Public Entity Claims: Estoppel

By on December 10, 2014 - Comments off

J.J. v. County of San Diego, (Fourth District, February 14, 2014) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1575, 2014 WL 563805

A minor who was sexually molested by her foster father filed a claim against the County of San Diego in 2012, alleging that the County was negligent in placing her in the foster home, and negligent in supervision and/or failure to investigate/prevent sexual abuse in the foster home. The County contended that the claimant had failed to file a timely claim within 6 months of the accrual of her cause of action, because in 2010 she had disclosed the molestation to her parents and County social workers, which led to a police investigation. The County further contended that her cause of action accrued when she was molested in 2009, or at the latest, in early March of 2011 when her parents (after reunification) attended and spoke at the sentencing.

The minor then brought a petition under Government Code section 946.6 for relief from the claim filing requirement of 945.4, alleging that her personal injury cause of action did not accrue until March 2012 when she first obtained  a 2011 San Diego Police Department “Investigator’s Follow-up Report” which for the first time showed the County’s negligence. She also alleged that the County should be estopped from asserting the claims requirement because she was frightened the foster father would kill her and she did not want to be taken away from her parents again, and because she had not yet received the records requested from a children’s center which disclosed the County’s negligence, and she did not want to file a “frivolous and unmeritorious lawsuit” against the County.

The trial court denied the petition and the court of appeal affirmed, holding that the claim accrued at the latest in March of 2011, and that the principles of estoppel and excusable neglect did not apply:

Even if we assume there was evidence in the record showing J.J. at the time of the molestations (i.e., between July & September 2009) lacked a real awareness that R.L.’s sexual abuse was “wrong” and thus that she had been “injured” (citation), and even if we conclude the delayed discovery rule applies to her situation, we nonetheless are constrained to conclude that J.J.’s cause of action for personal injuries accrued at the latest in early March 2011, when her parents appeared and spoke at the sentencing hearing of R.L. (citation) At that point in time, J.J.’s parents clearly were aware of the “‘generic’ elements of wrongdoing, causation and harm” (citation) resulting from R.L.’s molestation of their daughter while in foster care.

Regarding the January 2011 report, we conclude it provides no basis for estoppel against the County as a result of when J.J. (through counsel) obtained this report, inasmuch as we already have concluded the report does not have a material bearing on the accrual issue and, in any event, the record shows J.J. first moved to obtain this report—which was always available to her and her guardian ad litem (citation)—more than six months after her cause of action accrued….

Finally, with regard to the Polinsky Children’s Center records and J.J.’s point that she needed these records to determine whether her lawsuit was meritorious, as noted in footnote 4, we decline to admit this “new” evidence that was at all times available to her on an issue that was thoroughly briefed and considered by the trial court. That said, it appears that J.J. fails to distinguish between when her cause of action accrued and the filing of a claim and preserving her rights against a public entity, on the one hand, and determining whether her lawsuit against that public entity, after timely filing a claim, is viable, on the other hand.

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