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In cases against the government, sovereign immunity makes the king or the “sovereign” immune. After the American Revolution, our people retained the English Common Law. Especially relevant were those exceptions to sovereign immunity not available in England, under American Common Law matters, such as “notice and opportunity” before being thrown in prison to face an accuser, for example.
Thus, where English Law conflicts with our interpretation of Natural Rights and Natural Law, it is ignored or curtailed. Furthermore, writings about this tradition are in ancient texts, such as the Magna Charta. So the American Revolution recognized that the government was NOT above the law. Therefore, statutory schemes evolved to assure that public servants could not hide.
No longer could a public servant cower behind sovereign immunity, at least not under North American Common Law. Thus, if they engage in conduct that violates the rights of individuals, they are accountable. Thus, in California, the Tort Claims Act evolved to assist victims in being able to sue the government.
As a result, these laws are outside the standard procedural and substantive rules. Therefore, these are not procedures you or I would use to sue each other. A victim has only six (6) months to bring a claim against a public servant. The same rules apply to suing a government agency from the date of the discovery of the damages or injury.
However, there are maxims of law and exceptions to these rules. One example is when a potential defendant is in a superior position to the victims. Because of this, the lulled victim may have a false sense of security. And that is what happened here. Because the School said to wait to sue, parents took no actions within the prescribed period to sue under the Government Code. Luckily for victims, courts can extend the statute in the interests of justice. And guess what? The agency sued can also grant a waiver.
Absent a waiver to sue a teacher who molests a child, this remains a robust defense. This argument is in answers, demurrers, or motions for summary adjudication. And waiver remains a powerful defense on appeal and can be renewed anytime. Below is a recent example of this type of situation and its unique outcome.
The facts relate that the state appellate court judges ruled against the CUSD. Here, CUSD argued two third-grader families missed the deadline for their claim. So basically, CUSD said the application had to g served on the agency within six months of the incident.
Yes, the Court was not impressed. So the appellate Court dismissed the appeal that the victim’s claims were invalid. Also, it upheld a 1.8 million dollar jury award against the school district. So in the case at the bar, the suit was for failure to keep a sexual predator away from third-grade students. The School claimed it was late. Hearing the appeal was the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
That Court ruled the argument had no basis. Particularly pertinent is that they said district officials asked families to remain quiet. People in a heightened position of authority asked parents to keep quiet. Of particular concern here, the School District told parents to “sleep on their rights.” So at least, it appears the appellate Court made a finding of fact in this regard.
Noteworthy here is that administrators told the children’s parents they should remain silent. So the School was not allowed to benefit from its deceptive, egregious, slimy actions in trying to run out the statutory period in which to sue a government entity. And here, the Court clarified that the statute did not shield the molestation victim’s right to get paid. So the School District claimed they wanted to avoid jeopardizing the criminal investigation if the parents sued during the criminal trial. The School asserted this could hurt the prosecution of teacher Raymond Firth. (Maybe the criminal Court, prosecutor, or jury might feel the case was about money and acquit Firth?)
But the judges alluded that School District officials told parents to stay quiet. Thus, rather than sue, the parents relied upon the warnings of the School. The School asserted suing could affect the prosecution of Firth. Hence, the judge stated it was a “powerful influence on the parent’s actions.”
Therefore, this was a disappointment to Carlsbad District attorney Daniel Shinoff. Shinoff said no child should ever be the victim of a teacher. Consequently, the school district feels wrong for the incidents. Most of all, the termination of Firth should have been a long time ago, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers. They say the school district did not provide adequate supervision.
In 2012 the civil court jury unanimously arrived at a verdict against Firth and the district. This case could have concluded with 9 out of the 12 jury members. Firth handles part of the 4.5 million dollar judgment. So the families said they do not expect the teacher will have the ability to pay. Also, the appeals panel ordered the school district to pay for the families’ legal costs. Costs awards were separate from the jury award.
Rick Grove is the Carlsbad Unified School assistant superintendent for personnel services. Because of legal issues, he could not comment much on the case. Most noteworthy is that most of the individuals involved in the incident left the school district. He also stated he could not comment on the legal issues on appeal.
Thus, Grove said the San Diego County Office of Education paid most of the costs. It operates in joint power authority, funding most legal fees by member districts. A spokeswoman stated the decision to appeal wasn’t by the joint powers authority (“JPA”).
After all, she claimed, it was an insurance company that decided to appeal, not the JPA. Moving along, Firth, age 44, was a third-grade teacher at Pacific Rim Elementary School. Teacher Firth had pled guilty to two counts of sexual battery due to charges of molesting his students.
Thus, in 2010 he went away for three years and eight months in prison after sentencing. Although Firth is now free, he must register as a lifetime sex offender. In conclusion, it seems “low-class” the School to ask parents to back off till the criminal case was over. What is your opinion?
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.