Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Notification to School Districts Required Prior to Proceeding to Court

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

In California, the Government Code sets forth the requirements for suing a public (government) entity in the state courts.  That code requires that the entity and its ruling body be provided with written notice IN ADVANCE of fling a claim in court in many situations.  This is a mandatory prerequisite to filing a legal action and applies to actions against public school districts, public college districts, and other governmental entities in the state.  This blog will cover generally what should be provided to the governmental entity.  My blog tomorrow will cover some very important time limits and the two should be read in conjunction.  I will also follow with a third blog (maybe more) to address other aspects.

Content of Notice 
Government code section 910 and the surrounding sections, requires the following be provided to the government entity: [requirements abbreviated below- see the code sections themselves please]

1)  Name and address of claimant
2)  Address where notices should be sent.
3)  Date, place, and other circumstances which led to the occurrence(s).
4) General description of the indebtedness, damage, injury, loss as known at the time.
5)  Name(s) of public employees causing the above if known.
6)  Amount claimed if less than $10,000 and/or note if it is a limited civil case.

The notice should also be signed (unless it is a bill of sale/invoice regularly provided) (see Government Code 910.2).  In the case of school districts, this notice would typically be sent to the governing body (see Government Code 900.2 and the surrounding sections for definitions), such as the Board of Education (Board).  Once this is provided, the Board is supposed to either act on the claim or reject the claim.  They are also supposed to notify the claimant if there are defects in the notice so the form can be corrected and resubmitted.

Prior to writing their own claim form to be filed, a parent/student should first call the Board and/or the Board secretary to ask if they have a blank claim form they could be sent, typically called a "tort claim form."  A tort is, in simple terms a breach of duty.  The Board is required to provide a form (see Government Code 910.4), although sometimes it is hard to get a hold of one and/or the person at the school district does not know what a parent is talking about.  A parent or student may write their own form if the school district does not have one.

In my experience, it is rare for a school district to act on a claim and it is typical for a claim filed to be rejected by the Board.  That may not be everyone's experience. Often we attempt to negotiate prior to filing such a claim as it can be very costly to proceed to court, but if a student/parent is considering going to court, they need to be mindful of these requirements and the time limits involved (see my blog tomorrow for more on that).

There are some matters which are NOT required to comply with this claim requirement, and the list can be explored here.  Some of these include childhood sexual abuse under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, occurring after January 1, 2009, retirement benefit claims, and others.  This blog does not cover what is NOT covered, just the basics of what needs to be communicated to the governing body in most cases.

Michelle Ball
Law Office of Michelle Ball
http://www.edlaw4students.com
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Please see the disclaimer at the bottom of this page as this blog is not intended to provide legal advice nor form an attorney client relationship...

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