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