Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 29, 2023


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

School District Is Not Estopped Based on Inadequacy of Claim Form It Provided


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed the dismissal of lawsuit against the Palmdale School District and others because an adequate claim against a governmental entity had not been filed, rejecting the contention by a mother, who acted as guardian ad litem, that when she went to the district office to complain about a battery inflicted on her son by a teacher, she filled out the form she was given.

Presiding Justice Maria E. Stratton of Div. Eight authored the opinion. It affirms a judgment of dismissal that followed after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Wendy Chang sustained a demurrer without leave to amend to the complaint of student Anthony Sanders.

A teacher, Joseph Pariscio, allegedly grabbed the boy by the arm, twisting the arm, causing an injury. The operative pleading alleges that on March 5, 2019 the plaintiff’s mother, Latraille Richards, completed the “complaint form” she was provided and was assured there was no other form to fill out.

Lawyer’s Argument

Pacoima attorney Martin E. Stearn argued in the trial court that estoppel applies, setting forth:

“Were courts to allow a public entity to evade liability from claimants and potential plaintiffs by deception, by simply providing the claimant with an incorrect form, every public entity could easily circumvent the Government Claims Act and no claimant could pursue their legal rights in court.

“The plaintiff’s guardian ad litem acted to the plaintiff’s detriment by reasonable relying on the promise and representations of the defendants that there was no other form that she needed to complete. The defendants’ conduct and representation of is estopped from acting in a manner inconsistent with its original position and would if upheld result in injury to the plaintiff by precluding him from being able to pursue his legal rights based on actions, which were occasioned only because of the facts presented by the defendants and acted upon by the plaintiff to the detriment of the plaintiff.”

Stratton’s Opinion

Stratton wrote:

“Appellant’s complaint form in no way suggested that he was seeking compensation for his injury. More important, there is nothing in appellant’s complaint form threatening litigation if appellant’s demands, monetary or otherwise, were not met.”

The form she said, does not satisfy the requirements of the Government Claims Act.

Responding to estoppel argument, she said:

“Even if we assume that all of the elements of equitable estoppel were initially present, the law recognizes that circumstances may change and render estoppel no longer appropriate….

“Here, the circumstances changed when appellant acquired counsel….

“Here, the complaint form filed by appellant’s mother with the District was attached as an exhibit to the original complaint in this matter, showing appellant’s attorney had actual acknowledge of the contents of the complaint form submitted on appellant’s behalf. Counsel is charged with the knowledge that appellant needed to file a claim for damages with the District and with the knowledge of what was required for such a claim. Indeed, appellant’s attorney appears to have had actual knowledge of the requirements, as he cited the relevant Government Code statutes in the original complaint.

“Appellant is charged with that knowledge as well.”

Adequate Time Remained

She added:

“Although the exact date when appellant and his mother retained his attorney is not shown in the record, the original complaint, filed by counsel, is dated February 25, 2020. The incident occurred on March 5, 2019, allowing appellant and his attorney approximately a week to file a compliant claim within the mandated one-year period. Given that counsel possessed the relevant facts about the incident, had the original complaint form, and was actually aware of the statutory requirements for suing a governmental entity, this was ample time.”

The case is A.S. v. Palmdale School District, B318012.

Attorneys on appeal were Stearn and, for the school district, Louis R. Dumont and John J. Stumreiter of Carpenter, Rothans & Dumont.


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