92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1
K.J., Plaintiff and Appellant,
ARCADIA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant and Respondent.
Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Three.
April 7, 2009.
[172 Cal.App.4th 1233]
Law Office of Sohaila Sagheb, Sohaila Sagheb; and George Rosenberg for Plaintiff and Appellant.
McCune & Harber, Dana John McCune and Joseph W. Cheung for Defendant and Respondent.
KLEIN, P. J. —
Plaintiff and appellant K.J. (K.J.) appeals a judgment of dismissal following the sustaining without leave of a demurrer interposed by defendant and respondent Arcadia Unified School District (the District) to K.J.’s first amended complaint.
The government claims statutes (Gov. Code, § 900 et seq.)1 require that before suing a public entity, a plaintiff must present a claim to the public entity no later than six months after the cause of action accrues. (§ 911.2.) The essential issue presented is whether K.J. properly pled she filed a timely claim with the District prior to filing suit.
(1) When a plaintiff sues a public entity following the denial of a tort claim for childhood sexual abuse, the statute of limitations is the standard six-month period set forth in section 945.6, not the extended statute of limitations found in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1. However, the issue in this case is not the statute of limitations, but rather the date the cause of action accrued. The accrual date for presenting a government tort claim is identical to the accrual date that would apply in an ordinary action when no public entity is involved. (§ 901; Shirk v. Vista Unified School Dist. (2007) 42 Cal.4th 201, 208-209 [64 Cal.Rptr.3d 210, 164 P.3d 630] (Shirk).)
(2) Under the delayed discovery doctrine, accrual of a cause of action is postponed until the plaintiff discovers, or has reason to discover, the cause of action. (Norgart v. Upjohn Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 383, 397 [87 Cal.Rptr.2d 453, 981 P.2d 79] (Norgart); Curtis T. v. County of Los Angeles (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 1405, 1418 [21 Cal.Rptr.3d 208] (Curtis T.); V.C. v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 499, 515 [43 Cal.Rptr.3d 103] (V.C.).)
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(3) Here, K.J. alleged the perpetrator exploited her age of minority, vulnerability and confidence to seduce her into an unlawful and harmful sexual relationship, she believed she was in love with him and that he had done nothing wrong, and she lacked a real awareness that she had been victimized until July 2007, when she gained that insight through psychotherapy. These allegations are sufficient to invoke the delayed discovery rule of accrual. Therefore, for pleading purposes, K.J. adequately alleged she presented a timely claim to the District in September 2007, two months after she realized in July 2007 that she had been the victim of a molestation.
Accordingly, the judgment is reversed and the matter is remanded to the trial court with directions to reinstate the first amended complaint.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
After commencing this action on January 16, 2008, K.J. filed the operative first amended complaint on May 12, 2008. The named defendants are Phillip Sutliff (Sutliff), who was the alleged perpetrator, as well as the District.2
1. K.J.’s allegations.
K.J. pled a single cause of action against the District for its negligent supervision of Sutliff. (§ 815.2.)3 K.J. alleged in relevant part:
She attended Arcadia High School as a student. In September 2003, at the time she was a 15-year-old sophomore, Sutliff, a popular teacher in his 30’s, began a campaign of seducing her. She turned 16 in December 2003. Sutliff gave K.J. her first kiss and a sexual relationship began at or near that time. All their encounters occurred in Sutliff’s classroom, during school hours, usually at lunchtime or immediately before sixth period, when they were to report to the soccer field and had several minutes between fifth and sixth periods. The District allowed Sutliff to maintain blinds for the windows and a couch in his room, which allowed for security and comfort.
The District knew Sutliff had used e-mail to communicate with female students in the past and had warned him not to continue said conduct. Parents
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of at least one other female student had complained to the school regarding excessive and late night e-mail communications between Sutliff and their daughter. Although Sutliff had been warned by school authorities to cease such communication, there had been no followup monitoring of his activities.
At no time during her minority did K.J. disclose her relationship with Sutliff to her parents.
During her senior year, in December 2005, K.J. turned 18 years of age.
In July 2006, after graduation, K.J. disclosed her relationship with Sutliff to her mother. The disclosure was made because Sutliff’s wife had learned of the affair. Sutliff told K.J. he could no longer carry on the relationship. Feeling devastated by the end of the relationship, K.J. sought comfort from her mother. K.J.’s mother wanted to disclose the relationship to the police but feared that K.J. would commit suicide if she did so. K.J. agreed to undergo counseling in exchange for her mother’s promise not to report Sutliff’s illegal conduct.
However, as an employee of the District and as a mandatory reporter,4 the mother no longer could keep the secret once the school year began. The mother then reported Sutliff’s illegal conduct and he was arrested in October 2006.
Even after Sutliff’s arrest, K.J. “believed that she was in love with [him] and that he had done nothing wrong. Through a friend, [K.J.] sent a message to Sutliff promising that she was not the one who had turned him in and that everything was going to be okay because her parents would not testify against him.” (Italics added.)
Sutliff pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
K.J. continued in therapy and in July 2007, she realized that she had been victimized by Sutliff.
Two months after that realization, in September 2007, K.J. presented a government tort claim to the District, which claim was denied as untimely. K.J. specifically pled that pursuant to the delayed discovery rule, the tort claim was timely because the cause of action did not accrue until July 2007, when K.J. knew or had reason to know she had been injured.
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In sum, K.J. pled a cause of action against the District for its negligent supervision of Sutliff, and further, that the lawsuit was preceded by the presentation of a timely tort claim to the District.
2. The District’s demurrer.
The District demurred, asserting the complaint failed to allege facts demonstrating compliance with the claims statute and therefore no cause of action was stated against the District. The District contended K.J. was responsible for presenting a timely tort claim by June 2006, six months after reaching the age of majority. Alternatively, the date of accrual occurred on the date K.J. ceased to be under the District’s supervision, which would have been on or about her graduation, before July 2006. Under either accrual date, the September 17, 2007 tort claim was untimely.
The District further argued K.J. failed to allege she applied to the District for leave to present a late claim; due to K.J.’s failure to file a timely tort claim and failure to make application for leave to present a late claim, K.J. had not complied with the claims statute, so as to bar her action against the District.
In addition, the District contended the delayed discovery rule was inapplicable because K.J., not her mother, presented the tort claim; if a parent presents a claim on behalf of a minor, it is the knowledge of the parent, rather than that of the minor, which starts the time of accrual. However, the complaint reflected K.J. was an adult for about 21 months before she presented the tort claim on her own behalf.
Further, even assuming the delayed discovery rule was applicable, K.J. alleged she told her mother in July 2006 about the inappropriate relationship and that Sutliff was arrested in October 2006. Therefore, notwithstanding K.J.’s allegation she did not comprehend her psychological damage until July 2007, both K.J. and her mother knew by October 2006 at the latest that Sutliff’s conduct toward K.J. was injurious.
3. Trial court’s ruling.
On July 2, 2008, the matter came on for hearing. The trial court sustained the District’s demurrer without leave to amend, stating: “[K.J.] has failed to file a timely Government Tort Claim with the District. [K.J.], as an adult, presented her Government Tort Claim more than a year and a half after she turned the age of majority, more than a year after graduating from high school, and eleven months after the arrest of defendant Sutliff.”
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4. The appeal.
K.J. filed a timely notice of appeal from the judgment of dismissal.
Plaintiff contends she duly pled she filed a timely government tort claim in that she alleged she filed a claim within six months of her realization, as a result of psychotherapy as well as the passage of time and distance from Sutliff, that she had been victimized by him.
1. Standard of appellate review.
In determining whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim for relief, “our standard of review is clear: `”We treat the demurrer as admitting all material facts properly pleaded, but not contentions, deductions or conclusions of fact or law. [Citation.] We also consider matters which may be judicially noticed.” [Citation.] Further, we give the complaint a reasonable interpretation, reading it as a whole and its parts in their context. [Citation.] When a demurrer is sustained, we determine whether the complaint states facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. [Citation.] And when it is sustained without leave to amend, we decide whether there is a reasonable possibility that…