Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In the case, a group of students from the University of San Francisco (USF) sued the university for breach of contract, alleging that the university did not deliver on its promise to provide in-person instruction and should refund a portion of their tuition fees due to the transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, Division Three affirmed the trial court's decision, which granted USF's motion for summary adjudication, concluding that the students failed to raise a triable issue of fact regarding whether USF promised to provide exclusively in-person instruction.The court determined that there was an implied-in-fact contract between USF and the student appellants, established through matriculation and the payment of tuition. However, the court found that the contract did not explicitly promise exclusively in-person instruction. The court also distinguished between general expectations of in-person classes and enforceable contractual promises for exclusively in-person instruction. The court held that the students failed to establish a breach of contract based on the transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.The court further held that the students could not pursue quasi-contract claims, as a valid and enforceable contract existed between the students and USF. The students' promissory estoppel claim also failed, as they did not establish any clear and unequivocal promises from USF for in-person instruction. The court stated that the record did not reflect any such promise.The court dismissed the students' claims relating to the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, as they were aware these semesters would be conducted either entirely remotely or in a hybrid format prior to enrolling or paying tuition for those semesters. Thus, the students could not reasonably have believed USF contractually promised to provide in-person education for these semesters. View "Berlanga v. University of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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This is an appeal before the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One regarding an attorney fees dispute between multiple charter school entities and two school districts. The case arose from a dispute over whether certain charter schools were operating within the geographic boundaries of the Grossmont Union High School District and San Diego Unified School District in violation of the California Charter Schools Act. After a series of litigation and appeals, the charter school entities, which included Diego Plus Education Corporation, Western Educational Corporation, Lifelong Learning Administration Corporation, and Educational Advancement Corporation, were successful in defending their right to operate the schools. They subsequently sought attorney fees pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The trial court granted the motion and ordered the school districts to pay attorney fees amounting to $582,927. The school districts appealed this decision. The appellate court conditionally reversed the order for attorney fees and remanded the case, finding that the trial court did not properly evaluate whether the financial burden of private enforcement warranted an award of attorney fees under section 1021.5. The appellate court instructed the trial court to apply the proper legal standard on remand. View "Grossmont Union High School Dist. v. Diego Plus Education Corp." on Justia Law

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This case concerns John HR Doe and other Doe plaintiffs, who alleged that William Babcock, a counselor at an elementary school in the Marysville Joint Unified School District, committed sexual misconduct causing them injury and damages. The Doe plaintiffs filed three separate lawsuits against the School District. The first two, filed in state court, were voluntarily dismissed. The third, filed in federal court, also alleged violations of federal law. The School District moved to dismiss the federal court action, claiming immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for most of the claims. The Doe Plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed their federal court action and filed a third state court action.The School District demurred to the third state court complaint, arguing res judicata based on the plaintiffs' voluntary dismissal of the second action in federal court. The trial court sustained the demurrer and dismissed the complaint, ruling that the dismissal of the federal court action constituted res judicata. On appeal, the Doe plaintiffs contended that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims on the merits because the School District argued Eleventh Amendment immunity. They also argued that California state law controls, under which a second voluntary dismissal does not constitute res judicata.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Third Appellate District, affirmed the trial court's decision. The appellate court found that the federal court did have subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims because it had jurisdiction over the federal law claims, with supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. Moreover, the court held that res judicata applied because federal law determines the claim-preclusive effect of a federal court judgment in a federal question case, and under federal law, a second voluntary dismissal operates as an adjudication on the merits. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that California law should control, stating that states must accord federal court judgments the effect that federal law prescribes. As such, the Doe plaintiffs' third state court action was barred by res judicata due to their second voluntary dismissal in federal court. View "Doe v. Marysville Joint Unified Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Ricardo Campbell, a student of the Career Development Institute, Inc., was dismissed from its vocational nursing program. Following his dismissal, Campbell filed a writ under section 1094.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The trial court denied the petition, stating that the Institute's policies did not necessitate a hearing. In response, Campbell appealed this decision, with the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District Division Eight, vacating the previous judgment for reconsideration in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling on the doctrine of fair procedure.The Court of Appeal noted that the Institute's student handbook and school catalog outlined student discipline procedures, but did not require a hearing or any other opportunity for students to be heard before being dismissed. Campbell was dismissed following an incident reported by three nurses at his clinical placement, which was followed by a letter from the Institute's director of nursing stating that Campbell had been dismissed. The Institute also claimed that this was not the first problem it had with Campbell, although the dismissal letter only mentioned the said incident.The trial court had previously ruled that because the Institute was not a state actor and Campbell did not argue that a statute required the Institute to provide hearings, the Institute could only be subject to administrative mandamus if its own rules and regulations required hearings. The court concluded that Campbell was not entitled to relief under section 1094.5 as the Institute's procedures did not require it to provide hearings.The Court of Appeal remanded the case for the trial court to consider whether the doctrine of fair procedure applies and, if so, whether Campbell was entitled to more process under this doctrine. The Court of Appeal advised that if the court finds Campbell was entitled to a hearing, it must address the merits of his petition. The Court of Appeal vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Campbell v. Career Development Institute" on Justia Law

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Thomas was recruited to play on the women’s soccer team at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), played on the team during her freshman year and, in the spring of that year, was released from the team. She sued UCB, the team’s head coach (McGuire), and the Director of Athletics (Knowlton), alleging that she turned down a scholarship to another school based on McGuire’s recruitment efforts and that McGuire failed to disclose his “abusive” coaching style and the team’s culture of intimidation and fear. After her federal suit was dismissed, Thomas sued in state court, alleging claims against McGuire and Knowlton for violation of the Unruh Act and negligence; against McGuire for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud; and against UCB under Government Code section 815.2.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, reinstating only a claim of sexual harassment (Civil Code section 51.9) against McGuire and UCB. Thomas failed to state a negligence claim against McGuire, Knowlton, or UCB. Thomas cites no authority imposing on a university a duty to protect students from harm of a non-physical nature. Nor did Thomas establish a breach of fiduciary duty. The court also rejected claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation. View "Thomas v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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UC Davis students Doe and Roe were having consensual sex in Doe’s room, when Doe made a one-second video recording of his own face. Roe asked Doe to delete it, which he did. Months later, she made a formal complaint. Doe initially lied to the investigator but ultimately admitted to taking the recording. UC Davis imposed a one-year suspension for violations of its Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy and a policy that generally bars nonconsensual recordings that violate another person’s privacy. The trial court found UC Davis’s Title IX procedure “consistent with due process standards” but found the suspension “objectively excessive and punitive,” stating that the college must do more to explain its Title IX discipline. UC Davis then imposed a shorter suspension.Doe unsuccessfully sought $142,387.48 attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure 1021.5 and $7,500 under Government Code 800. The court of appeal held that Doe was not entitled to attorney fees under section 1021.5 because the litigation did not confer a significant benefit “on the general public or a large class of persons.” However, section 800 authorizes an award of up to $7,500 if the challenged administrative determination “was the result of arbitrary or capricious action or conduct.” All aspects of an administrative proceeding need not be arbitrary or capricious to justify section 800 fees. The court remanded for consideration of whether UC Davis engaged in sufficient arbitrary or capricious conduct to warrant an award. View "Doe v. Atkinson" on Justia Law

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Evers pled guilty to assault on a police officer with a firearm after being arrested in connection with a string of residential burglaries. At sentencing, the trial court ordered Evers to pay restitution to two victims and assessed a 15 percent administrative fee on the restitution amounts. The court also imposed a $10,000 restitution fine and imposed but suspended a $10,000 parole restitution fine. The court declined Evers’ request to reduce the two restitution fines by applying a statutory formula and concluded that, under the circumstances, the maximum fines were warranted.The court of appeal reversed the imposition of the 15 percent administrative fee, which was invalid because the statute pursuant to which it was imposed was repealed before the date of Evers’s sentencing. The court otherwise affirmed. Evers forfeited his argument that the restitution fines were unconstitutional under People v. Dueñas (2019) and similar cases requiring sentencing courts to take into account a defendant’s ability to pay. The forfeiture was not cured by Evers submitting two informal post-judgment motions to the trial court under Penal Code section 1237.2. View "People v. Evers" on Justia Law

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UCSF's 107-acre Parnassus Heights campus currently accommodates two hospitals, various medical clinics, four professional schools, a graduate program, and space for research, student housing, parking, and other support uses. In 2014, UCSF prepared a long-range development plan for its multiple sites around San Francisco, to accommodate most of UCSF’s growth at the Mission Bay campus. There were concerns that the Parnassus campus was overwhelming its neighborhood. In 2020, UCSF undertook a new plan for the Parnassus campus with multiple new buildings and infrastructure resulting in a 50 percent net increase in building space over 30 years.An environmental impact report (EIR) was prepared for the Plan's initial phase (California Environmental Quality Act, Pub. Resources Code 21000, identifying as significant, unavoidable adverse impacts: wind hazards, increased air pollutants, the demolition of historically significant structures, and increased ambient noise levels during construction.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of challenges to the EIR. The EIR considers a reasonable range of alternatives and need not consider in detail an alternative that placed some anticipated development off campus. The EIR improperly declines to analyze the impact on public transit, but the error is not prejudicial. The aesthetic effects of an “employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area” are deemed not significant. The EIR is not required to adopt a mitigation measure preserving certain historically significant buildings and its mitigation measure for wind impacts is adequate. View "Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Defendants Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD or the District) and its then Superintendent adopted distance-learning policies that discriminated against poor students and students of color in violation of the California Constitution. Plaintiffs rest their challenge on various side letter contract agreements between LAUSD and the teacher’s union, Defendant United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which Plaintiffs contend implemented the distance-learning framework established by the Legislature in a discriminatory fashion. However, the District has returned to in-person instruction, and both the side letter agreements and the statutory framework that authorized them have expired. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs continue to seek injunctive relief to remedy what they contend are ongoing harms caused by the allegedly unconstitutional policies. The trial court sustained, with leave to amend, LAUSD’s demurrer on mootness grounds and granted, with leave to amend, its motion to strike the prayer for relief, reasoning that the requested remedies would not be manageable on a class-wide basis.   The Second Appellate District reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded with instructions. The court held that the trial court prematurely struck the prayer for relief at the pleading stage, notwithstanding the end of distance learning. Because Plaintiffs propose a seemingly viable remedy for the past and continuing harms they allege, their constitutional claims are not moot. The court wrote that the constitutionality of expired policies is measured by reference to the statewide standards that existed when the policies were in effect. Accordingly, the trial court erred by sustaining LAUSD’s demurrer to the eighth cause of action on mootness grounds. View "Shaw v. L.A. Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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In January 2020, after waiting 40 minutes for a school bus that never came, 16-year-old G. got picked up from the bus stop by a friend whom she had texted. During their ride to school, the friend’s car was hit head on by another driver, causing G. to suffer fatal injuries. G.’s parents sued the school district, a board member of the school district, and school district employees (collectively, the district) for wrongful death. The parents alleged the district was liable because it breached its duty to timely retrieve G. from the designated school bus stop, to provide notice of and instructions regarding delayed buses, and to provide a reasonably safe and reliable bus system. The district demurred asserting immunity under Education Code section 44808. The trial court sustained the demurrer to the parents’ first amended complaint without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal. The Court of Appeal concluded the parents pleaded sufficient facts to fall outside section 44808 immunity for purposes of demurrer and reversed. View "Brinsmead v. Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist." on Justia Law