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City of Pasadena v. Superior Court (Sandra Reyes Jauregui)

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

June 26, 2017

CITY OF PASADENA, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent SANDRA REYES JAUREGUI et al., Real Parties in Interest.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate, Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC596857; JCCP No. 4674 Steven J. Kleifield, Judge. Petition granted.

          Foley & Mansfeld, Keith M. Ameele, Joseph V. Macha, M. Amadea Groseclose, Margaret I. Johnson; Office of the Pasadena City Attorney, Michele Beal Bagneris, City Attorney, and John Nam, Deputy City Attorney, for Petitioner.

          No appearance for Respondent.

          Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, Joseph Satterley, Denyse F. Clancy, and Ian A. Rivamonte, for Real Parties in Interest.

          MANELLA, J.

         INTRODUCTION

         Under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 810 et seq.), before commencing an action against a public entity, a plaintiff must present the claim to the entity within six months of “the date upon which the cause of action would be deemed to have accrued within the meaning of the statute of limitations which would be applicable thereto.” (Gov. Code, § 901.) In the underlying action, real parties in interest Sandra Reyes Jauregui and Mario Reyes Jauregui (the Jaureguis) filed a first amended complaint (FAC), alleging a cause of action against petitioner City of Pasadena (the City) arising from Sandra Jauregui's mesothelioma. The City demurred to the Jaureguis' complaint, arguing that they had failed to comply with the claim presentation requirement of the Government Claims Act by not presenting their claim to the City within six months of the date of Sandra's mesothelioma diagnosis. The Jaureguis opposed the demurrer, arguing that their claim presentation was timely because under the applicable statute of limitations -- Code of Civil Procedure section 340.2 -- their cause of action never accrued.[1] Thus, they asserted, the six-month claim presentation period never began to run. The trial court overruled the demurrer, and the City now seeks a writ directing the trial court to sustain the demurrer.

         For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that “the date upon which the cause of action would be deemed to have accrued within the meaning of the [applicable] statute of limitations” is the date on which a plaintiff discovers or should reasonably have discovered that she had suffered a compensable injury. In this case, that date was no later than the date Sandra was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Because the Jaureguis presented their claim to the City more than 10 months after that date, they failed to comply with the claim presentation requirement. Accordingly, we grant the petition for writ of mandate.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 5, 2015, the Jaureguis filed a complaint for personal injuries and loss of consortium against numerous defendants, but not the City. The complaint alleged that Sandra was diagnosed with mesothelioma on or about September 25, 2015. She allegedly developed the disease as a result of exposure to airborne asbestos that her father “was exposed to and thereafter tracked into the family's home and vehicles on his clothing, shoes, person, and personal effects.” The complaint also alleged that Sandra's father was a mechanic who worked with asbestos-containing products at various sites, including at “The City of Pasadena from about 1980 to 1987.”

         A year later, on October 14, 2016, the Jaureguis filed their FAC, adding the City as a defendant. The FAC alleged a single cause of action against the City for dangerous conditions of public property. According to the FAC, Sandra's father worked for the City as a vehicle mechanic and was exposed to asbestos at various vehicle repair facilities owned, controlled or managed by the City. The FAC further alleged that on August 22, 2016, the Jaureguis presented their claim to the City in compliance with the Government Claims Act.[2]

         On November 17, 2016, the City demurred to the FAC. It argued that the Jaureguis had failed to allege facts demonstrating or excusing compliance with the claim presentation requirement set forth in Government Code section 911.2, which requires that a claim be presented within six months of the accrual of the cause of action. The City asserted that the Jaureguis' causes of action accrued on September 25, 2015, the date when Sandra was diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, the Jaureguis did not present a claim to the City until August 22, 2016, nearly 11 months later. Nor did they file a late-claim application. Accordingly, the City asserted, the Jaureguis failed to comply with the claim presentation requirement and thus, the demurrer should have been sustained without leave to amend.

         The City further argued that section 340.2, the applicable statute of limitations for the Jaureguis' cause of action, did not render their claim presentation timely. Although the limitations period did not run because Sandra was never disabled within the meaning of section 340.2, that section “says nothing about the accrual of the cause of action.” Accordingly, the City asserted, section 340.2 did not provide an accrual date other than the date of diagnosis.

         The Jaureguis opposed the City's demurrer, contending there was no time limit on their claim presentation. They argued: “Sandra's government claim had to be filed within six months of the ‘accrual' of her underlying tort causes of action -- a date statutorily defined for this purpose as the trigger date for the underlying limitations period.” Because that date was never triggered, “Sandra's claims never ‘accrued' for purposes of filing a government claim.” They further argued that “accrual” has two different meanings -- (1) “‘ripeness'” and (2) “‘beginning of the limitations period'” -- and “accrual” as used in Government Code section 901 meant the latter.

         In reply, the City argued that section 340.2 did not equate “accrual” with the commencement of the limitations period. Although section 340.2 altered the limitations period -- the time during which a plaintiff may file a complaint -- it had no impact on when a cause of action accrued. The City also argued that nothing in section 340.2 reflects an intent on the part of the Legislature to modify the claim presentation deadline in the Government Claims Act.

         On December 15, 2016, the trial court overruled the demurrer without explanation. However, at the hearing on the demurrer, the court stated its belief that the term “accrual” as used in Government Code section 901 is “not used in the sense of a case being ripe so that somebody can sue.” Rather, it is used to mean “when a person must sue or lose their right, ” i.e., when the limitations period commences.

         The City filed its petition on February 21, 2017, seeking an immediate stay of all proceedings and a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to set aside and vacate its order overruling the demurrer and to enter a new order sustaining the demurrer.[3] In response to the petition, on March 16, 2017, we issued an order to show cause why the demurrer should not be sustained and an order for a temporary stay ...


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