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Cuff v. Grossmont Union High School District

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

November 18, 2013

TINA CUFF, Plaintiff and Appellant,
GROSSMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Eddie C. Sturgeon, Judge.No. 37-2010-00071229-CU-NP-EC.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Gordon A. Glenn for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Winet, Patrick & Weaver, Randall L. Winet, Marilyn Perrin and Amelia M. Yurch for Defendants and Respondents.





Plaintiff Tina Cuff appeals from a judgment entered in favor of defendants Grossmont Union High School District (Grossmont) and Susan Saunders after the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.

Cuff filed this action against Grossmont and Saunders after Saunders prepared a written report of suspected child abuse pursuant to provisions of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) (Pen. Code, § 11164

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et seq.), [1] stating that she suspected that Cuff had abused her children, and gave a copy of that report to Cuff's ex-husband, the father of Cuff's children. CANRA provides that these reports shall be confidential, and limits the disclosure of such reports to certain statutorily-identified entities only.

The trial court determined that Saunders and Grossmont were immune from suit arising out of Saunders's conduct, and granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court declined to consider Cuff's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the motion was untimely.

On appeal, Cuff contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, arguing that Saunders is not entitled to immunity for her conduct. Cuff further argues that the trial court incorrectly ruled that her own motion for summary judgment was untimely.

We conclude that Saunders's conduct does not qualify for immunity under the applicable statutes. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court in favor of defendants. However, we affirm the trial court's prejudgment order rejecting Cuff's motion for summary judgment as untimely. The matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.



A. Factual background

Cuff and James Godfrey have two sons, T.G. and D.G. At the time of the relevant incident, T.G. was 13 years old and D.G. was 16 years old.

Cuff and Godfrey began divorce proceedings in 1997. At that time, Cuff was awarded sole legal and physical custody of their sons. In 2001, a few years after their divorce, Cuff made arrangements with Godfrey for him to have regular visitation with the boys.

At some point, Cuff asked Godfrey to move into her home so that he could assist her in taking care of the boys while she was working. Godfrey moved in on a permanent basis as of August 2009.

On October 23, 2009, while Cuff was at work, Godfrey went with the boys to their school, El Capitan High School. The boys met with school counselor

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Susan Saunders, outside of Godfrey's presence, and reported to Saunders that they were being verbally and physically abused by Cuff.[2]

In her role as a school counselor, Saunders is a "mandated reporter" as defined by section 11165.7, subdivision (a), which means that she is required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to certain statutorily identified authorities. Based on what the boys told Saunders, she prepared a "Suspected Child Abuse Report" (SCAR), which she faxed to San Diego County Child Welfare Services (CWS) that day. Saunders also made a telephone call to CWS at approximately 10:00 a.m. that day to register the report. CWS instructed Saunders to contact a law enforcement officer who could take the boys into protective custody.

Saunders contacted John Turtzer, a "resource officer" at the high school. Turtzer apparently declined to take the children into custody, and instead, assisted Saunders in contacting other governmental agencies for directions as to how to proceed with respect to the boys. According to Saunders, someone suggested that she give a copy of the SCAR to Godfrey and allow Godfrey to take the boys to the sheriff's department with the SCAR that Saunders had prepared.[3]

Saunders made a copy of the SCAR and gave it to Godfrey. She told Godfrey that he should take the SCAR to a law enforcement agency so that authorities could take the boys into custody.

Instead of taking the boys to a law enforcement agency, Godfrey took them to the East County courthouse where he intended to file for a protective order against Cuff and seek custody of the boys. Godfrey completed an "Application for Order and Supporting Declaration" in which he referred to the SCAR. However, by the time Godfrey completed the application, the court was closed. The following Tuesday, October 27, 2009, ...

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