Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Minor Not Necessarily Entitled to Late Claim Relief—S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A superior court petition to relieve a minor of the obligation to file a timely claim against a public entity must be denied if not filed within six months of the date that an application for leave to file the claim was denied by the public entity or by operation of law, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a unanimous decision, the justices affirmed the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Three’s ruling in favor of a former high school student, identified only as J.M. The plaintiff alleges that the Huntington Union High School District is responsible for his double concussion syndrome, because he was allowed to participate in full contact practice days after suffering a possible concussion in a high school football game.
The ruling disapproves a conflicting 2011 decision by this district’s Court of Appeal, which effectively held that the six-month limit does not apply to a minor.
Under the government claims statutes, a personal injury claim must be presented to the allegedly liable public entity within six months of accrual. Otherwise, the claimant may present an application for leave to file a late claim, which must be brought “within a reasonable time not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action.”
High Court Decision
A 1986 state high court decision requires that a minor be allowed the full year. The public entity has 45 days to grant or deny the application; if it is granted, the claim is deemed filed as of that date.
Code of Civil Procedure §911.6(b) says the public entity “shall” grant the application if the injured person was a minor at the time of the application.
If the application is denied, or is deemed denied by reason of the entity not acting within the 45 days, the applicant has, under §946.6, six months in which to petition the superior court for leave to sue.
In J.M.’s case, the personal injury claim accrued on Oct. 31, 2011. Counsel was not retained until after the initial six-month period had expired, but an application for leave to file a late claim was brought in October 2012, just under one year after the claim accrued.
The district took no action on the application, so it was denied by operation of law on Dec. 8, 2012. The plaintiff’s petition for leave to sue, filed in October 2013, was denied by Orange Superior Court Judge Kirk H. Nakumura, who ruled that it was time-barred because the six-month period had expired June 9 of that year.
Affirming, Div. Three rejected the reasoning of E.M. v. Los Angeles Unified School District (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 736. In that case, this district’s Div. Three, in an opinion by since-retired Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, deemed compliance with §946.6 to be “an irrelevancy” where a minor presents the public entity with a late-claim application within a year of claim accrual, in light of the mandatory requirement that the public entity grant the application.
Justice Carol Corrigan, writing yesterday for the high court, said the Fourth District panel was correct.
“[I]t was J.M’s responsibility to was J.M.’s responsibility to seek relief in court from the District’s deemed denial of his late claim application, even if the District was required to grant it,” the justice wrote. “The court could readily have determined the merits of a timely application.”
“The E.M. court erred. There was no timely notice of the claim there, only an application for leave to provide untimely notice. The ‘technical requirements’ of section 946.6 were not satisfied, they were flouted….As the leading treatise on the Government Claims Act observes, E.M. renders the provisions of section 946.6 superfluous and creates confusion over the proper procedure when a minor’s late claim application is denied.”
All other justices joined the opinion, but Justices Goodwin H. Liu, joined by Justices Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra R. Kruger, wrote a separate concurrence suggesting it was anomalous that an entity is required to give written notice in order to deny a claim, but not in order to deny a late-claim application.
“The Legislature may wish to address this apparent anomaly by extending the same notice requirement to late claim applications deemed denied through inaction or by adopting some other approach,” Liu wrote.
The case is J.M. v. Huntington Beach Union High School District, 17 S.O.S. 1144.
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