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Moghadam v. Regents of the University of California

December 19, 2008

RAFI MOGHADAM, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEALS from a judgment and an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Patricia L. Collins, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SC083696).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzukawa, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff and appellant Rafi Moghadam (plaintiff) brought the present action against the Regents of the University of California (Regents) and nine of its officers and employees (collectively, defendants) for alleged violations of the Information Practices Act, Civil Code section 1798 et seq. (IPA or Act).*fn2 The IPA is a privacy statute that, among other things, limits the kinds of personal information that public agencies may maintain, requires agencies to maintain personal information "with accuracy, relevance, timeliness, and completeness," and permits individuals to inspect and request correction of agency-maintained personal information. (§ 1798.18.)

The core of plaintiff's claim is that defendants refused to allow him to inspect and obtain copies of some of his midterm and final exams. Among his many other claims, he also alleges that defendants destroyed some of his exams after he asked to inspect them, maintained inaccurate and irrelevant information in his university records, failed to designate an IPA compliance officer, failed to properly safeguard the privacy of student exams, and failed to promulgate appropriate directives to ensure university-wide compliance with the IPA.

The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding principally that plaintiff had not introduced any evidence that he suffered harm as a result of defendants' alleged IPA violations. After judgment was entered, the court declared defendants the prevailing parties and awarded them costs pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1032. Plaintiff appeals from both the judgment and the cost award.

In the published portion of this opinion, we conclude that student exams are not "records" containing "personal information" within the meaning of the IPA. Defendants' alleged refusal to allow plaintiff to inspect or copy some of his exams, thus, does not violate the IPA as a matter of law. In the unpublished portion of this opinion, we conclude that plaintiff failed to introduce evidence that any of the other alleged IPA violations had an adverse effect on him; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by any of its pretrial rulings; and the trial court did not err in denying plaintiff's motion to tax costs. We thus affirm both the judgment and the cost award.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

I. Plaintiff's Prior IPA Action

Plaintiff filed an action under the IPA on November 1, 2002, against the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA or University); Annie Alpers, UCLA's executive academic affairs officer; Stanley J. Schein, a UCLA professor; and Steven W. Strand, UCLA's academic administrative chairman. Plaintiff alleged that defendants had violated the IPA by refusing to give him copies of his Life Science 2 exams, which contained "personally identifiable information," including his name, student identification number, and the results of his performance on the exams. He sought an injunction requiring the University to provide him with copies of his exams and any other "personally identifiable documents that the university may have pertaining to him."

On September 23, 2003, the University gave plaintiff copies of his Life Science 2 exams, and on November 19, 2003, the trial court dismissed the action as moot.

II. The Present Action

A. The Complaint

Plaintiff filed the present action on December 8, 2004, against the Regents; Arnold Schwarzenegger, president of the Board of Regents; Robert C. Dynes, president of the University of California; Albert Carnesale, UCLA's chancellor; Rebecca B. Beatty, UCLA's director of business and administrative services; Lee Ohanian, a UCLA professor; Anita Cotter, UCLA's registrar; and the three individual defendants named in the prior suit. The operative second amended complaint, filed May 6, 2005, asserts 12 causes of action under the IPA: (1) failure to maintain plaintiff's records, in violation of section 1798.18;*fn3 (2) failure to establish appropriate rules of conduct "'for persons involved in the design, development, operation, disclosure, or maintenance of records containing personal information,'" in violation of section 1798.20;*fn4 (3) failure to install safeguards to protect personal records, including student exams (which the complaint alleges are left "in hallways, unguarded and open to unauthorized inspection"), in violation of section 1798.21;*fn5 (4) failure to designate an employee responsible for compliance with the IPA, in violation of section 1798.22;*fn6 (5) failure to adopt guidelines to protect rights under the IPA, particularly as they relate to the release of student exams, in violation of section 1798.30;*fn7 (6) failure to provide plaintiff with the title and business address of the agency official responsible for maintaining his records, the procedures to be followed to gain access to his records, and the procedures to be followed to contest the contents of those records, in violation of section 1798.32;*fn8 (7) failure to allow plaintiff to inspect his personal records, including his exams, in violation of section 1798.34, subdivision (a);*fn9 (8) failure to allow plaintiff to copy his personal records, including his exams, in violation of section 1798.34, subdivision (b);*fn10 (9) failure to decipher coded information in plaintiff's financial aid records, in violation of section 1798.34, subdivision (c);*fn11 (10) failure to allow plaintiff to correct inaccurate data in his personal records, in violation of section 1798.35;*fn12 (11) failure to allow plaintiff to seek a review "by the head of the agency or an official specifically designated by the head of such agency," in violation of section 1798.36;*fn13 and (12) destruction of plaintiff's records, including his exams, in violation of section 1798.77.*fn14

Plaintiff filed an application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on December 8, 2004. The court granted a TRO, but denied plaintiff's subsequent application for a preliminary injunction on February 3, 2005. Plaintiff appealed from the denial of his request for a preliminary injunction; on September 11, 2006, this court dismissed the appeal as moot after the trial court entered judgment for defendants.

B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

On April 19, 2006, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, summary adjudication of issues. Plaintiff opposed the motion.

On July 17, 2006, the day that the summary judgment motion was scheduled to be heard, plaintiff filed an ex parte application for an order shortening time to file a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. In support, plaintiff explained that he wished to amend his complaint to add a cause of action under the free speech provisions of the state and federal Constitutions and to correct errors in his complaint. The trial court denied plaintiff's application, concluding that he had not made a sufficient showing of good cause.

On July 26, 2006, the trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding as follows:

* There was no material evidence that plaintiff had incurred damages resulting from defendants' alleged breaches of the IPA.

* The complaint did not allege any facts suggesting that the individual defendants acted outside the scope of their official capacities, and there was no material evidence of any such conduct.

* As to the first cause of action (alleging a failure to maintain plaintiff's records), there was no material evidence of plaintiff's claim that his records had been maintained in violation of section 1798.18.

* As to the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth causes of action (alleging absence of proper IPA procedures), there were no triable issues of fact to support plaintiff's claims. Specifically, there was no credible evidence to dispute that Rebecca Beatty was UCLA's information practices coordinator or that the Regents had appropriate policies and procedures to protect the privacy, maintenance, and destruction of records. Further, the Regents' policy of discarding exams did not violate section 1798.18, and plaintiff had not proffered any evidence that his exams had been destroyed in violation of IPA policy and procedures or due to the absence of such policies and procedures.

* As to the second, third, and twelfth causes of action (alleging destruction of plaintiff's records), there was no material evidence that the Regents or its agents had destroyed any of plaintiff's records in contravention of section 1798.18.

* As to the seventh and eighth causes of action (alleging failure to give plaintiff access to his personal records), it was undisputed that defendants had given plaintiff access to all of his exams except his Economics 102 exam; as to that exam, there was no material evidence that its loss resulted from violations of section 1798.18. Further, the undisputed evidence established that defendants had provided plaintiff all nonprivileged documents responsive to his October 29, 2003, inspection demand, in compliance with section 1798.34, subdivision (b).

* As to the ninth cause of action (alleging that the financial aid office maintained encrypted information in plaintiff's records), there was no material dispute that the so-called "encrypted" information were staff initials, the use of which did not violate section 1798.34, subdivision (c).

* As to the tenth cause of action (alleging that defendants have refused to amend inaccurate information in plaintiff's records), there was no material evidence that plaintiff had ever identified the allegedly inaccurate records. Further, as to plaintiff's claim that his records did not reflect that he was "IGETC" certified and that this inaccuracy prevented his graduation from the university, there was no material evidence disputing that UCLA had recorded plaintiff's "IGETC" certification on May 19, 2005, or that he had graduated from UCLA effective winter quarter 2005.

* As to the eleventh cause of action (alleging that defendants had prevented plaintiff from obtaining a review by the agency head), there was no material evidence that plaintiff ever established the prerequisite for a review-i.e., an initial refusal by the agency to amend a record-as required by section 1798.36.

The trial court entered judgment on August 17, 2006. Plaintiff filed this timely appeal from judgment on October 5, 2006 (B194314).

C. Plaintiff's Motion to Tax Costs

After judgment was entered, defendants filed a memorandum of costs, requesting $13,242. Plaintiff moved to tax costs on the grounds that: (1) defendants were not the prevailing parties; (2) defendants' costs memorandum was unverified; and (3) defendants' costs were excessive and not reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation.

The motion to tax costs was heard on November 6, 2006. The court found that defendants failed to establish that plaintiff had requested a Farsi interpreter at his deposition, and it thus deducted interpreter's fees of $4,210. It overruled plaintiff's other objections and awarded defendants costs of $9,032. Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal from the costs award on January 2, 2007 (B196120).

DISCUSSION

I. The Trial Court Properly Granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

A. Standard of Review

The standard of review for summary judgment is well established. The motion "shall be granted if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A moving defendant has met its burden of showing that a cause of action has no merit by establishing that one or more elements of a cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849-850; Lackner v. North (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1188, 1196.)

We independently review an order granting summary judgment, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. (Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400 (2001) 25 Cal.4th 763, 768; Lackner v. North, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1196.) To perform our independent review of the evidence, "we apply the same three-step analysis as the trial court. First, we identify the issues framed by the pleadings. Next, we determine whether the moving party has established facts justifying judgment in its favor. Finally, if the moving party has carried its initial burden, we decide whether the opposing party has demonstrated the existence of a triable, material fact issue." (Chavez v. Carpenter (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1433, 1438.) "'If, in deciding this appeal, we find there is no issue of material fact, we affirm the summary judgment if it is correct on any legal ground applicable to this case, whether that ground was the legal theory adopted by the trial court or not, and whether it was raised by defendant in the trial court or first addressed on appeal. [Citation.]'" (Medill v. Westport Ins. Corp. (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 819, 827-828; see also WRI Opportunity Loans II, LLC v. Cooper (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 525, 541, fn. 12 ["absent a triable issue of material fact, we may affirm the grant of summary judgment 'if it is correct on any theory of law applicable to the case, including but not limited to the theory adopted by the trial court'"].)However, before affirming on a ground not relied on by the trial court, we must afford the parties an opportunity to present their views by submitting supplemental briefs. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (m)(2).)

B. The Information Practices Act

As noted above, each of plaintiff's 12 causes of action alleged a violation of the IPA. "'The Information Practices Act, enacted in 1977, generally imposes limitations on the right of governmental agencies to disclose personal information about an individual. (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith v. Superior Court (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1072, 1078-1079; Nicholson v. McClatchy Newspapers (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 509, 514, fn. 2.) "The statute was designed by the Legislature to prevent misuse of the increasing amount of information about citizens which government agencies amass in the course of their multifarious activities, the disclosure of which could be embarrassing or otherwise prejudicial to individuals or organizations." (Anti-Defamation League of ...


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