Dicampli–Mintz v. Cnty. of Santa Clara, No. S194501.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCORRIGAN
Citation289 P.3d 884,150 Cal.Rptr.3d 111,55 Cal.4th 983
PartiesHope DICAMPLI–MINTZ, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date06 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. S194501.

55 Cal.4th 983
289 P.3d 884
150 Cal.Rptr.3d 111

Hope DICAMPLI–MINTZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants and Respondents.

No. S194501.

Supreme Court of California

Dec. 6, 2012.



See 3 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Actions, § 262.

[150 Cal.Rptr.3d 113]

Campbell, Warburton, Fitzimmons, Smith, Mendell & Pastore, San Jose, J. Michael Fitzsimmons and Lisa Jeong Cummins for Plaintiff and Appellant.


Cheong, Denove, Rowell & Bennett and John D. Rowell, Los Angeles, for Consumer Attorneys of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Miguel Marquez, County Counsel, Lori E. Pegg, Acting County Counsel, Marcy L. Berkman and Melissa R. Kiniyalocts, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Respondents.

Stephen D. Underwood, Santa Maria; Michael M. Youngdahl, Santa Barbara, and Jordan Sheinbaum for CSAC Excess Insurance Authority, California League of Cities and California State Association of Counties as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

CORRIGAN, J.

[55 Cal.4th 986][289 P.3d 885]Government Code 1 section 915, subdivision (a) ( section 915(a)), establishes the manner of delivery of a claim against the government. It requires that a claim be presented to a local public entity by “[d]elivering it to the clerk, secretary or auditor,” or by mailing it to one of these officials “or to the governing body.” Section 915, subdivision (e)( section 915(e)), further provides that a misdirected claim “shall be deemed to have been presented in compliance” with section 915 if “[i]t is actually received by the clerk, secretary, auditor or board of the local public entity.” (§ 915(e)(1), italics added.)

[55 Cal.4th 987]Here, the Court of Appeal held that “a claim may substantially comply with the act, notwithstanding failure to deliver or mail it to one of the specified recipients, if it is given to a person or department whose functions include the management or defense of claims against the defendant entity.” We reject this judicial expansion of the statutory requirements and affirm that a claim must satisfy the express delivery provisions language of the statute.

[150 Cal.Rptr.3d 114]

I. BACKGROUND

On April 4, 2006, Dr. Bao–Thuong Bui and Dr. Abraham Sklar performed surgery on plaintiff Hope DiCampli–Mintz at Valley Medical Center (VMC), a hospital owned and operated by the County of Santa Clara (the County). In the recovery room, plaintiff complained of pain in her left leg, which appeared bluish and cold to the touch. An emergency tomography disclosed that her “left iliac artery” was “completely interrupted.” Plaintiff was returned to surgery and ultimately discharged.

Later that year, plaintiff went to VMC's emergency department “in a great deal of [289 P.3d 886]pain.” An emergency room physician told her that another procedure was required because blood vessels had been damaged in the first surgery.

Plaintiff retained counsel who prepared a letter for transmission to VMC, Dr. Bui, and Dr. Sklar, giving “notice, in accordance with Section 364 of the Code of Civil Procedure, that Hope DiCampli–Mintz will file suit against you for damages resulting from the personal injury of Hope DiCampli–Mintz.” Code of Civil Procedure section 364 requires that a plaintiff give notice of an intent to sue to a health care provider 90 days before filing a negligence action.2 The letter stated that defendants negligently performed surgery, interrupting blood flow to plaintiff's leg, then failed to repair the problem.

On April 3, 2007, plaintiff's counsel personally delivered copies of the letter to an employee of the medical staffing office in the hospital's administration building. The letters were addressed to the Risk Management Department at VMC, Dr. Bui, and Dr. Sklar.3 While the letter included a request that it be forwarded to the recipient's insurance carrier, it did not request that it be forwarded to any of the statutorily designated recipients denoted in section 915.

It is undisputed that the letter was never personally served or presented, nor was it mailed to the county clerk or the clerk of the board. The parties [55 Cal.4th 988]likewise agree that plaintiff knew VMC was owned and operated by the County. The letter was later received by the Santa Clara County Risk Management Department by April 6, 2007.4 On April 23, 2007, Dave Schoendaler at the County's Risk Management Department spoke with plaintiff's counsel by telephone. According to plaintiff's counsel, Schoendaler acknowledged receipt of the letter; orally opined that service on VMC required a tort claim which was late; questioned whether a tort claim was required as to Dr. Sklar and Dr. Bui and

[150 Cal.Rptr.3d 115]

indicated that he would look into that; stated that plaintiff had an interesting case; mentioned a physical condition that put plaintiff at risk; and provided the name of the attorney handling the County's defense. Schoendaler did not mention that the letter failed to satisfy section 915's delivery requirements. Plaintiff never received written notice that her claim was untimely or presented to the wrong party.

On July 2, 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint naming Dr. Bui, Dr. Sklar, and VMC as defendants. As described by the Court of Appeal, “The complaint acknowledged that ‘Plaintiff was required to comply with ... [government claims statutes],’ but asserted she was ‘excused’ from doing so because defendants ‘failed to provide notice to Plaintiff as required by Government Code §§ 910.8, 911, 911.3, and therefore waived any defenses they may have had to the sufficiency of Plaintiff's claim (Notice of Intention to Commence Action) as presented.’ ” 5

[289 P.3d 887]On August 29, 2007, the County 6 filed an answer denying plaintiff's allegations and asserting affirmative defenses, including that plaintiff “failed [55 Cal.4th 989]to comply with the provisions of the California [Government] Claims Act,” and that her claims were “barred by the provisions of Government Code §§ 810 through 1000, inclusive.” 7

The County filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that plaintiff failed to comply with the Government Claims Act because her claim was never presented to or received by a statutorily designated recipient as required by section 915. In opposition, plaintiff argued that she had “substantially complied” with the Government Claims Act on April 3, 2007, by delivering the letter of intent to the Risk Management Department at VMC. She also alleged that the letter was received by the Santa Clara County Risk Management Department by April 6, 2007, and that this department was the county department most directly involved with the processing and defense of tort claims against the County.

The trial court granted the County's summary judgment motion. It held that the County made a sufficient showing of noncompliance, and that plaintiff could not avoid summary judgment because she failed to “raise a reasonable inference that her claim was actually received by the clerk, secretary, auditor or board of the local public entity within the time prescribed for presentation thereof” and she

[150 Cal.Rptr.3d 116]

also failed to “establish waiver and/or equitable estoppel.”

The Court of Appeal reversed. It found that plaintiff had “substantially complied” with the presentation requirements of the Government Claims Act. The Court of Appeal rejected other Court of Appeal cases holding that compliance is deemed satisfied only by actual receipt by the statutorily designated persons, under section 915(e)(1).

II. DISCUSSION
A. The Government Claims Act

Suits for money or damages filed against a public entity are regulated by statutes contained in division 3.6 of the Government Code, commonly referred to as the Government Claims Act. We have previously noted that “[s]ection 905 requires the presentation of ‘all claims for money or damages [55 Cal.4th 990]against local public entities,’ subject to exceptions not relevant here. Claims for personal injury and property damage must be presented within six months after accrual; all other claims must be presented within a year. (§ 911.2.) ‘[N]o suit for money or damages may be brought against a public entity on a cause of action for which a claim is required to be presented ... until a written claim therefor has been presented to the public entity and has been acted upon ... or has been deemed to have been rejected....’ (§ 945.4.) ‘Thus, under these statutes, failure to timely present a claim for money or damages to a public entity bars a plaintiff from filing a lawsuit against that entity.’ [Citation.]” ( City of Stockton v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 730, 737–738, 68 Cal.Rptr.3d 295, 171 P.3d 20( City of Stockton ).)

Section 905 requires that, subject to exceptions not present here, “all claims for money or damages against local public entities” must be “presented in accordance with Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 900) and Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 910)” of the Government Code. “ ‘Local public entity’ includes a county, city, district, public authority, public agency, and any other political subdivision or public corporation in the State....” (§ 900.4.)

[289 P.3d 888]Section 915(a) provides, “A claim ... shall be presented to a local public entity by either of the following means: [¶] (1) Delivering it to the clerk, secretary or auditor thereof. [¶] (2) Mailing it to the clerk, secretary, auditor, or to the governing body at its principal office.” Section 915(e)(1) clearly and narrowly sets forth how actual receipt may meet the presentation requirement: “A claim ... shall be deemed to have been presented in compliance with this section even though it is not delivered or mailed as provided in this section if, within the time prescribed for presentation thereof, any of the following apply: [¶] (1) It is actually received by the clerk, secretary, auditor or board of the local public entity.” (Italics added.)

Even if the public entity has actual knowledge...

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