Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Parents, students, taxpayers, and community organizations filed suit alleging that the school district adopted and implemented a district-wide disciplinary program that was biased toward minority students, students who speak limited English, and others similarly situated. This case arose from information released to the public regarding suspensions, transfers, and other disciplinary proceedings in the school district that allegedly demonstrated that racial bias affected how the school district disciplined minority students, and actions taken by the school district to actively hide this fact from the public. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of most of plaintiffs' claims against the state level defendants, either because the claims did not state a cause of action or such claims may be brought against the local level defendants but not the state level defendants. The court held, however, that plaintiffs have stated a cause of action for disparate impact under California's equal protection clause and they have properly petitioned for a writ of mandate based on the state level defendants' ministerial duty to monitor the practices of local school districts for violations of federal law. Therefore, the court held that the trial court wrongly sustained the state-level defendants' demurrer on those claims, along with plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief on the same issues. The court also held that plaintiffs' complaint contained sufficient allegations to demonstrate associational standing for one of the community organizations to pursue these claims against the state level defendants. View "Collins v. Thurmond" on Justia Law

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In 2015, plaintiffs sued 88 school districts and the California Department of Education, seeking relief for alleged violations of Education Code section 51210(g). That law requires no less than 200 minutes of physical education instruction every 10 school days for pupils in first through sixth grades. In 2017, five of the districts sought to have the court issue a writ of mandamus against them, granting the relief sought in the petition. The superior court granted the motion. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that it was error for the trial court to enter the judgments without an evidentiary proceeding; that the allegations did not preclude writ relief beyond the limited relief contained in the judgments (injunctive relief); and the trial court should have allowed amendment of the petition to state a cause of action for declaratory relief. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that a writ of mandate was an inadequate remedy because it cannot compel the school districts’ employees to comply with the PE mandate and that no writ could issue unless the Districts admit noncompliance with the PE mandate. View "Cal200, Inc., v. Apple Valley Unified School District" on Justia Law

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In 2006, SFSU hired Gupta, an American woman of Indian ancestry, as a tenure-track assistant professor. In 2009, Gupta and other women of color in the School of Social Work raised issues concerning “hostile work environment” and discrimination. Two months later, Gupta received a critical fourth-year review. Shortly thereafter, Gupta sent emails to a colleague complaining that her workplace was hostile towards women of color. Her supervisor told Gupta “I know about [the emails] ... I’m going to get even.” Another professor witnessed the exchange. After being denied early tenure Gupta filed an EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit. An arbitrator ordered SFSU to review Gupta for tenure the following year. Despite excellent evaluations and recommendations, Gupta was denied tenure; her supervisor made threatening remarks to a colleague who questioned the decision. SFSU granted tenure to Dr. J.H., another School of Social Work professor, who had not filed a complaint. Gupta’s scores were better than J.H.’s scores and Gupta had more than double the minimum publication requirement, while J.H. had not met that requirement. SFSU terminated Gupta’s employment in 2014. A jury awarded Gupta $378,461 for retaliation; the court awarded $587,160.75 in attorney fees and costs. SFSU has reinstated Gupta as a tenured professor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred in: allowing Gupta to present evidence of a “comparator professor” without requiring her to show her qualifications were clearly superior; refusing to give a special jury instruction regarding comparator evidence; and intervening in the questioning of witnesses in a manner that favored Gupta. View "Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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During his high school senior year, Frank had an encounter with the school’s new resource officer, Redwood City Officer Stahler. Frank’s father filed a complaint alleging Stahler had physically handled Frank in an unlawful manner. An investigation followed but Stahler continued at the school. Months later, Frank and three others left a class without permission. Frank was found in the library. An aide directed him to the administrative vice principal’ office, where Stahler was located. Frank called his father on his cell phone and told the aide he wanted to go to the principal’s office instead but generally cooperated with the aide. Stahler arrived and reprimanded Frank about using the phone in violation of school rules. There was physical contact; the two dispute the nature of the confrontation. Eventually, Stahler grabbed his wrist, forced Frank to the ground, handcuffed him and arrested him. The juvenile court sustained charges of misdemeanor battery and resisting a peace officer. The court of appeal reversed. Stahler did not indicate that Frank acted willfully or unlawfully to touch him. There is no substantial evidence that Frank’s touching Stahler, even if willful, was “harmful or offensive,” another required element of battery. There is no indication Stahler was enforcing any disciplinary rules during the encounter. Given Stahler’s failure to give Frank any clear or direct orders, there was insufficient evidence that Frank willfully resisted Stahler. View "People v. Francis A." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's petition for writ of administrative mandate, arguing that the University's disciplinary proceeding concerning his sexual misconduct with another student was unfair and the evidence did not support the adjudicator's findings. The court held that plaintiff's hearing was fair where the University's policy complied with all the procedural requirements identified by California cases dealing with sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings: both sides had notice of the charges and hearing and had access to the evidence, the hearing included live testimony and written reports of witness interviews, the critical witnesses appeared in person at the hearing so that the adjudicator could evaluate their credibility, and the respondent had an opportunity to propose questions for the adjudicator to ask the complainant. The court also held that plaintiff's contentions that the hearing was unfair were meritless where his arguments concerning the charge evaluation worksheet were forfeited and did not support mandamus relief; the hearing coordinator was not biased; the independent adjudicator was not biased; and there was no cumulative impact. Therefore, the court held that there was substantial evidence that plaintiff should have known that the student was incapacitated. View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law

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Damian Richard appealed an order denying in part his special motion to strike Alan Hicks's complaint for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hicks was a principal of a Catholic elementary and middle school; Richard was the husband of one the school's teachers and a parent of children who attended the school. The complaint arose from Richard's role in prompting the Diocese of San Diego (Diocese) to remove Hicks from his school principal position. According to Richard, Hicks asked Richard to serve on the school's advisory board. At an advisory board meeting in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year, Hicks informed the advisory board he wanted to allow the producers of a television show to film the show on the school's campus. Richard expressed his belief the school should not be affiliated with the show because the show was intended for mature audiences due to its sexual nature and conduct. At a fundraiser in the spring of that same school year, Hicks revisited the topic with Richard. During their discussion, Hicks said he had previously permitted a motorcycle dealership to use the school's campus for a photoshoot and had received complaints because of the pornographic nature of the photographs taken. Later in the summer, Hicks asked Richard to serve as the chair of the advisory board for the 2016-2017 school year and Richard accepted the post. In that role and during that school year, Richard received complaints from parents, teachers, and other board members about Hicks. The complaints included concerns about Hicks's poor leadership, mismanagement of the school, frequent inappropriate comments to and about students and female staff, and advocacy for a curriculum Richard and other parents did not believe was in the best interest of the students or the school. In the winter of the 2016-2017 school year, the advisory board investigated complaints, which were corroborated by employees and parents. Richard and the other parents then sent a letter to the bishop of the Diocese. Richard contended the Court of Appeal had to reverse that part of the trial court's order denying his anti-SLAPP motion because, among other reasons, the court erred in deciding the common interest privilege did not apply to bar Hicks's claims. The Court agreed with this contention, and reversed. The matter was remanded back to the trial court with directions to vacate the order, to enter a new order granting the motion and striking Hicks's complaint, and to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs to award Richard under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16(c)(1). View "Hicks v. Richard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the trial court's dismissal with prejudice of their claims brought against the state level defendants. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from their allegations that KHSD adopted and implemented a district-wide disciplinary program that was biased toward minority students, students who speak limited English, and others similarly situated. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of most of plaintiffs' claims against the state level defendants, either because such claims did not state a cause of action or because they were brought against the local level defendants but not the state level defendants. However, the court ultimately found that plaintiffs have stated a cause of action under the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and they have properly petitioned for a writ of mandate based on the state level defendants' ministerial duty to monitor the practices of local school districts for violations of federal law. Therefore, the court held that the trial court wrongly sustained the state level defendants' demurrer as to those claims, as well as plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief on the same issues. In a related conclusion, the court held that plaintiffs' complaint had sufficient allegations to demonstrate associational standing for one of the community organizations to pursue these claims against the state level defendants. View "Collins v. Thurmond" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a petition for writ of mandate seeking to set aside plaintiff's expulsion from Occidental College after an outside adjudicator found he had sexually assaulted and engaged in non-consensual sexual contact with another student. The court held that there was no violation of the school policy's notice requirements; there was no procedural unfairness where plaintiff was not prejudice when the policy's 60 day guideline for hearings was exceeded, he had access to all of the evidence against him, and he forfeited his contention that the adjudicator was biased; and there was no abuse of discretion in finding that plaintiff violated the policy by having nonconsensual sexual contact with the student View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law

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This appeal arising from a mandamus action presented a matter of first impression for the Court of Appeal regarding the proper scope of judicial review of a school district's decision to deny a petition to renew a charter school. The trial court concluded it had to apply an extremely deferential standard of review because it believed the governing board of the Chino Valley Unified School District (District) was performing a quasi-legislative action when it denied the renewal petition submitted by Oxford Preparatory Academy (the Academy), an existing charter school within the District. Finding that the District's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, the trial court denied the Academy's writ petition. On appeal, the Academy contended the trial court applied the incorrect standard of review because the District's decision was quasi-judicial in nature and, therefore, the trial court should have applied a less deferential standard of review. The Court of Appeal concluded that a school district's decision pursuant to Education Code sections 47605 and 476071 to deny a charter school's renewal petition was a quasi-judicial action subject to review via a petition for administrative mandamus. In considering a renewal petition, the school district is not acting in a legislative function by creating new policy, but rather performing a quasi- judicial function by applying existing standards and rules defined by state statute to determine whether the evidence presented by the charter school regarding its past performance was sufficient to satisfy those standards. The applicable statutes allowed the District to deny a renewal petition only after conducting a hearing and making specific factual findings. Additionally, the Court concluded that after a charter school's initial petition was approved by a school district, the petitioner has a fundamental vested right to continue operating the charter school such that a school district's decision that deprives the petitioner of that right is subject to independent judicial review. The trial court did not apply these standards when reviewing the District's decision. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the Academy's writ petition under the correct standards. View "Oxford Preparatory Academy v. Chino Valley Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and held the continuous accrual theory applies here to the periodic pension benefit payments made to teachers. The court held that CalSTRS is barred by the three-year statute of limitations of Education Code section 22008 from asserting any claims against petitioners related to overpayments for periodic pension benefits to them that accrued more than three years before February 1, 2016; to the extent CalSTRS has previously deducted from petitioners' benefits monies claimed due for overpayments on periodic pension benefits accruing prior to February 1, 2013, CalSTRS is directed to return such collected funds to petitioners, and each of them; and CalSTRS, under the continuous accrual theory, is not precluded from asserting any claim regarding past overpayment, collecting upon such past overpayments, or adjusting any future monthly pension benefit payments of petitioners, where such periodic payments accrued on or after February 1, 2013. View "Blaser v. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law