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April 14, 2017
LEONE ALBERTS & DUUS FILES AMICUS BRIEF WITH
THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT
IN DEFENSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS
On December 5, 2016, Leone Alberts & Duus filed an amicus curiae brief with the California Supreme Court in Rubenstein v. Doe I, Case No. S234269. The brief was filed on behalf of the Northern California Regional Liability Excess Fund (NorCal ReLiEF), the Southern California Regional Liability Excess Fund (SoCal ReLiEF), the Statewide Association of Community Colleges (SWACC), and the School Association for Excess Risk (SAFER), all of which are non-profit member-owned and operated Joint Powers Authorities organized pursuant to the California Joint Exercise of Powers Act (Gov’t Code, § 6500.1 et seq.). The lawsuit originated in the summer of 2012, when a 34-year-old woman submitted a claim to a school district in southern California claiming that she had been sexually molested by a track coach employed by the district in the early 1990’s. The school district denied the claim as untimely, the woman filed suit, and the trial court ultimately dismissed the case pursuant to a demurrer brought by the school district on the ground that the plaintiff failed to comply with the claims presentation requirements of the California Government Claims Act, which requires people seeking monetary damages from public entities to present a claim to the entity within six months after the accrual of the case of action.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that her claim—which was presented more than 20 years after the alleged molestation—was timely under Cal. Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, which provides the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse and authorizes victims to file suit until they turn 26 years old or “within three years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse.” According to the plaintiff, she had suppressed the memory of the abuse and therefore did not discover her adult-onset psychological injury until more than 20 years after-the-fact. The Court of Appeal agreed with this argument and held that Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 “governs the accrual date” for claims of sexual abuse against public entities. This holding directly contradicts an earlier decision of the California Supreme Court in Shirk v. Vista Unified School District (2007) 42 Cal.4th 201, which expressly rejected the argument that section 340.1 postpones a victim’s duty under the Government Claims Act to present a claim for childhood sexual abuse against a public entity within six months of the alleged abuse. The Court of Appeal’s holding also directly conflicts with Government Code section 905(m), which was enacted in direct response to Shirk, and exempts claims for childhood sexual abuse from the claims presentation requirements, but only for those claims “arising out of conduct occurring on or after January 1, 2009.” The legislative history of the statute indicates that the Legislature purposefully left the holding in Shirk intact with regard to pre-2009 claims, which the author of the Bill stated “should reduce the bill’s financial impact on local public entities.” The Court of Appeal ignored the holding in Shirk, failing to cite it at all, and further held that Government Code section 905(m) was irrelevant to the analysis.
On June 15, 2016, the California Supreme Court granted the school district’s Petition for Review. The question before the California Supreme Court is whether the statutory delayed discovery rule contained in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 applies to public entities and governs the accrual date for purposes of the claims presentation statute. The school district filed its opening brief on August 16, 2016, and the case has now been fully briefed. As part of the briefing before the California Supreme Court, Leone Alberts & Duus requested to file an amicus brief on behalf of ReLiEF, SWACC, and SAFER, which was granted by the Court. In the brief, amici curiae address the legal reasons why the Court of Appeal’s decision must be overturned and also sets forth the policy reasons why the decision will burden risk sharing pools in California to the extent that insuring public schools may no longer be economically viable if the decision is not reversed.