Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Assessor and others, seeking a refund of property taxes and special assessments, and for declaratory relief. The Court of Appeal found no support in statutory or case law for plaintiffs' claim that a nonprofit charter school should be treated as a public school district for purposes of applying the implied exemption, which plaintiffs contend exempts public schools from having to pay both taxes and special assessments. The court explained that the Legislature has specified precisely how, and to what extent, and under which statutory provisions charter schools are deemed to be part of the system of public schools, or deemed to be a school district. Notably absent is any suggestion that charters schools are to be treated like school districts for taxation purposes. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims to the contrary. View "Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Inc. v. Prang" on Justia Law

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This proceeding stemmed from a minor’s collapse during football try-outs at Lincoln High School in Stockton in 2017. Respondent Shynelle Jones presented a timely claim on behalf of her son, Jayden, to the Lincoln Unified School District under the Government Claims Act. About four months later, Jones submitted an application to the school district for leave to present a late claim on her own behalf based on her allegedly newfound realization of the severity of her son’s injuries, their impact on her own life, and her right to file her own claim. She declared that up until that point she had been able to attend to her own interests. After the application was denied, Jones filed a petition for relief from the claim presentation requirement in the superior court based on the same facts. At the hearing on her petition, her counsel, Kenneth Meleyco, presented a new explanation for the delay in submitting Jones’s claim: the day after Jones presented a claim on her son’s behalf, she retained Meleyco on her own behalf, and an error in the handling of Meleyco’s dictated memo within his office prevented the earlier preparation of Jones’s claim. The superior court granted Jones’s petition, despite noting “legitimate concerns regarding [her] credibility” because it “determined based on the directives provided in case law, to provide relief from technical rules, that [Jones] has met her burden of proof to demonstrate that her neglect was excusable.” The Court of Appeal found this ruling was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. "[T]he general policy favoring trial on the merits cannot justify the approval of a petition that is not credible and that does not demonstrate a right to relief by a preponderance of the evidence." The Court issued a writ of mandate compelling the superior court to vacate its order and enter a new order denying Jones relief from the claim presentation requirement. View "Lincoln Unified School Dist. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In December 2018, E.F. (minor) and L.S. were ninth graders enrolled in the same art class in high school. For unknown reasons, minor offered L.S. a Cup of Noodles, microwaved it, and handed it to him. When L.S. went to drink the broth, it smelled of bleach and he threw it out. The juvenile court entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) and, subsequently, a three-year restraining order against E.F., charged with poisoning one of her high school classmates. Among other things, this appeal presents the following question: Is a prosecutor seeking a TRO under Welfare and Institutions Code section 213.5 required to give advance notice of her intent to do so (or is notice at the hearing where the TRO is requested sufficient)? The court in In re L.W., 44 Cal.App.5th 44 (2020) held that advance notice is required. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that express language in section 213.5 authorized courts to authorize TROs without notice in advance of the hearing. “The minor appearing at the arraignment with counsel is still notified of the prosecutor’s TRO application and has the opportunity to oppose the application. Because due process guarantees notice and the opportunity to be heard, the issuance of TROs under section 213.5 accords with due process and thus provides no basis to read section 213.5 in a counter- textual manner to avoid possible constitutional infirmity.” View "In re E.F." on Justia Law

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Real party in interest filed suit against the school district and two individuals for, inter alia, retaliation in violation of the Reporting by School Employees of Improper Governmental Activities Act. The trial court subsequently denied the school district's motion to strike the punitive damages allegations from the complaint and held that the Act supersedes Government Code section 818. The Court of Appeal held that Government Code section 818 prohibits the imposition of punitive damages against school districts sued under the Act, and the trial court therefore erred in denying the motion to strike the punitive damage allegations as to the school district from the complaint. Accordingly, the court directed the trial court to strike the punitive damage allegations as to the school district from the complaint. View "Visalia Unified School District v. Superior Court of Tulare County" on Justia Law

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Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (Physicians Committee) filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to prohibit local educational agencies Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Poway Unified School District (PUSD) from serving processed meats in their schools, and directing them to modify wellness policies to reflect the goal of reducing or eliminating processed meats. The local educational agencies demurred, arguing they were under no statutory obligation to reduce or eliminate processed meat from schools. The trial court granted the demurrers. Physicians Committee appealed, contending the local educational agencies' failure to reduce or eliminate processed meat from schools abused their discretion in developing statutorily-mandated, local wellness policies. After review, the Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the judgment. View "Physicians Com. for Responsible etc. v. L.A. Unified School Dist." on Justia 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