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K.J. v. Arcadia Unified School Dist.

April 7, 2009; as modified May 5, 2009


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Jan A. Pluim, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. GC040211).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: 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.)*fn1 require that before suing a public entity, the 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.

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 (Shirk).)

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 (Norgart); Curtis T. v. County of Los Angeles (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 1405, 1418 (Curtis T.); V.C. v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 499, 515 (V.C.).)

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.*fn2

Accordingly, the judgment is reversed and the matter is remanded to the trial court with directions to reinstate the first amended complaint.


1. Proceedings

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.*fn3

a. K.J.'s Allegations

K.J. pled a single cause of action against the District for its negligent supervision of Sutliff. (§ 815.2.)*fn4 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 thirties, 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 period. 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 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 follow-up 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,*fn5 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.

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 ...

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