Wednesday, September 17, 2014
C.A. Tosses Suit Over Injuries From Courthouse Elevator Accident
Panel Holds Presentation of Tort Claim to Wrong Agency Fatal to Action
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday held that a suit against the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts was barred because the plaintiff presented her statutory tort claim to the wrong agency.
Div. Five granted a writ of mandate directing entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and against Mari Bean, who claimed that she was injured when an elevator malfunctioned at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that Bean did not present a proper claim within six months of the alleged injury.
Bean presented a claim within the statutory period. But it was sent to the Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board, which handles claims against the state.
The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of Government Code §915(c) and (e). They cited §915(e)(4), which requires that a claim against the Judicial Council or the AOC be served by “[d]elivering or mailing it to the Secretariat of the Judicial Council,” but that even if mail or delivery is not accomplished, the presentation requirement is satisfied by actual receipt of the claim by the secretariat.
AOC Employee Declaration
In support of the motion, the defendants presented the declaration of the AOC administrative coordinator. She explained that she was the employee of the secretariat responsible for logging all claims, summonses and complaints, and other legal process directed at the Judicial Council or the AOC.
She detailed the processes for receiving and logging all such documents, and declared that she reviewed the log and could find no claim on behalf of Mari Bean.
The defendants also relied upon Bean’s responses to interrogatories and a request for production, showing that she had presented her claim only to the Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board and that the board had routinely denied the claim as being “complex and outside the scope of analysis and interpretation typically undertaken by the board.”
The plaintiff responded that timely mailing to the claims board satisfied the introductory provision of §915(e), providing that a claim is deemed presented “if any of the following apply,” and §915(e)(2), which provides that one of the circumstances in which a claim is deemed to be presented is if it is “actually received at an office of” the claims board.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley denied the summary judgment motion, but Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner, writing yesterday for the Court of Appeal, said it should have been granted.
Turner, reviewing the legislative history, said the clear intent of one of the 2002 amendments to §915 was to require that claims against the Judicial Council and AOC be presented to the secretariat and not to the claims board.
He cited an Assembly committee report explaining that the legislation was intended to clear up any ambiguity resulting from the transition from county-funded court operations and county-owned courthouses to state funding of trial courts and ownership of courthouses. Another committee report, he noted, declares that the legislation “[e]stablishes the Judicial Council rather than the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (formerly known as the Board of Control) as the governing body authorized to act on claims in actions filed against a judicial branch entity or judge thereof.”
Attorneys on appeal were Sarah L. Overton of Cummings McClory Davis & Acho and Douglas J. Collodel of Sedgwick LLP for the Judicial Council and AOC, and Roger L. Gordon and Vincent Vallin Bennett of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein for the plaintiff.
The case is Judicial Council of California v. Superior Court (Bean), 14 S.O.S. 4140.
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