Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff filed suit against the school district for negligence and for breach of the mandatory duty to report suspected abuse under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA). The trial court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment.The Court of Appeal concluded, consistent with California negligence law, that school administrators have a duty to protect students from sexual abuse by school employees, even if the school does not have actual knowledge of a particular employee's history of committing, or propensity to commit, such abuse. Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court's order granting summary adjudication on plaintiff's negligence causes of action.The court also concluded that, as a matter of first impression, a plaintiff bringing a cause of action for breach of the mandatory duty to report suspected abuse under CANRA must prove it was objectively reasonable for a mandated reporter to suspect abuse based on the facts the reporter actually knew, not based on facts the reporter reasonably should have discovered. In this case, plaintiff did not create a triable issue of material fact regarding whether any of the school district's employees knew of facts from which a reasonable person in a like position could suspect abuse. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's order granting summary adjudication on plaintiff's CANRA cause of action. View "Doe v. Lawndale Elementary School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants, Paula and Christopher LeRoy lost their 15-year-old son, Kennedy LeRoy, to suicide two days after finishing his sophomore year at Ayala High School in Chino. The LeRoys sued the Chino Valley Unified School District, Ayala’s principal, Diana Yarboi, and its assistant principal, Carlo Purther (collectively, Respondents). The LeRoys alleged Respondents were liable for Kennedy’s suicide because of their inadequate response to his complaints of bullying by his classmates. The trial court granted summary judgment for Respondents, and the LeRoys timely appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Respondents were statutorily immune from liability and therefore affirmed the judgment. View "Leroy v. Yarboi" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff sued a school district for negligently supervising the fourth-grade teacher who molested her in 2010-2011. Before trial, the court admitted evidence that the woman had been sexually abused by someone else in 2013, reasoning that the evidence fell outside of the scope of Evidence Code sections 1106 and 7831 which regulate the admission of “the plaintiff’s sexual conduct” and that its probative value to contradict the plaintiff’s anticipated testimony attributing all of her emotional distress to the teacher’s molestation was not substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice.The court of appeal dissolved a stay of proceedings and directed the trial court to either assess any prejudice flowing from the empaneled jury’s exposure to the mentioning of the 2013 incident during opening statements or begin the trial with a new jury. The term “plaintiff’s sexual conduct” in sections 1106 and 783 (and Code of Civil Procedure section 2017.220) encompasses sexual abuse to which a plaintiff has been involuntarily subjected as well as the plaintiff’s voluntary sexual conduct. Section 783 requires a trial court, after following certain procedures, to engage in a section 352 analysis identical to the one the trial court undertook. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the probative value of the subsequent sexual abuse was not outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. View "Doe v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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John was a student at the University of California, Davis when fellow student Jane reported that he engaged in nonconsensual sexual intercourse with her in violation of University policy. John agreed they had sex but said Jane consented. Following an investigation, UC Davis found that on the night the two had sex, Jane was incapacitated due to alcohol such that she was unable to consent and that, given her condition, a reasonable person should have known she was unable to consent. John was suspended from all UC campuses for two years.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of a writ of administrative mandate to set aside the suspension. The court rejected John’s claim that he was denied a fair process in UC Davis’s investigation and adjudication because he was denied a live hearing and an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses before a fact-finder who was not also the investigator. In university disciplinary proceedings involving allegations of sexual misconduct, when the sanction is severe and credibility is central to the adjudication, the university must provide cross-examination at a live hearing before a neutral adjudicator who was not also the investigator. In this case, however, credibility was not central. John’s own account provided substantial evidence of the policy violation. The investigation was thorough, there is no evidence of investigator bias, and John was provided many opportunities to state his version of events and to review and respond to the evidence. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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John Doe was a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), when fellow student Jane Roe reported that he engaged in dating violence against her in violation of University of California policy. John admitted that, after arguing with Jane for hours, he “grabbed her, screamed in her face and shook her” and “eventually dragged her out of the bed to the front door” of his home. Following an investigation, the university found John violated UC policy, and he was suspended for three years, resulting in a three-year hold of his degree and diploma.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of John’s petition for a writ of administrative mandate seeking to set aside the disciplinary decision and suspension. John’s written statement alone provided sufficient evidence to establish he engaged in dating violence, including that his conduct caused bodily injury. The court rejected John’s claims he was denied a fair process because the fact finder did not observe the witnesses and John was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses, UCSB withheld evidence from him during its investigation, and the review committee failed to follow its own policy requiring an independent review of the disciplinary decision. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment resolving a dispute with the school district concerning the "facilities costs" for which the district may properly charge the charter school.The court concluded that a district must exclude from the facilities costs it charges a charter school all costs of both operations and ongoing maintenance if the charter school pays those costs for its own premises. The court explained that, while the text of the regulations is ambiguous and, in part, self-contradictory, the regulatory history and the statutory scheme, as well as the common understanding of all parties prior to the trial court’s unsolicited ruling, make clear that the state board did not intend such a result. In this case, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5, section 11969.7 requires a district to exclude plant maintenance and operations costs from its facilities costs in calculating the pro rata share of a charter school that pays for its own operations and maintenance. Furthermore, section 11969.7 requires a district to exclude from facilities costs any contributions to its ongoing and major maintenance (OMM) account that are ultimately disbursed to pay costs of a type paid by the charter school. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mt. Diablo Unified School District v. Clayton Valley Charter High School" on Justia Law

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X.M., a student at Maple Elementary School, sued Hesperia Unified School District (HUSD), claiming he was sexually assaulted on campus by one of their employees. He sought treble damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, alleging his assault resulted from HUSD’s cover up of a prior sexual assault by the same employee. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to strike the increased damages request on the ground that treble damages under section 340.1 were primarily punitive and therefore barred by Government Code section 818. X.M. filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the trial court’s order and conclude section 818’s immunity did not apply to the treble damages provision at issue here. He argued the primary purpose of the provision is to compensate victims of childhood sexual assault for the additional harm caused by discovering their abuse could have been prevented if those entrusted with their care had responded differently to prior sexual assaults on their watch. In the alternative, he argues the provision’s primary purpose is to incentivize victims to come forward and file lawsuits. The Court concluded the primary purpose of section 340.1’s treble damages provision was punitive because it was designed to deter future cover ups by punishing past ones. "[T]he economic and noneconomic damages available under general tort principles are already designed to make childhood sexual assault victims whole ... It is the rare treble damages provision that isn’t primarily designed to punish and deter misconduct, and nothing in section 340.1 or its legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the increased award to be more compensatory (or incentivizing) than deterrent." Further, the Court held that section 818’s immunity applied when the defendant was a public agency like HUSD. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "X.M. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 authorizes an award of “up to treble damages” in a tort action for childhood sexual assault where the assault occurred “as the result of a cover-up.” Government Code section 818 exempts a public entity from an award of damages “imposed primarily for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”Plaintiff sued the school district (LAUSD) alleging an LAUSD employee sexually assaulted her when she was 14 years old and the assault resulted from LAUSD’s cover-up of the employee’s sexual assault of another student. She requested treble damages under section 340.1. The trial court denied LAUSD’s motion to strike the damages request. The court of appeal reversed. While the harm caused by childhood sexual assault is undoubtedly amplified if a victim learns the assault resulted from a deliberate cover-up by those charged with the victim’s care, noneconomic damages under general tort principles already provide compensation for this added psychological trauma. The treble damages provision has no compensatory function. Section 340.1 generally serves to ensure perpetrators of sexual assault are held accountable for the harm they inflict but its text unambiguously demonstrates the treble damages provision’s purpose is to deter future cover-ups by punishing past cover-ups. Because treble damages under section 340.1 are primarily exemplary and punitive, a public entity like LAUSD maintains sovereign immunity from liability for such damages. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Theta Xi challenges the decision by USC to suspend recognition of the fraternity's USC chapter for six years. The sanction stemmed from the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards' (SJACS) conclusion that Theta Xi had violated nine sections of the University Student Conduct Code, including sections prohibiting hazing and the serving of alcohol to anyone under 21. Theta Xi filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus against USC and others under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, alleging that USC's suspension decision should be set aside. The trial court denied the petition.The Court of Appeal affirmed and concluded that Theta Xi has not shown that USC violated its limitations policy and, even assuming the limitations policy restricted USC's jurisdiction, Theta Xi has not shown that USC acted in excess of its jurisdiction in suspending its recognition of Theta Xi's USC chapter. The court also concluded that USC's decision to suspend its recognition of Theta Xi's local chapter did not substantially affect any vested fundamental right held by Theta Xi. Therefore, the trial court properly declined to exercise its independent judgment in reviewing the evidentiary support for SJACS's factual findings, and properly applied the substantial evidence standard instead. The court further concluded that substantial evidence supported SJAC's alcohol-related findings and other challenged findings. In this case, SJACS's factual findings adequately supported USC's decision to suspend its recognition of Theta Xi's local chapter for six years. Finally, the court concluded that Theta Xi received a fair administrative hearing. View "Alpha Nu Association of Theta Xi v. University of Southern California" on Justia Law

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The University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Technology Management workload policy described the standard course load and additional teaching responsibilities, with procedures for scheduling course assignments, stating that the chair “resolves any differences and has final authority for the teaching schedule.” The Department Chair informed Professor Akella that he would be assigned four classes in the 2015-2016 academic year because he was not participating in any undergraduate advising or undergraduate curricular leadership roles; no offsetting service or research activities justified reducing his teaching load. Akella refused the assignment and filed a grievance with the Academic Senate. Akella’s attorney wrote to the provost, concerning the course that Akella “will not teach.” The provost rejected Akella’s request. The Senate denied Akella’s grievance.Akella did not appear to teach the scheduled course in March 2016, which had about 80 enrolled students. A committee tasked with reviewing a disciplinary complaint and Akella’s response unanimously rejected Akella's argument that the workload policy limited the chair’s authority to assign more than three courses and recommended disciplinary action. The provost agreed. After a formal hearing, the chancellor adopted a committee report rejecting Akella’s arguments and recommending a 15 percent annual salary reduction for one year and a letter of censure to Akella’s personnel file. The superior court ruled in Akella’s favor. The court of appeal reversed. Substantial evidence in the record supported the university’s decision. View "Akella v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law