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Judicial Council of California v. Superior Court (Bean)

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fifth Division

September 16, 2014

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA et al., Petitioners,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent MARI BEAN, Real Party in Interest

[CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION [*]]

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING. Petition for Writ of Mandate. Daniel J. Buckley, Judge. Super. Ct. No. BC486567

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COUNSEL

Cummings McClory Davis & Acho, Sarah L. Overton; Sedgwick and Douglas J. Collodel for Petitioners.

No appearance for Respondent.

Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, Roger L. Gordon and Vincent Vallin Bennett for Real Party in Interest.

OPINION

TURNER, P. J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendants, the Judicial Council of California (the council) and Administrative Office of the Courts, have filed a mandate petition. Defendants seek to compel the respondent court to grant their summary judgment motion. Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff, Mari Bean, failed to present a government claim to the Secretariat of the Judicial Council (the secretariat).

In this extraordinary writ proceeding, we must apply 2002 and 2010 enactments specifying the manner of presenting government claims naming defendants. Government Code[1] section 915, subdivisions (c) and (e) specify the manner of presenting a government claim naming defendants. (Stats. 2002, ch. 1001, § 7, pp. 6324, 6345-6346; Stats. 2010, ch. 636, § 6.) Section 915, subdivision (c) identifies how a government claim may be served on a judicial branch entity by mail or personal delivery. In this case, the government claim must be mailed or personally delivered to the secretariat. Section 915, subdivision (e)(4) explains that even if the government claim is not mailed or personally delivered, it is sufficient if the secretariat actually receives it. As we will explain, that never happened in our case--there is no triable controversy in that regard.

Plaintiff argues she complied with the government claims presentation requirement even though she never mailed or personally delivered it to the secretariat. Rather, she mailed her government claim naming defendants to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. Relying on section 915, subdivision (e)(2), she argues mailing her government claim

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naming defendants to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board constitutes proper presentation of her government claim. With respect, we disagree. As there was no proper presentation of plaintiff’s government claim, we issue our writ of mandate directing that defendants’ summary judgment motion be granted.

II. THE PLEADINGS

Plaintiff alleges, in a council form complaint: she was severely injured while riding in an elevator in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles; she had complied with applicable claim statutes; and defendants owned, manufactured, “and/or” operated the elevator and failed to properly maintain it. Based on these allegations, plaintiff alleges causes for negligence and a dangerous condition on public property.

III. DEFENDANTS’ UNDISPUTED FACT STATEMENT

Defendants’ separate statement asserts there are three undisputed facts: plaintiff did not present a timely government claim to the secretariat for a claim against the council; real party in interest did not present a timely claim to the secretariat for a claim against the Administrative Office of the Courts; and the secretariat never received any government claim from plaintiff. The evidence supporting these three undisputed facts consists of the declaration of Benita Downs, an employee working in the secretariat as the Administrative Coordinator. In addition, defendants relied upon the documents produced by plaintiff in response to a document production demand and her special interrogatory answers.

Ms. Downs’s declaration reveals she has been employed by the Administrative Office of the Courts since 1996. She had been assigned to the secretariat unit since February 2012. In her capacity as the Administrative Coordinator, she maintains the official log of all documents presented or served upon the secretariat. Ms. Downs declared, “I am responsible for receiving and logging all of the government claims, summons and complaints and any other legal process presented to or served upon the [s]ecretariat... for claims against either the Judicial Council... or the Administrative Office of the Courts.” Ms. Downs describes in detail the procedures utilized to document the receipt of any form of legal process including government claims.

Ms. Downs had searched the official log of the secretariat for the years 2011 and 2012. No person with plaintiff’s name ever filed a government claim. No person with plaintiff’s last name ever filed a government claim with the secretariat. The only legal process involving plaintiff served on the

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secretariat was the summons and complaint in this case. Ms. Downs concludes her declaration, “Upon review of the official record of the [s]ecretariat..., I can affirmatively state that no government claim has been presented to the [s]ecretariat... by or on behalf of the plaintiff....”

In addition to Ms. Downs’s declaration, defendants rely on plaintiff’s response to a document production demand and special interrogatory answers. Defendants submitted a production demand for plaintiff’s timely government claim presented to the secretariat. In response, plaintiff produced a government claim form stamped “RECEIVED” on January 4, 2011, directed to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. The government claim names the State of California and defendants. The claim, prepared by plaintiff’s lawyer, Vincent Bennett, identifies the location where she was injured as an elevator in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

In addition, defendants rely on plaintiff’s special interrogatory answers. In two special interrogatories, plaintiff was asked to identify all facts which supported her contention that she presented a timely claim to the secretariat. Plaintiff answered both special interrogatories by referring to the government claim received on January 4, 2011, by the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. And plaintiff added in her special interrogatory answers: “See, also the trial court’s notice of ruling ...


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