(Super. Ct. No. CIV660360) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Stanislaus County. William A. Mayhew, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Franson, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
In California, a public entity is not liable for damages unless a
statute provides for it. (Gov. Code, § 815, subd. (a).)*fn1
Public entity tort liability is statutory. (Peterson v.
San Francisco Community College Dist. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 799, 809.)
Under the California Government Claims Act (§ 810 et seq.), with some
exceptions, a suit for damages may not be brought against a public
entity unless a written claim has been presented to the public entity
and has been totally or partially denied by that entity's governing
board, or has been deemed rejected by the board due to the board's
failure to act upon it within a specified time. (§ 945.4.) A claim
must be presented within a statutory deadline, usually within six
months of accrual of a cause of action. (§ 911.2, subd. (a).) If the
six-month deadline is not met, an application to the public entity for
leave to present a late claim may be made. (§ 915, subd. (a).) That
application must be presented to the public entity within a reasonable
time not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action,
and shall state the reason for the delay in presenting the claim. (§
911.4, subd. (b).) The board shall grant or deny the application for
leave within 45 days after it is presented to the board, or within
such further time as the parties may agree in writing before the
expiration of the 45-day period. (§ 911.6, subd. (a).) If the board
fails or refuses to act on the application for leave to present a late
claim, the application is deemed denied on the 45th day or the last
day specified in the written extension agreement of the parties. (§
911.6, subd. (c).)
The matter presently before us involves the next step in the tort claim process after a board has denied an application for leave to present a late claim. Section 911.8, a statute at issue in this case, states that "[w]ritten notice of the board's action upon the application [for leave] shall be given [to the appropriate party] ...." (§ 911.8, subd. (a).) The statute further provides that "[i]f the application is denied, the notice shall include a warning" advising the applicant that "[i]f you wish to file a court action on this matter, you must first petition the appropriate court for an order relieving you from the provisions of Government Code Section 945.4 (claims presentation requirement)" and that "[s]uch petition must be filed with the court within six (6) months from the date your application for leave to present a late claim was denied." (§ 911.8, subd. (b).)
This six-month limitation is codified in section 946.6, subdivision (b)(3), which states in pertinent part: "The petition [for an order relieving the petitioner from the section 945.4 claims presentation requirement] shall be filed within six months after the application to the board is denied or deemed to be denied pursuant to Section 911.6."
In this case, appellant D.C. presented his application for leave to
present a late claim to respondent Oakdale Joint Unified School
District (the School District) on or about April 28, 2010.*fn2
On June 9, 43 days from April 28, the School District
sent appellant's counsel a rejection notice stating "[t]he application
for leave to present a late claim that you filed with the Oakdale
Joint Unified School District on behalf of [D.C.] ... was denied by
the Board of Trustees." On December 3, less than six months after
June 9, appellant filed a section 946.6 petition in superior court for
an order relieving him of the claims filing requirements. The School
District's opposition to the petition argued that appellant's petition
was untimely. The opposition included a declaration from the
superintendent of the School District stating that appellant's
application for leave to present a late claim had been denied by the
School District's Board of Trustees at their regular meeting on May
10. The superior court agreed with the School District that because
December 3, was more than six months after the Board of Trustees' May
10, rejection of appellant's application, appellant's superior court
petition for relief from the section 945.4 claims filing requirements
was untimely. The court therefore denied the petition.*fn3
In this case we hold that in order to constitute "[w]ritten notice of the board's action upon the application" as described in section 911.8, subdivision (a) the document purporting to be "written notice of the board's action" must include the date on which the board's action was taken. As we shall explain, that is what we conclude the Legislature meant by its use of the word "notice." We also hold that, under the circumstances of this case, appellant should be permitted to plead and attempt to prove that respondents are estopped from asserting the section 946.6, subdivision (b), six-month limitation as a defense to his petition for relief from the claims filing requirements.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The claims appellant has attempted to present to the School District and the Office of Education pertain to those entities' alleged mishandling of his behavioral difficulties when he was a six-year-old student in the School District in 2009. As we have already mentioned, appellant presented an application for leave to present late claims to these two entities on or about April 28.
On June 9, the School District sent appellant's counsel a letter, which stated in its entirety (minus its address, salutation and closing):
"The application for leave to present a late claim that you filed with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District on behalf of [D.C.] ... was denied by the Board of Trustees.
"WARNING: If you wish to file a court action on this matter, you must first petition the appropriate court for an order relieving you from the provisions of Government Code section 945.4, claims presentation requirement. See Government Code section 946.6. Such petition must be filed with the court within six (6) ...