County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, S.F. 22689

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTOBRINER; MOSK; BURKE
Citation483 P.2d 774,94 Cal.Rptr. 158,4 Cal.3d 545
Parties, 483 P.2d 774 COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Respondent; Gaston DELEERSNYDER et al., Real Parties in Interest.
Docket NumberS.F. 22689
Decision Date15 April 1971

Page 158

94 Cal.Rptr. 158
4 Cal.3d 545, 483 P.2d 774
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, Petitioner,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Respondent;
Gaston DELEERSNYDER et al., Real Parties in Interest.
S.F. 22689.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
April 15, 1971.
As Modified May 13, 1971.

[4 Cal.3d 547] Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel and Charles H. Brock, San Jose, for petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

Magana, Olney, Levy & Cathcart, Daniel C. Cathcart and William M. Thon, Wilmington, for real parties in interest.

TOBRINER, Justice.

The County of Santa Clara seeks prohibition to restrain the Superior Court of Santa Clara County from further proceedings in a wrongful death action against the county by plaintiffs Gaston and Germaine Deleersnyder, the parents of decedent Konrad Deleersnyder. Plaintiffs did not file a claim with the county within 100 days of the death, as required under Government Code sections 911.2 and 945.4; the superior court, however, granted their petition under Government Code section 946.6 for relief from the obligation of filing a claim. We conclude that the [4 Cal.3d 548] ruling of the superior court does not constitute an act in excess of its jurisdiction and therefore cannot be reviewed by writ of prohibition. Since, however, the matter

Page 159

[483 P.2d 775] has been fully briefed and argued to this court, we treat the merits of the ruling, and conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in relieving plaintiffs from the duty to file a claim.

When Konrad Deleersnyder suffered severe injury in an automobile accident on March 4, 1960, he was taken to the county hospital. There, according to plaintiffs, county employees negligently treated Konrad, injuring his spinal cord and causing permanent quadriplegia and other disorders. Upon denial of his claim against the county, Konrad filed suit for personal injuries. After extensive pretrial discovery, the action came to trial in February 1967. During the course of the trial, Konrad died. The death certificate indicates that chronic systemic conditions stemming from the 1960 spinal cord injury caused death.

On June 23, 1967, about 130 days after the death, plaintiffs filed a request with the county for leave to present a late claim. When the county denied the request plaintiffs petitioned the superior court for relief under Government Code section 912. Before the matter came to hearing, the Legislature replaced section 912 with section 946.6.

Section 946.6, subdivision (c), provides that 'the court shall relieve the petitioner from the provisions of Section 945.4 (which bars claims not filed within 100 days) if the court finds the application (for leave to present a late claim) to the board under Section 911.4 was made within a reasonable time not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action * * * and that * * * the failure to present the claim was through mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect unless the public entity establishes that it would be prejudiced if the court relieves the petitioner from the provisions of Section 945.4. * * *'

In support of their petition plaintiffs submitted a declaration of Daniel C. Cathcart, who was then serving as plaintiffs' attorney and who had previously acted as Konrad's attorney. It stated that 'no formal claim was filed with the County of Santa Clara by claimants until it could be determined that the claimants' decedent died of injuries proximately received at the defendant's hand and further determined whether or not the claimants wished to pursue their claim and cause of action * * *.' In opposition to the motion Charles Brock, attorney for the county, declared that on March 23, 1967, Mr. Cathcart sent him a letter which stated that 'there undoubtedly would be a medical correlation between the quadriplegia and the boy's untimely death,' that the death certificate was filed on February 20, 1967, and that Mr. Cathcart procured a copy of the certificate on April 21, 1967.

[4 Cal.3d 549] At the conclusion of oral argument before the trial court, Mr. Cathcart stated: 'It is not in my declaration but if I might amend it or I will be so happy to testify, the mother of this young boy nursed this young man five days plus being with him day and night. When he died her life changed. You can imagine the emotional trauma involved and litigation was hardly--I don't believe I represented to Mr. Brock the action might be abandoned. When my client died in the middle of the trial I was emotionally involved, also.' The judge replied, 'Yes, the matter is submitted.'

The superior court granted plaintiff's motion, stating that 'here the lateness is less than 30 days, no prejudice is involved and the Court feels that the neglect was reasonably incurred.'

1. The order of the superior court was not in excess of its jurisdiction and cannot be reviewed on a writ of prohibition.

The leading case of Abelleira v. District Court of Appeal (1941) 17 Cal.2d 280, 109 P.2d 942, pronounced the rule that prohibition may be invoked only to restrain an act in excess of jurisdiction. One year later this court, in Redlands High School District v. Superior Court (1942) 20 Cal.2d 348, 125 P.2d 490, faced the problem of applying that decision to a case involving noncompliance with a claims requirement.

Page 160

[483 P.2d 776] There, the plaintiff brought a personal injury action in a justice court against the school district, but failed to file the claim that was then required under section 2.801 of the School Code. The justice court nevertheless gave judgment for plaintiff; the superior court, on trial de novo, affirmed. Since no appeal would lie, defendants brought certiorari.

Refusing to issue the requested writ, this court reasoned that: 'Not every violation of a statute constitutes excess of jurisdiction on the part of a court. The doctrine relied upon by petitioners applies only where the clear purpose of the statute is to restrict or limit the power of the court to act and where the effective enforcement of such restrictions requires the use of the extraordinary writs of certiorari or prohibition. Where, as here, the statute does not restrict the power of the court but merely sets up a condition precedent to the establishment of plaintiff's cause of action, we think the violation of the statutory provision constitutes an error of law rather than excess of jurisdiction.' (P. 360, 125 P.2d p. 496.)

Decreeing in Farrell v. County of Placer (1944) 23 Cal.2d 624, 145 P.2d 570, that a county could be estopped from asserting a claims limitation, we stated that compliance with such a statute does not involve jurisdiction. The county argued that 'the claim statute is the measure of the power of the governmental agency in paying the torts claims involved, and hence any deviation from that procedure cannot be [4 Cal.3d 550] dispensed with by waiver, estoppel or otherwise.' (P. 630, 145 P.2d p. 573.) We replied: 'that conclusion, at least with respect to the time of filing the claim, is not supported by the statute or reason. * * * This court has held that compliance with the claim statute is not jurisdictional with respect to the power of a court to give judgment against the governmental agency where no claim was filed (Redlands, etc., Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal.2d 348, 125 P.2d 490).' (Pp. 630--631, 145 P.2d p. 573.)

Prior to Redlands, the decision in Bekins Van & Storage Co. v. State of California (1933) 135 Cal.App. 738, 28 P.2d 61, had held that a court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain an action for tax refund until the claimant presented his claim to the state board of control. In 1961 the court in Spence v. State of California, 198 Cal.App.2d 332, 335--336, 18 Cal.Rptr. 302, 304, passing upon a claim against the state, held that compliance with claims requirements did not involve jurisdiction. Quoting Witkin (1 Cal. Procedure (1954) p. 322), the court noted that 'it would seem that (Redlands) overrules the Bekins case by implication, for no relevant distinction can be drawn between a suit against the state (Bekins) and against a school district (Redlands).'

Thus, as of 1963, court decisions had clearly settled that a court which erroneously entertained an action against a governmental entity, despite noncompliance with claims requirements, committed only an error of law; it did not act in excess of jurisdiction. 1 Although the statutes respecting

Page 161

[483 P.2d 777] claims and actions against public entities were extensively revised in 1963, nothing in the language of the 1963 legislation, nor of the Law Revision Commission study and recommendations which preceded it, suggests any intention to alter this rule. The only case discussing the issue under the...

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52 practice notes
  • Sharon S. v. Superior Court, No. S102671.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 4 Agosto 2003
    ...8617 is not jurisdictional does not shed light on whether it is nonetheless mandatory. (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 551, fn. 2, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d Likewise, it is irrelevant that compliance with section 8617 is not an "essential element[] of eve......
  • Hankla v. Municipal Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 26 Junio 1972
    ...to the court. Under these circumstances the issue may be disposed of on the merits. In County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774, the court noted, 'Although we have held in this opinion that a writ of prohibition may not be appropriate to re......
  • Patrick Media Group, Inc. v. California Coastal Com., No. B056181
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 15 Septiembre 1992
    ...the trial court considered the question and determined that the permit issued in 1986. (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 553, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774.) This implied finding of fact by the trial court is supported by substantial evidence, and we are bound b......
  • In re Marriage of Jackson, No. B180135.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 15 Febrero 2006
    ...constitutes an error of law rather than excess of jurisdiction.' [Citation.]" (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 549, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774; accord, In re Marriage of Goddard (2004) 33 Cal.4th 49, 57, 14 Cal.Rptr.3d 50, 90 P.3d 1209 [quoting County o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • Sharon S. v. Superior Court, No. S102671.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 4 Agosto 2003
    ...8617 is not jurisdictional does not shed light on whether it is nonetheless mandatory. (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 551, fn. 2, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d Likewise, it is irrelevant that compliance with section 8617 is not an "essential element[] of every va......
  • Hankla v. Municipal Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 26 Junio 1972
    ...to the court. Under these circumstances the issue may be disposed of on the merits. In County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774, the court noted, 'Although we have held in this opinion that a writ of prohibition may not be appropriate to re......
  • Patrick Media Group, Inc. v. California Coastal Com., No. B056181
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 15 Septiembre 1992
    ...the trial court considered the question and determined that the permit issued in 1986. (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 553, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774.) This implied finding of fact by the trial court is supported by substantial evidence, and we are bound b......
  • In re Marriage of Jackson, No. B180135.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 15 Febrero 2006
    ...provision constitutes an error of law rather than excess of jurisdiction.' [Citation.]" (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 549, 94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774; accord, In re Marriage of Goddard (2004) 33 Cal.4th 49, 57, 14 Cal.Rptr.3d 50, 90 P.3d 1209 [quoting Cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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