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Garcia v. Governing Board of Bellflower Unified School District

California Court of Appeal, Second District, Third Division

October 24, 2013

CHRISTINA GARCIA, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
GOVERNING BOARD OF BELLFLOWER UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Philip H. Hickok, Judge. Affirmed with directions., Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. VC060235

Law Offices of Eric Bathen, Eric J. Bathen and Jordan C. Meyer for Defendant and Appellant.

Reich, Adell & Cvitan, J. David Sackman and Carlos R. Perez for Plaintiff and Respondent.

WE CONCUR: KITCHING, J.ALDRICH, J.

CROSKEY, ACTING P. J.

Bellflower Unified School District (District) appeals an order awarding attorney fees to Christina Garcia as the prevailing party in a proceeding under the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code, § 6250 et seq.) (Act).[1] The District contends Garcia is not the prevailing party because she achieved no significant success and created no public benefit. We conclude that the results that Garcia obtained through this litigation justify the finding that she prevailed. We therefore will affirm the fee order.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Factual Background

Garcia is a former District employee. She filed an extraordinary writ petition against the District in October 2010 relating to her alleged exposure to mold (Garcia v. Bellflower Unified School District, Super. Ct. L.A. County, No. BS127095). Her counsel later served on the District’s counsel in that proceeding, Steven G. Mason, a request for records from the District pursuant to the Act. The letter request was dated August 2, 2011, listed eight categories of requested records, and expressly stated that the records were requested pursuant to the act.

Garcia requested copies of (1) all lawsuits filed within the past five years against the District by its employees alleging exposure to mold and other toxins; (2) all judgments and administrative decisions or awards rendered against the District within the past five years; (3) all documents showing the total amount of attorney fees billed by Mason’s firm to the District in Garcia v. Bellflower Unified School District, supra, No. BS127095; (4) all correspondence and other written documents by members of the public regarding complaints against a particular District administrator within the past five years; (5) all documents relating to complaints concerning mold made within the past five years by District employees or members of the public to state or federal government agencies; (6) all documents concerning any investigation by a government agency relating to mold on District property within the past five years; (7) all charges filed by District employees or former employees with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within the past five years; and (8) all certified transcripts relating to the sworn testimony of two particular individuals within the past five years. Garcia’s counsel received no response to the request.

Garcia’s counsel sent Mason another letter on August 22, 2011, referencing the prior letter and renewing the request for records. He sent the initial request to Mason again as an e-mail attachment on September 9, 2011.

After receiving no response, Garcia’s counsel sent a letter to the District’s superintendent by certified mail on September 14, 2011, together with copies of the two prior letters to Mason. He requested a response within 10 days after the superintendent’s receipt of the letter. He received a letter dated September 23, 2011, from Eric Bathen, the District’s general counsel, responding to each request. The letter stated that there were no documents responsive to requests Nos. 1, 3, 6, and 8, that Nos. 2 and 5 were overly broad and vague and that Nos. 4 and 7 requested documents that were exempt from disclosure.

Garcia’s counsel sent a letter to Bathen dated October 10, 2011, disputing the District’s objections and responses and requesting the production of documents purportedly known by Garcia’s counsel to exist but neither identified nor produced by the District, including documents relating to Garcia’s claim. He also requested assistance in ...


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