B.H. v. Cnty. of San Bernardino, No. S213066.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCHIN, J.
Citation195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220,361 P.3d 319,62 Cal.4th 168
Parties B.H., a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. S213066.
Decision Date30 November 2015

62 Cal.4th 168
361 P.3d 319
195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220

B.H., a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO et al., Defendants and Respondents.

No. S213066.

Supreme Court of California

Nov. 30, 2015.


195 Cal.Rptr.3d 222

The Keane Law Firm, Christopher J. Keane, San Francisco; Esner, Chang & Boyer, Andrew N. Chang, Oakland, and Stuart B. Esner, Los Angeles, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

195 Cal.Rptr.3d 223

Tamara Lange ; Keker & Van Nest, Jon Streeter, San Francisco, for National Center for Youth Law, Advokids, Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention, Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, the National Association of Counsel for Children and G. Michael Gates as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Lynberg & Watkins, Norman J. Watkins, Los Angeles, S. Frank Harrell, Shannon L. Gustafson and Pancy Lin, Orange, for Defendants and Respondents.

Jennifer B. Henning, for California State Association of Counties and League of California Cities as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

CHIN, J.

62 Cal.4th 174
361 P.3d 321

The intent and purpose of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA; Pen.Code § 11164 et seq. ) is to protect children from abuse and neglect. (Pen.Code § 11164, subd. (b).)1 One of the stated fundamental goals of CANRA is to increase communication and the sharing of information relating to child abuse and neglect among the agencies responsible for the welfare of children. (§ 11166.3, subd. (a).) To accomplish this, CANRA designates certain agencies to accept reports of alleged child abuse or neglect and to cross-report the information contained therein to other agencies. (§ 11166.)

361 P.3d 322

Here, a private citizen called a 911 operator to report an incident of suspected child abuse during the child's visit with his father. The operator relayed the report to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department). A deputy sheriff was dispatched to investigate the report. The officer determined that there was an ongoing custody dispute between the parents, the child was not a victim of child abuse, and there was no need for further investigation. Neither the Sheriff's Department nor the officer cross-reported the initial 911 report to the county child welfare agency. About three weeks later, the child suffered extensive head injuries during a visit with his father.

The child, through a guardian ad litem, sued the county and the deputy sheriff, among others, for failing to cross-report the initial child abuse allegations to the child welfare agency, in violation of CANRA. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment finding there was no duty to cross-report and defendants were immune from liability. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's ruling.

This case presents two issues for our review: (1) whether CANRA imposed a mandatory duty on the Sheriff's Department to cross-report the child abuse allegations to the relevant child welfare agency when it received the 911 report and (2) whether CANRA imposed a mandatory duty on the investigating deputy sheriff to report the child abuse allegations and her investigative findings to the relevant child welfare agency despite her conclusion of no child abuse.

62 Cal.4th 175

We conclude that the Sheriff's Department had a mandatory and ministerial duty to cross-report the child abuse allegations made to the 911 operator to the child welfare agency and that the failure to cross-report can support a finding of breach of a mandatory duty, elements required to establish public entity liability. (§ 11166, subd. (k) ; Gov.Code § 815.6.) We further conclude that the officer had no duty to report the child abuse allegations and her investigative findings to the child welfare agency. (§ 11166, subd. (a).)

195 Cal.Rptr.3d 224

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal in part and reverse in part.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff, B.H., was born in August 2006. At all times after plaintiff's birth, mother Lauri H. and father Louis Sharples lived apart. Starting in February or March 2008, Lauri H. and Sharples informally agreed that Sharples could begin to take physical custody of plaintiff for periods of a few days, which eventually occurred every weekend.

In July 2008, Lauri H. and Sharples began to have custody disputes over plaintiff. Over the Fourth of July holiday, Sharples was scheduled to take plaintiff for five days. After plaintiff was dropped off, Sharples called the Sheriff's Department on July 2 and reported he noticed plaintiff frequently had bruises when he arrived for his visits. Sharples also reported that on this particular visit, plaintiff "ha[d] bruises around his neck" and "it look[ed] like somebody choked him." This prompted Lauri H. to call the county department of children and family services (DCFS) the following day to report that Sharples had made a false report of child abuse. Lauri H. reported that she noticed that plaintiff often returned from visits with various injuries.

Both Sharples's report to the Sheriff's Department and Lauri H.'s report to DCFS were subsequently investigated. The officer responding to Sharples's report interviewed both parties and found the allegations inconclusive. Likewise, DCFS social worker Leann Ashlock met with both parties and urged them to reconcile their differences. Ashlock coordinated a supervised visit so Lauri H. could see plaintiff on July 28. The parties decided to continue sharing custody of plaintiff until they could settle their matters before a family law court.

On September 17, 2008, a family law court granted Sharples one midweek visit and custody of plaintiff every weekend. During the following weekend, on September 22, Lauri H. picked up plaintiff after a visit with Sharples and noticed a scratch and bruises on his face. When Lauri H. returned home with plaintiff, she discussed the injuries with Christy Kinney, the woman who

62 Cal.4th 176

raised Lauri H. and with whom she and plaintiff were

361 P.3d 323

living. Kinney advised Lauri H. to photograph plaintiff's injuries. Lauri H. took photographs of plaintiff's face and body before she left for school. At 10:14 that evening, while Lauri H. was out for an evening class and party, and without Lauri H.'s knowledge, Kinney called 911 to report her suspicions of child abuse to the Sheriff's Department. During the call, Kinney reported that Sharples said plaintiff "fell out of the car or the truck" but that Sharples's "girlfriend said he fell down the stairs" at a local fast food restaurant. The 911 operator recorded the information as a child abuse report, dispatched it to the Sheriff's Department computer-aided dispatch system, and requested that an officer look into the matter.

Deputy Sheriff Kimberly Swanson responded to the residence shortly before midnight and spoke with Kinney. At this time, plaintiff was asleep and in Kinney's care. Kinney woke plaintiff for Deputy Swanson to observe him. For about 20 minutes, Swanson spoke with Kinney and attempted to examine plaintiff, who was crying and unresponsive because Kinney had just awakened him. Afterwards, Deputy Swanson returned to her patrol vehicle and conducted a computer record check on both Lauri H. and Sharples. She returned to the house, gave Kinney her contact information, and requested that Lauri H.

195 Cal.Rptr.3d 225

contact her when she returned home. Deputy Swanson never heard from either Lauri H. or Kinney.

Three days later, Deputy Swanson wrote a report about the incident. Deputy Swanson cleared the case, concluding that there was an ongoing custody dispute between plaintiff's parents, and that the case was "for information only at this time and forward to station files." Swanson noted that Kinney saw that plaintiff "had a cut and bruising above his right eye" when he returned from his weekend visit with his father. Swanson also noted that plaintiff "had small bruises, which appeared to be old, on his upper right arm and on his back" and that Kinney had contacted Sharples, who told her plaintiff had fallen and bumped his head. Sergeant Jeff Bohner, Deputy Swanson's supervisor, reviewed and approved the report.

Lauri H. did not allow plaintiff to visit Sharples again until October 10 or 11, 2008. During the following weekend's visit, Sharples called his girlfriend and said that plaintiff had fallen, hit his head, and would not wake up. Sharples's girlfriend rushed home, noticed that plaintiff was "stiff," and asked if Sharples had called 911. When Sharples responded that he had not, his girlfriend instructed him to call 911, while she notified Lauri H. Emergency personnel responded and transported plaintiff to Loma Linda University Medical Center. Plaintiff, unconscious and suffering from...

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2 practice notes
  • Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Superior Court of San Mateo Cnty., A146495
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2017
    ...of a statute is a question of law, which we decide independently." ( 216 Cal.Rptr.3d 434B.H. v. County of San Bernardino (2015) 62 Cal.4th 168, 189, 195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220, 361 P.3d 319.)II.The Statute by Its Terms Does Not Grant Any Immunity Where Consideration Is Paid for Recreational Use of......
  • S.H. v. M.M. (In re C.E.), H045427
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 31, 2019
    ...subd. (d).)7 31 Cal.App.5th 1051 We review the interpretation of the relevant statutes de novo. ( B.H. v. County of San Bernardino (2015) 62 Cal.4th 168, 189, 195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220, 361 P.3d 319 ; People ex rel. Lockyer v. Shamrock Foods Co. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 415, 432, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 200, 11......
2 cases
  • Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Superior Court of San Mateo Cnty., A146495
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2017
    ...of a statute is a question of law, which we decide independently." ( 216 Cal.Rptr.3d 434B.H. v. County of San Bernardino (2015) 62 Cal.4th 168, 189, 195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220, 361 P.3d 319.)II.The Statute by Its Terms Does Not Grant Any Immunity Where Consideration Is Paid for Recreational Use of......
  • S.H. v. M.M. (In re C.E.), H045427
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 31, 2019
    ...subd. (d).)7 31 Cal.App.5th 1051 We review the interpretation of the relevant statutes de novo. ( B.H. v. County of San Bernardino (2015) 62 Cal.4th 168, 189, 195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220, 361 P.3d 319 ; People ex rel. Lockyer v. Shamrock Foods Co. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 415, 432, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 200, 11......

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