Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Objectors challenged the adequacy of an environmental impact report (EIR) for the long-range development plan for the University of California, Berkeley through the 2036-2037 academic year and the university’s immediate plan to build student housing on the site of People’s Park, a historic landmark and the well-known locus of political activity and protest.The court of appeal remanded. The court rejected arguments that the EIR was required to analyze an alternative to the long-range development plan that would limit student enrollment; that the EIR improperly restricted the geographic scope of the plan to the campus and nearby properties, excluding several more distant properties; and that the EIR failed to adequately assess and mitigate environmental impacts related to population growth and displacement of existing residents. However, the EIR failed to justify the decision not to consider alternative locations to the People’s Park project and failed to assess potential noise impacts from student parties in residential neighborhoods near campus, a longstanding problem. The court noted that its decision does not require the abandonment of the People’s Park project and that the California Environmental Quality Act allows an agency to approve a project, even if the project will cause significant environmental harm if the agency discloses the harm and makes required findings. View "Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California" on Justia Law

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The California Public Employment Relations Board (Board) refused to file an unfair labor practice complaint on behalf of plaintiff Rebecca Wu, a substitute teacher representing herself in propria persona, against real party in interest Twin Rivers United Educators (Union), a teachers’ union. In her unfair practice charge filed with the Board, Wu alleged the Union breached its duty to represent her in her claim against Twin Rivers Unified School District (School District), wherein she claimed to be misclassified as a substitute teacher. The Board declined to file a complaint against the Union based on Wu’s charge because Wu, as a substitute teacher, was not entitled to union representation given that substitute teachers were excluded from representation by virtue of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the School District. Wu argued she had a constitutional right to union representation as a misclassified teacher and as a substitute teacher. She further argued she had a statutory right to representation by the Union that could not be circumvented by a collective bargaining agreement. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Wu that she had a constitutional or statutory right to representation by the Union as an alleged misclassified employee or as a substitute teacher. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "Wu v. Public Employment Relations Bd." on Justia Law

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An assistant professor at a California public university submitted four articles on topics in her field of study to various academic journals unaffiliated with her university. All four of those articles were later either retracted or corrected by the journals, at least in part due to inaccurate references or text overlap from uncited sources. Soon after that, the professor left her position at the university. A third party investigating the article retractions sent the university a request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) seeking certain postpublication communications between the professor, the university, and the journals regarding the retracted articles. The university determined the requested documents were subject to disclosure; the professor disagreed, filed a petition for writ of mandate, and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent disclosure. The trial court denied the professor’s motion for preliminary injunction, concluding she had not met her burden of establishing a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeal affirmed: the requested communications qualified as public records under the CPRA, and the professor did not establish the records are otherwise exempt from disclosure. View "Iloh v. The Regents of the U. of Cal." on Justia Law

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Natomas Unified School District (the District) expelled a student, I.O., under its discretionary authority. At an expulsion hearing, the District heard evidence that I.O. brought two unloaded BB guns and a sealed bag of plastic BBs to his middle school, showed the guns to two friends, and fired one of the unloaded guns at the ground. The District also heard evidence that one of the friends who saw the guns feared testifying at the expulsion hearing because I.O. and his mother had asked the student’s family to speak about I.O.’s character. Based on this evidence, the District found I.O. unlawfully intimidated a witness. It further found he should be expelled. It reasoned that he committed an expellable offense in possessing the BB guns and posed a continuing danger to himself or others—a conclusion it reached after preventing I.O. from presenting character witnesses and excluding his evidence tending to show his classmates did not believe he posed a danger. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment in the District’s favor, finding (1) the District’s “continuing danger” finding was flawed; and (2) the District’s witness intimidation finding was flawed. View "Natomas Unified School etc. v. Sacramento County Bd. etc." on Justia Law

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John MM. Doe, by and through his guardian ad litem, C.M. (Doe’s mother), and B.S. (Doe’s father) (collectively real parties in interest), sued petitioner Victor Valley Union High School District (the district) for negligence and other causes of action arising from an alleged sexual assault on Doe while he was a high school student. During discovery, real parties in interest learned video that captured some of the events surrounding the alleged sexual assault had been erased. Real parties in interest moved the superior court for terminating sanctions or, in the alternative, evidentiary and issue sanctions against the district under Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030. The trial court concluded the erasure of the video was the result of negligence, and not intentional wrongdoing, and denied the request for terminating sanctions. However, the court granted the request for evidentiary, issue, and monetary sanctions because it concluded that, even before the lawsuit was filed, the district should have reasonably anticipated the alleged sexual assault would result in litigation and, therefore, the district was under a duty to preserve all relevant evidence including the video. On appeal in the Court of Appeal's original jurisdiction, the district argued the trial court applied the wrong legal standard when it ruled the district had the duty to preserve the video before it was erased and, therefore, that the district was not shielded from sanctions by the safe-harbor provision of section 2023.030(f). After considering real parties in interest's opposition to the petition and the district's reply, the Court of Appeal found the extant record did not support the trial court’s ruling that, at the time the video was erased, the district was on notice that litigation about Doe’s alleged sexual assault was reasonably foreseeable. The Court granted the district's petition and directed the trial court to vacate its sanctions order and reconsider its ruling. View "Victor Valley Union High School Dist. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The California Legislature has required school children to be vaccinated for 10 diseases; COVID-19 was not yet among them. The issue here was whether a school district could require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for both: (1) attending in-person class; and (2) participating in extracurricular activities. The superior court determined there was a “statewide standard for school vaccination,” leaving “no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates.” On independent review, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion and affirmed the judgment. View "Let Them Choose v. San Diego Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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From August 2018 through January 2019, plaintiffs were six-year-old first grade students who attended Maple Elementary School (Maple) within the Hesperia Unified School District (the District). Pedro Martinez worked at Maple as a janitor. Martinez’s position as a janitor did not require him to have any one-on-one contact with the students. Martinez engaged in a variety of activities with the students that plaintiffs characterized as “‘grooming’ activities” that were “designed to lure minor students, including [p]laintiffs, into a false sense of security around him.” Plaintiffs alleged that numerous District employees who were mandated reporters under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), witnessed Martinez’s behavior and did not report it to school officials or to law enforcement, in violation of the District’s policies. In January 2019, the State charged Martinez with numerous felonies involving his alleged sexual abuse of minors. In February 2019, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the District and Martinez, alleging numerous claims arising from Martinez’s alleged sexual abuse of plaintiffs. The trial court was persuaded by the District's argument, concluding that plaintiffs did not adequately plead a negligence cause of action against the District, because they failed to state any facts “establishing that [the] District knew of any prior acts of sexual abuse by Martinez and/or that the District had actual or constructive knowledge that Martinez was abusing [p]laintiffs so as to impose liability upon [the] District.” One month after plaintiffs sought reconsideration, the trial court entered judgment against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that they were not required to plead facts demonstrating that the District had actual knowledge of past sexual abuse by Martinez, and that they otherwise pled sufficient facts to state negligence causes of action against the District. The Court of Appeal agreed with plaintiffs on all of those points. The Court disagreed with plaintiffs' contention that the trial court erred by dismissing their sex discrimination claims under Title IX and California Education Code section 220: plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to constitute actual notice of a violation of Title IX or Education Code section 220. The judgment of dismissal was reversed, the order sustaining the demurrer to the third amended complaint was vacated, and the trial court was directed to enter a new order sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend as to the causes of action under Title IX, Education Code section 220, and the Unruh Civil Rights Act but otherwise overruling the demurrer. View "Roe v. Hesperia Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs K.M., H.R., and M.L. sued the Grossmont Union High School District (the District) for negligence based on alleged sexual abuse by their high school drama teacher, James Chatham. They also asserted sexual harassment claims under California Civil Code section 51.9, to which the District successfully demurred. The District made Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers, which Plaintiffs did not accept. The case proceeded to a jury trial, where the trial court excluded certain evidence and mistakenly included Plaintiffs in an oral jury instruction regarding apportionment of fault. Plaintiffs prevailed, and the jury assigned 60 percent of fault to Chatham, and 40 percent to the District, with resulting damage awards lower than the section 998 offers. The parties moved to tax each other’s costs. The trial court ruled the offers were invalid, granted Plaintiffs’ motion, and denied the District’s motion in pertinent part. Both parties appealed. The California Legislature later enacted Assembly Bill No. 218 which amended Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, to reduce procedural barriers for childhood sexual abuse claims, and to allow treble damages for a claim involving a prior cover- up of abuse. Plaintiffs sought a new trial, contending they were entitled to pursue treble damages, and that the trial court erred by sustaining the demurrers to their sexual harassment claims, excluding certain evidence, and giving the erroneous oral jury instruction. The District argued the trial court wrongly determined its Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were invalid. The Court of Appeal concluded the treble damages provision in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 was neither retroactive, nor applicable to public school districts. The Court further concluded Plaintiffs did not establish they could pursue sexual harassment claims against the District under Civil Code section 51.9. The parties do not establish reversible error on the other asserted grounds, either. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment and postjudgment orders. View "K.M. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and the Committee of Credentials of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Committee) appealed a judgment and peremptory writ of prohibition directing them to discontinue certain investigative proceedings against present and former public school administrators Kathy Little, Simone Kovats, and Debra Sather (together, the administrators). The Committee commenced an initial review of the administrators’ fitness to continue as credential holders in 2019. Nonparty John Villani was a special education teacher employed by the District between 2011 and 2014. Villani sued the District in 2016 alleging the District unlawfully retaliated against him after he reported that a teacher-aide, David Yoder, was “grooming” and paying inappropriate attention to some of the minor students in his care. Yoder was subsequently charged and convicted of several felony sex offenses against minors, including an offense against one of the aforementioned students. As relevant here, Villani’s lawsuit also alleged the administrators ignored his concerns about Yoder. The Commission learned about Villani’s lawsuit from a news article; the Commission thereafter launched its investigation. The administrators objected to the manner in which the Commission had obtained documents and information from Villani and argued the Committee had not established jurisdiction to review their credentials. The administrators demanded the Commission cease the investigation and the Committee drop the scheduled meetings. The Commission and Committee argued the trial court erred in ruling the administrators were excused from exhausting administrative remedies and misinterpreted Education Code section 44242.5, which defined the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and writ. View "Little v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Poway Unified School District (the District) constructed a new elementary school. The $82 million project was funded primarily by special tax bonds paid for by homeowners in local communities. Approximately four years later, following the passage of Proposition 51, the District received reimbursement funds from the State of California ($27,672,923). The District allocated a small portion to retire local bonds but used a larger amount toward new high priority outlay expenditures. Two homeowners, Albert Bates and Bridget Denihan, disagreed with the District’s fund allocation decision and filed a petition for a writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court denied all relief and entered a judgment in the District’s favor. On appeal, the Homeowners contended California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 1859.90.5 and Education Code section 17070.631 required the District to allocate all newly acquired “State Funds” toward retiring the local bonds, unless it could prove there was a savings during construction (but there was none). The Court of Appeal concluded the Homeowners’ arguments had merit, and reversed the judgment. View "Bates v. Poway Unified School Dist." on Justia Law