Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Julian Union Elementary School District (Julian) and Diego Plus Education Corporation (Diego Plus) doing business as Diego Valley Public Charter (Diego Valley, together appellants) appealed an attorney fee award to Sweetwater Union High School District (Sweetwater) made under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Sweetwater and Julian were public school districts in San Diego County, California. Diego Plus operated the charter schools Diego Valley and Diego Springs Academy (Diego Springs). Diego Plus paid fees to Julian for its Diego Valley charter school program. In March 2015 Sweetwater sent letters to Julian and Diego Valley requesting that they stop operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. In June 2015, after neither Julian nor Diego Valley responded, Sweetwater filed this action to enforce the Charter Schools Act (CSA). In its petition for a writ of mandate, Sweetwater alleged Julian approved a charter petition for Diego Valley and that Diego Valley was operating charter schools outside Julian's geographic boundaries. Appellants claimed Sweetwater did not qualify as a successful party under section 1021.5 because Sweetwater: (1) failed to achieve its primary litigation goal; (2) the relief it achieved was illusory; and (3) its suit was not a catalyst in motivating either Julian or Diego Valley to take or not take any particular action. Even assuming the trial court did not err in awarding Sweetwater successful party status, appellants claim that Sweetwater was not entitled to a fee award because Sweetwater failed to carry its burden of establishing all requirements for a fee award under section 1021.5. Assuming the Court of Appeal rejected its other arguments, appellants claimed the trial court abused its discretion by rubberstamping the amount of attorney fees that Sweetwater requested. On this record, the Court of Appeal could not conclude the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Sweetwater all its requested fees. View "Sweetwater Union HS Dist. v. Julian Union Elementary Sch." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a school district may be permitted to avoid its responsibility to provide special education and related services to an eligible student to fund the placement of a child with severe disabilities in a residential treatment center, where that placement was necessary to enable the child to access a meaningful educational benefit, because the child's adoptive parents happened also to have funding available for that residential placement through a noneducational governmental agency program. The Court of Appeal held that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is not a "public agency, other than an educational agency" under Education Code section 56155; DCFS did not "place" the student in the Sonoma facility by providing Adoptive Assistance Program (AAP) assistance; and therefore Education Code section 56156.4, subdivision (a), did not provide the school district with an exception to the rule that the school district of the parents' residence is responsible for the costs of a disabled student's education. The court also disapproved of the Office of Administrative Hearings's decision in Parent v. Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist., to the extent it is inconsistent with this decision. Therefore, the court held that the school district was responsible for the cost of the parents' transportation relating to the student's placement in the Sonoma facility. The court reversed and remanded. View "B.H. v. Manhattan Beach Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the school district, alleging negligent supervision arising out of her claim that she was sexually abused by her high school teacher. Plaintiff also alleged that the school district knew or should have known of the danger posed by the teacher, and the school district's failure to respond appropriately to that knowledge resulted in harm to her. After the jury found in favor of the school district, plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion by finding that the only evidence relevant to this case was other instances of physical touching and excluding other relevant evidence, such as a sexual comment by the teacher to a student that was egregious enough to trigger an investigation by the school. The court also held that the error was prejudicial to plaintiff as it distorted much of the evidence presented and severely hampered plaintiff's ability to present her case. View "D.Z. v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Mitigation Fee Act, Government Code 66000-66003, requires local agencies seeking to impose fees on private developers as a condition of approval of a development, to determine how there is a “reasonable relationship” between the type of development project, the fee’s use, and the need for the public facilities. The developer of a 100-unit agricultural employee housing complex in Monterey County’s Salinas Union High School District designed the project to accommodate 200-800 seasonal farmworker employees in dormitory-like apartments during the growing season. The project description stated that it was designed for “agricultural employees only, without dependents.” A report prepared for the county board of supervisors found that the project would “not have an adverse impact on schools.” The board approved the project, adopted a mitigated negative declaration under CEQA, and approved a combined permit, subject to conditions, which described the development for “agricultural employees only without dependents.” When the developer applied for project approval, the District adopted an impact fee on new residential construction of $3 per square foot. The court of appeal reversed the trial court, finding that the statutes do not require a school district to separately analyze the impact of a unique subtype of residential construction not contemplated in the statute. To hold otherwise would disrupt the school district’s quasi-legislative authority to impose prospective, district-wide fees based upon development type. View "Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods v. Salinas Union High School District" on Justia 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