Articles Posted in Education Law

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After plaintiff suffered serious injuries when he fell off an inflatable slide while attending a carnival held at a school campus owned by the district, he filed suit alleging that he fell because the inflatable slide was not tethered to the ground. The Court of Appeal held that the Education Code allocates liability for negligence between school districts and entities allowed to use school district grounds, including in this case the booster group that planned and held the carnival fundraiser. The court explained that the school district was liable for an injury resulting from the negligence of the school district in the ownership and maintenance of the school facilities or grounds. However, an entity using the school facilities or grounds is liable for an injury resulting from the negligence of that entity during the use of the school facilities or grounds. In this case, the court held that plaintiff's injuries resulted from the alleged negligence of the booster group and others "during the use of" the school grounds, not from the school district's ownership and maintenance of the grounds. Furthermore, Education Code section 38134, subdivision (i)(2), clarifies that the Education Code does not alter the provision in Government Code section 835 limiting a public entity’s liability to "an injury caused by a dangerous condition of public property." The court held that, as a matter of law, the inflatable slide was not a dangerous condition of public property within the meaning of Government Code section 835. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the school district and dismissed the school district's cross-appeal as moot. View "Grossman v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District" on Justia Law

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A student approached Professor Laker, claiming that the department chair, Aptekar, had harassed her. The student brought a formal Title IX complaint. An investigator concluded that Aptekar had sexually harassed the student. Aptekar was disciplined but was allowed to remain as department chair for several weeks. Aptekar was later placed on paid leave. Laker claims that the University and certain administrators, including McVey, covered up prior student complaints about Aptekar. In February 2016, various administrators received an e-mail from the student who had originally filed the Title IX complaint, stating she was experiencing stress from continuing to see Aptekar. The University then investigated Laker based on complaints of “inspiring students to come forward to report sexual and racial harassment by Aptekar.” Laker sued, alleging defamation and retaliation The defendants filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed the denial of the motion as to defamation. Statements Laker identified as defamatory were part of the protected activity of the Aptekar investigation. On remand, the trial court is directed to strike certain language and the claims it supports from the retaliation claim: “publishing false and defamatory statements about Laker to punish him for his ongoing efforts to protect SJSU students from sexual harassment by Aptekar, with the intent of scapegoating Laker as the person who had failed to report Aptekar’s misconduct.” View "Laker v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded no contest to making threats to use a weapon of mass destruction and making criminal threats, defendant was placed on supervised probation and ordered to pay $235,341.17 as restitution to the school district. The Court of Appeal reversed the order of restitution and held that the trial court should reduce the amount of restitution to the school district by the amount of reimbursement the school district received from the state for average daily attendance (ADA) funds. On remand, the trial court shall order defendant to pay restitution to the state in the amount of the reimbursement the state paid the school district. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Landen" on Justia Law

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Five African-American women on the basketball team at California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) sued their head coach and the Board of Trustees of the California State University, claiming the coach engaged in race-based discrimination and retaliation: derogatorily referring to them as "the group," reduced their playing time, afforded them fewer opportunities, punished them more severely and generally singled them out for harsher treatment as compared to their non-African-American teammates. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment filed by the Board, concluding plaintiff Danielle Cooper's claims were untimely and that the remaining plaintiffs could not show a triable issue on the merits. The Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment and directed the court to enter a new order granting summary adjudication on some, but not all, of plaintiffs' claims: plaintiffs cannot sue the Board under 42 United States Code sections 1981 and 1983 because CSUSM was not a "person" subject to suit under those statutes. With regard to the remaining claims brought by the four "freshmen plaintiffs," summary adjudication was improper as to their racial discrimination claims under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Board did not meet its moving burden to show the lack of a triable issue as to whether these plaintiffs suffered a materially adverse action under circumstances suggesting a racially discriminatory motive. For similar reasons, summary adjudication was improper on title VI retaliation claims brought by three of the four freshmen plaintiffs, Lynette Mackey, Kianna Williams, and Sierra Smith: each of these women complained about the coach's discriminatory treatment and indicated how they suffered adverse consequences as a result. The Court reached a different conclusion as to plaintiff Crystal Hicks, who never made a complaint and denied facing any consequences as a result of complaints made by her peers. View "Mackey v. Bd. of Trustees of the Cal. State University" on Justia Law

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Southwestern Community College District (District) and its governing board (Board) (together Southwestern) demoted Arlie Ricasa from an academic administrator position to a faculty position on the grounds of moral turpitude, immoral conduct, and unfitness to serve in her then-current role. While employed by Southwestern as the director of Student Development and Health Services (DSD), Ricasa also served as an elected board member of a separate entity, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD). The largest number of incoming District students were from SUHSD, and the community viewed the school districts as having significant ties. As a SUHSD board member, Ricasa voted on million-dollar vendor contracts to construction companies, such as Seville Group, Inc. (SGI) and Gilbane Construction Company, who ultimately co-managed a bond project for the SUHSD. Before and after SGI received this contract, Ricasa went to dinners with SGI members that she did not disclose on her Form 700. Ricasa's daughter also received a scholarship from SGI to attend a student leadership conference that Ricasa did not report on her "Form 700." In December 2013, Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the Political Reform Act, which prohibited board members of local agencies from receiving gifts from a single source in excess of $420. Ricasa filed two petitions for writs of administrative mandamus in the trial court seeking, among other things, to set aside the demotion and reinstate her as an academic administrator. Ricasa appealed the denial of her petitions, arguing the demotion occurred in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (the Brown Act) because Southwestern failed to provide her with 24 hours' notice of the hearing at which it heard charges against her, as required by Government Code section 54957. Alternatively, she argued the demotion was unconstitutional because no nexus existed between her alleged misconduct and her fitness to serve as academic administrator. Southwestern also appealed, arguing that the trial court made two legal errors when it: (1) held that Southwestern was required to give 24-hour notice under the Brown Act prior to conducting a closed session at which it voted to initiate disciplinary proceedings, and (2) enjoined Southwestern from committing future Brown Act violations. The Court of Appeal concluded Southwestern did not violate the Brown Act, and that substantial evidence supported Ricasa's demotion. However, the Court reversed that part of the judgment enjoining Southwestern from future Brown Act violations. View "Ricasa v. Office of Admin. Hearings" on Justia Law

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When a student accused of sexual misconduct faces severe disciplinary sanctions, and the credibility of witnesses (whether the accusing student, other witnesses, or both) is central to the adjudication of the allegation, fundamental fairness requires, at a minimum, that the university provide a mechanism by which the accused may cross–examine those witnesses, directly or indirectly, at a hearing in which the witnesses appear in person or by other means (such as means provided by technology like videoconferencing) before a neutral adjudicator with the power independently to find facts and make credibility assessments. A former USC undergraduate student appealed the trial court's denial of his petition for writ of administrative mandate seeking to set aside his expulsion. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that, although the student failed to meet his burden of proving that defendants were actually biased against him, USC's disciplinary procedure failed to provide the student with a fair hearing. In this case, USC's disciplinary review process failed to provide fundamental fairness protections after it expelled the student based on allegations of nonconsensual sexual misconduct. View "Doe v. Allee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants San Diego Unified School District, Clovis Unified School District, Poway Unified School District, San Jose Unified School District, Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and Grossmont Union High School District (the Districts) appealed an order sustaining without leave to amend the demurrer of defendant-respondent State Controller Betty Yee (the Controller) to the Districts' first amended petition for writ of mandate and complaint. The Districts had challenged the Controller's reduction the reimbursement of monies from state funds to the Districts, but the trial court ruled the action was barred by the 90-day statute of limitations set forth in Code of Civil Procedure section 341.5. The trial court implicitly found the action was one "challenging the constitutionality of any statute relating to state funding for . . . school districts" within the meaning of section 341.5. The Districts argued on appeal that under its plain language, section 341.5 did not apply because, among other reasons, their challenge involved subvention, not state funding; the dispute was focused on the Controller's actions, not the constitutionality of the statutes under which the Controller acted; and their challenge was not a facial challenge subject to section 341.5. The Court of Appeal rejected these contentions, and concluded section 341.5 applied to the Districts' action, the gravamen of which was a challenge to the constitutional validity of the statued providing one-time general state funding for school districts. View "San Diego Unified School Dist. v. Yee" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Campbell Union School District (CUSD) Governing Board enacted a fee on new residential development under Education Code section 17620. The fee, $2.24 per square foot on new residential construction, was based on a study that projected that “it will cost the District an average of $22,039 to house each additional student in new facilities.” This figure was based on a projected $12.8 million cost to build a new 600-student elementary school and a projected $24.4 million cost to build a new 1,000-student middle school. SummerHill owns a 110-unit residential development project in Santa Clara, within CUSD’s boundaries. In 2012 and 2013, SummerHill tendered to CUSD under protest development fees of $499,976.96. The trial court invalidated the fee and ordered a refund of SummerHill’s fees. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the fee study did not contain the data required to properly calculate a development fee; it failed to quantify the expected amount of new development or the number of new students it would generate, did not identify the type of facilities that would be necessary to accommodate those new students, and failed to assess the costs associated with those facilities. View "SummerHill Winchester LLC v. Campbell Union School District" on Justia Law

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After a non-USC student filed suit against the University and others for negligence, the trial court denied USC's motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal granted USC's motion for a peremptory writ of mandate challenging the denial and held that USC had no duty to protect members of the public from the conduct of a third party at an off-campus fraternity house. In this case, the non-student was injured when she was dancing on a makeshift raised platform and was bumped by another partygoer, causing her to fall to the ground and suffer injuries. View "University of Southern California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the trial court's denial of his petition for a writ of administrative mandamus to set aside his expulsion from USC for unauthorized alcohol use, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape of another student. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that plaintiff was denied a fair hearing where three central witnesses were not interviewed and thus the Title IX investigator was not able to assess the credibility of these critical witnesses during the interviews. The court also held that USC did not comply with its own procedures to conduct a fair and thorough investigation by failing to request that the student provide her clothes from the morning of the incident and her consent to release her medical records from the rape treatment center. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Southern California" on Justia Law