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California Court of Appeal Refuses to Loosen the Claim Filing Requirements of the Government Claims Act

In Olson v. Manhattan Beach Unified School District, appellant challenged the trial court’s dismissal of his Second Amendment complaint against the Manhattan Beach Unified School District and its superintendent (together: MBUSD) for failure to comply with the claim filing requirements of the Government Claims Act. Appellant contended his noncompliance was excused under the doctrines of: 1) substantial compliance, 2) “claim as presented” and 3) futility.

The Second District Court of Appeal rejected appellant’s arguments, affirming the trial court’s dismissal of appellant’s compliant on the basis that appellant failed to comply with the requirements of the Government Claims Act and that appellant’s noncompliance was not excused. [Olson v. Manhattan Beach Unified School District et al., ___Cal.App.5th___, Case No. B272340 (2nd Dist. Nov. 29, 2017).]


Factual and Procedural Background

Appellant was an MBUSD employee who served as a history teacher and head baseball coach for Mira Costa High School. In 2012, parents of some players on the Mira Costa baseball team filed a complaint with MBUSD about appellant’s alleged bullying-type behavior. MBUSD investigated the allegations and issued a report summarizing the results. The investigative report included both positive and negative comments about appellant’s behavior. However it ultimately concluded the claims of abuse were unfounded and that appellant be retained as the baseball coach, but that he be counseled on coaching expectations and demeanor.

MBUSD’s superintendent thereafter allegedly rewrote the report, omitting the investigators’ recommendation and some favorable comments. Then, MBUSD prohibited appellant for approximately three months from attending baseball games or practices or having contact with players after 3 pm. Local media outlets reported that appellant was being accused of mistreating baseball players, but MBUSD did nothing to refute the story or offer any contrary information. Appellant, through his union, Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers’ Association (MBUTA), requested that MBUSD make the original report available under the Public Records Act, but MBUSD allegedly denied that the report existed.

In March 2013, the parents filed a complaint with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), asserting that MBUSD had not disciplined appellant properly and that he should be dismissed. The CTC initiated an investigation, requesting that MBUSD produce all relevant documents. MBUSD only produced the revised report. CTC recommended that appellant’s teaching certificate be suspended for 30 days.

In March 2014, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MBUTA and MBUSD, appellant filed a grievance against MBUSD alleging violations of the CBA. Generally, that appellant was unfairly disciplined based on faulty information from a non-contractual evaluation, and that MBUSD allowed it to happen. Further, that as a result, appellant’s credentials had been suspended for 30 days and he has suffered the loss of 6 months’ salary, benefits and reputation.

In August 2014, appellant met with MBUSD’s superintendent to discuss settlement, where he requested that MBUSD write a letter to CTC clearing appellant of any wrongdoing. When the superintendent refused, appellant responded “this is why I have to keep fighting this.”

Appellant filed suit, asserting that MBUSD’s revision of the investigators’ report and its production of the revised report to CTC constituted defamation and deceit. MBUSD demurred to the complaint on the ground that it was devoid of any facts showing that appellant had complied with or was excused from complying with the claim presentation requirements of the Government Claims Act.


The Court of Appeal’s Decision

The Government Claims Act requires the timely presentation of a claim for money or damages to a public entity prior to filing suit against that entity. Failure to do so bars the claim. It was undisputed that appellant never filed a claim with MBUSD on a government claim form. However, appellant argued he was excused from filing the claim under the doctrines of: 1) substantial compliance, 2) “claim as presented” and 3) futility. The court rejected appellant’s contentions and affirmed dismissal of his complaint.



Filing of the Grievance and the Claims Act

The first argument advanced by appellant was that his filing of a grievance substantially complied with the claim filing requirements. Under the doctrine of substantial compliance, a claim may be valid if it substantially complies with all of the statutory requirements for a valid claim even though it is technically deficient in one or more particulars. However, where there is a complete failure to serve any responsible officer of the entity, the doctrine does not apply. Appellant had not alleged that it served or attempted to serve a claim on any responsible officer of MBUSD, and therefore the court found appellant’s claim was barred. Even assuming the grievance could be deemed to constitute a claim, the court found it failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the Government Claims Act, as set forth in Government Code section 910.



‘Claim as Presented’ Argument

The second argument advanced by appellant was that the instant matter involved a “claim as presented.” A “claim as presented” is a claim that is defective in that it fails to comply substantially with Government Code §§ 910 and 910.2, but nonetheless puts the public entity on notice that the claimant is attempting to file a valid claim and that litigation will result if it is not paid or otherwise resolved. The court rejected the argument because the grievance did not threaten litigation. Furthermore, at best, the grievance described a breach of contract claim, and not defamation and deceit claims as alleged in appellant’s complaint.



Futility Argument

The final argument advanced by appellant was that he was excused from filing a government claim because it would have been futile, as it was evident that MBUSD would deny his claim. Futility is an exception to exhaustion of administrative remedies. The court found it was not applicable to the claim-filing requirement of the Government Claims Act.


Conclusion and Implications

With this decision, the court made clear it was not willing to loosen the requirements of the Government Claims Act. Claimants must first properly present a claim to the public entity prior to pursuing an action in court. The court’s decision is accessible online at:

(Giselle Roohparvar)