John R. v. Oakland Unified Sch. Dist.

48 Cal. 3d 438, 256 Cal. Rptr. 766, 769 P.2d 948 (1989)

 

RULE:

A public entity may be estopped from asserting the limitations of Cal. Gov. Code § 900 et seq. where its agents or employees have prevented or deterred the filing of a timely claim by some affirmative act. Estoppel most commonly results from misleading statements about the need for or advisability of a claim; actual fraud or the intent to mislead is not essential. A fortiori, estoppel may certainly be invoked when there are acts of violence or intimidation that are intended to prevent the filing of a claim.

FACTS:

Appellant student was allegedly molested by a teacher. Appellants, the student and his parents, sued both the teacher and respondent school district under Cal. Gov. Code § 900 et seq, alleging that respondent was vicariously liable for the teacher's acts and also for its own negligence. The trial court dismissed on demurrer and ruled that there was nonsuit for the other causes of action since the student failed to comply with the claims requirement of the statute relied upon. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's entry of a nonsuit, holding that appellants' claim was timely under the "delayed discovery" doctrine, and reversed the trial court's sustaining of respondent's demurrer, holding that the facts pleaded could allow a finding that respondent was vicariously responsible for the tort of its employee because his misconduct was made possible by abuse of his official authority.

ISSUE:

Can the running of time indicated under Cal. Gov. Code § 900 et seq for the filing of the Complaint be tolled by any period in which the complainant was prevented from filing suit by violence or intimidation by the teacher?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court affirmed the judgment that appellants should be permitted to show that the suit was timely under the principle of equitable estoppel. For purposes of applying the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the time for filing a claim against the district was tolled during any period in which the teacher's threats prevented the student from pursuing his claim, and thus whether the district was estopped from asserting the student's failure to comply with the claims requirements was a question of fact for the trial court on remand. The court reversed the order reversing the grant of respondent's demurrer, and held that the doctrine of respondeat superior was not applicable and that respondent could not be held vicariously responsible for the teacher's tortious acts, although it could be liable for its own negligence in hiring and supervising the teacher.

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