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Hope Dicampli-Mintz v. County of Santa Clara et al

December 6, 2012

HOPE DICAMPLI-MINTZ, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Court: Superior County: Santa Clara Judge: William J. Elfving Super. Ct. No. 1-07 CV 089159 Ct. App. 6 H034160

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

Santa Clara County

Government Code*fn1 section 915, subdivision (a) (section 915(a)), establishes the manner of delivery of a claim against the government. It requires that a claim be presented to a local public entity by "[d]elivering it to the clerk, secretary or auditor," or by mailing it to one of these officials "or to the governing body." Section 915, subdivision (e) (section 915(e)), further provides that a misdirected claim "shall be deemed to have been presented in compliance" with section 915 if "[i]t is actually received by the clerk, secretary, auditor or board of the local public entity." (§ 915(e)(1), italics added.)

Here, the Court of Appeal held that "a claim may substantially comply with the act, notwithstanding failure to deliver or mail it to one of the specified recipients, if it is given to a person or department whose functions include the management or defense of claims against the defendant entity." We reject this judicial expansion of the statutory requirements and affirm that a claim must satisfy the express delivery provisions language of the statute.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 4, 2006, Dr. Bao-Thuong Bui and Dr. Abraham Sklar performed surgery on plaintiff Hope DiCampli-Mintz at Valley Medical Center (VMC), a hospital owned and operated by the County of Santa Clara (the County). In the recovery room, plaintiff complained of pain in her left leg, which appeared bluish and cold to the touch. An emergency tomography disclosed that her "left iliac artery" was "completely interrupted." Plaintiff was returned to surgery and ultimately discharged.

Later that year, plaintiff went to VMC's emergency department "in a great deal of pain." An emergency room physician told her that another procedure was required because blood vessels had been damaged in the first surgery.

Plaintiff retained counsel who prepared a letter for transmission to VMC, Dr. Bui, and Dr. Sklar, giving "notice, in accordance with Section 364 of the Code of Civil Procedure, that Hope DiCampli-Mintz will file suit against you for damages resulting from the personal injury of Hope DiCampli-Mintz." Code of Civil Procedure section 364 requires that a plaintiff give notice of an intent to sue to a health care provider 90 days before filing a negligence action.*fn2 The letter stated that defendants negligently performed surgery, interrupting blood flow to plaintiff's leg, then failed to repair the problem.
On April 3, 2007, plaintiff's counsel personally delivered copies of the letter to an employee of the medical staffing office in the hospital's administration building. The letters were addressed to the Risk Management Department at VMC, Dr. Bui, and Dr. Sklar.*fn3 While the letter included a request that it be forwarded to the recipient's insurance carrier, it did not request that it be forwarded to any of the statutorily designated recipients denoted in section 915.
It is undisputed that the letter was never personally served or presented, nor was it mailed to the county clerk or the clerk of the board. The parties likewise agree that plaintiff knew VMC was owned and operated by the County. The letter was later received by the Santa Clara County Risk Management Department by April 6, 2007.*fn4 On April 23, 2007, Dave Schoendaler at the County's Risk Management Department spoke with plaintiff's counsel by telephone. According to plaintiff's counsel, Schoendaler acknowledged receipt of the letter; orally opined that service on VMC required a tort claim which was late; questioned whether a tort claim was required as to Dr. Sklar and Dr. Bui and indicated that he would look into that; stated that plaintiff had an interesting case; mentioned a physical condition that put plaintiff at risk; and provided the name of the attorney handling the County's defense. Schoendaler did not mention that the letter failed to satisfy section 915's delivery requirements. Plaintiff never received written notice that her claim was untimely or presented to the wrong party.

On July 2, 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint naming Dr. Bui, Dr. Sklar, and VMC as defendants. As described by the Court of Appeal, "The complaint acknowledged that 'Plaintiff was required to comply with . . . [government claims statutes],' but asserted she was 'excused' from doing so because defendants 'failed to provide notice to Plaintiff as required by Government Code §§ 910.8, 911, 911.3, and therefore waived any defenses they may have had to the sufficiency of Plaintiff's claim (Notice of Intention to Commence Action) as presented.' "*fn5

On August 29, 2007, the County*fn6 filed an answer denying plaintiff's allegations and asserting affirmative defenses, including that plaintiff "failed to comply with the provisions of the California [Government] Claims Act," and that her claims were "barred by the provisions of Government Code §§ 810 through 1000, inclusive."*fn7

The County filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that plaintiff failed to comply with the Government Claims Act because her claim was never presented to or received by a statutorily designated recipient as required by section 915. In opposition, plaintiff argued that she had "substantially complied" with the Government Claims Act on April 3, 2007, by delivering the letter of intent to the Risk Management Department at VMC. She also alleged that the letter was received by the Santa Clara County Risk Management Department by April 6, 2007, and that this department was the county department most directly involved with the processing and defense of tort claims against the County.

The trial court granted the County's summary judgment motion. It held that the County made a sufficient showing of noncompliance, and that plaintiff could not avoid summary judgment because she failed to "raise a reasonable inference that her claim was actually received by the clerk, secretary, auditor or board of the local public entity within the time prescribed for presentation thereof" and she also failed to "establish waiver and/or equitable estoppel."

The Court of Appeal reversed. It found that plaintiff had "substantially complied" with the presentation requirements of the Government Claims Act. The Court of Appeal rejected other Court of Appeal cases holding that compliance is deemed satisfied only by actual receipt by the statutorily designated persons, under section 915(e)(1).

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Government ...


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