March 6, 2017

Minor’s suit against school district tossed for noncompliance with Claims Act

In J.M. v. Huntington Beach Union High School District, the Supreme Court today holds that a lawsuit for a student’s injuries in a football game and at a later practice is barred for failing to comply with the Government Claims Act.  The court’s opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan concludes that the student was required to timely obtain relief in court after his application to his school district to file a late claim was not acted on and was thus denied by operation of law, even though it was an application the district was obligated to grant.  The court says that the student had “a clear avenue to challenge the denial of his application,” but that “[h]is counsel simply failed to take advantage of it.”

The opinion is signed by all the justices, but Justice Goodwin Liu writes a concurrence, which is joined by Justices Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger.  The separate opinion points out “an apparent anomaly that the Legislature may wish to address.”  A footnote in the court’s opinion recognizes the same anomaly, although it doesn’t label it as such, and notes that “[t]he Legislature remains free” to consider a statutory amendment.  A Liu separate opinion has influenced legislation before.

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division Three, Court of Appeal.  It disapproves a 2011 opinion by the Second District, Division Three.

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