Jefferson v. County of Kern, No. F036017.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtDibiaso
PartiesClayton L. JEFFERSON, a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF KERN et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. F036017.
Decision Date19 April 2002
120 Cal.Rptr.2d 1
98 Cal.App.4th 606
Clayton L. JEFFERSON, a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF KERN et al., Defendants and Respondents.
No. F036017.
Court of Appeal, Fifth District.
April 19, 2002.
Certified for Partial Publication.*
As Modified May 17, 2002.

[120 Cal.Rptr.2d 2]

[98 Cal.App.4th 609]

Cheong, Denove, Rowell, Antablin & Bennett, Mary M. Bennett, Los Angeles, John D. Rowell and Alicia S. Curran, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

B.C. Barmann, Sr., County Counsel, and Robert D. Woods, Chief Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Respondents.

OPINION

DIBIASO, Acting P.J.


Plaintiff and appellant Clayton L. Jefferson (Clayton), a minor, by and through his guardian ad litem Darlene Jefferson, appeals from the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants and respondents, County of Kern (County) and Geoffrey M. Miller, M.D. (Dr. Miller) (collectively respondents), entered after a one-day court trial in which the trial court found Clayton had failed to comply with the claim presentation requirements of the California Tort Claims Act (Gov.Code, § 810 et seq.).1 The trial court determined, in a bifurcated trial of the special defense at respondents' request under Code of Civil Procedure section 597, that Clayton's medical malpractice and fraud causes of action were barred because they had accrued more than one year prior to his submission to the County of an application for leave to present a late

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 3

claim.2 Clayton's request that the special defense be tried before a jury was denied by the trial court.

In the unpublished portion of this decision, we conclude that the County is not estopped from challenging the date of accrual of Clayton's causes of action, since the County accepted Clayton's application for leave to present a late claim while expressly reserving its right to challenge the timeliness of the claim if discovery disclosed the accrual dates were other than those stated in the application. In the published portion of this decision, we conclude that Clayton was entitled to a jury trial on the issue of the date of accrual of his causes of action. Accordingly, we reverse.

98 Cal.App.4th 610
DISCUSSION
I.-II.**
III.

Clayton is correct that he was erroneously denied a jury trial (Cal. Const., art. I, § 16) on the issue of the dates of accrual of his causes of action.13

"The date of the accrual of a cause of action for the purpose of computing the time limit of the Government Code claims (§ 900 et seq.) is the same as for the statute of limitations which would otherwise be applicable. (.... § 901.)" (Wozniak v. Peninsula Hospital (1969) 1 Cal. App.3d 716, 722, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84.) In a suit for medical malpractice, the one-year statute of limitations commences to run when the plaintiff "discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, [his or her] injury."14 (Code Civ. Proc, § 340.5.) 15 The term "injury" means both the plaintiffs physical condition and its negligent cause; thus, once a plaintiff knows, or by reasonable diligence should have known, he or she has been harmed through professional negligence, the one-year limitations period begins to run. (Gutierrez v. Mofid (1985) 39 Cal.3d 892, 896, 218 Cal.Rptr. 313, 705 P.2d 886.) "When the person who is injured is a

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 4

minor, as here, the parents' knowledge or lack of knowledge is controlling. [Citation.]" (Wozniak v. Peninsula Hospital, supra, 1 Cal.App.3d at p. 723, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84; accord, Whitfield v. Roth (1974) 10 Cal.3d 874, 885, 112 Cal.Rptr. 540, 519 P.2d 588; County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1303 at p. 1309, 111 Cal.Rptr.2d 471.)

98 Cal.App.4th 611

Many cases have acknowledged, if they have not directly held, that the date of accrual of a cause of action is subject to jury determination when the issue is raised in connection with a tort claim. In Wozniak, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital on the ground the minor plaintiff had not filed a claim within the then-prevailing 100 days of section 911.2. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that "a triable issue of fact exists as to the time of the accrual of [the plaintiffs] cause of action." (Wozniak v. Peninsula Hospital, supra, 1 Cal.App.3d at p. 724, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84.) The court explained:

"The question of when there has been a belated discovery of the cause of action, especially in malpractice cases, is essentially a question of fact. The facts and circumstances of the medical treatment rendered a patient are within the exclusive knowledge of the hospital and the attending physicians. It is difficult to understand how an injured person could discover the cause of the injury until he has obtained that information. [Citations.] It is only where reasonable minds can draw but one conclusion from the evidence that the question becomes a matter of law. [Citations.]" (Wozniak v. Peninsula Hospital, supra, 1 Cal.App.3d at p. 725, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84.)

The court found the trial court had erred in granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment because reasonable minds could differ about when the plaintiffs parents knew or should have known about the hospital's alleged negligence. (Wozniak v. Peninsula Hospital, supra, 1 Cal.App.3d at pp. 724-726, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84.) The court made clear it was not deciding the date when the plaintiffs cause of action accrued "but only that the issue exists and is to be determined by the trier of fact." (Id. at p. 726, 82 Cal.Rptr. 84; see also Romo v. Estate of Bennett (1979) 97 Cal.App.3d 304, 307, 158 Cal.Rptr. 635.)

We think the court's use of the term "trier of fact" is significant, for it reflects an assumption that the determination of the date of accrual is not reserved for the court alone. The term "trier of fact" is used interchangeably to refer to a judge or jury and recognizes the factual, rather than the strictly legal, character of the inquiry. (Cornette v. Department of Transportation, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 75, 109 Cal.Rptr.2d 1, 26 P.3d 332.)

In Dujardin v. Ventura County Gen. Hosp. (1977) 69 Cal.App.3d 350, 138 Cal. Rptr. 20, the trial court sustained the defendants' demurrer without leave to amend on the ground the plaintiffs, a husband and wife and their minor child, had failed to file a claim within the required 100 days. The appellate court reversed, explaining that "[b]ecause the question of belated discovery depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the negligent act and the subsequent events leading to discovery, the issue is ordinarily one of fact for a court or jury to decide." (Dujardin v. Ventura County Gen. Hosp., supra, 69 Cal.App.3d at p. 356, 138 Cal.Rptr. 20, italics added.) The court decided that,

98 Cal.App.4th 612

because the plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently pled belated discovery, the issue could not be settled as a matter of law and the plaintiffs'"should have the opportunity to present their proof to the trier of fact." (Id. at p. 359,138 Cal.Rptr. 20.)

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 5

In addition, many courts in cases involving section 946.6 have likewise affirmed, if they have not held, that there is a right to a jury determination of the date of accrual under the tort claim statutes.16 (See Mandjik v. Eden Township Hospital Dist, supra, 4 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1500, 1504, fn. 12, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 582 [to permit public entity to make factual determinations relating to timeliness of a claim would deny claimant his or her right to a jury trial on disputed factual issues, and whether plaintiff will be able to prove his or her allegation of delayed accrual is a factual issue]; Santee v. Santa Clara County Office of Education (1990) 220 Cal. App.3d 702 at pp. 711-712, 269 Cal.Rptr. 605 ["We can envision certain cases, such as where the date of the accrual of the cause of action is disputed, where the related issue of timeliness of the claim should be postponed, upon appropriate demand by a petitioner, to a determination by the jury as in cases involving private defendants."]; Ngo v. County of Los Angeles (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 946, 950, 255 Cal.Rptr. 140 ["Were petitioners proceeding against a nongovernmental defendant, the issue of the statute of limitations would, of course, be a jury question [citations]; and so long as there exists any triable issue of fact as to whether there was timely compliance with the claims statute, both issues would be jury questions in an action against the County."]; and Scott v. County of Los Angeles, supra, 73 Cal.App.3d at pp. 481-482, 140 Cal. Rptr. 785 [public entity cannot deny to claimant his or her right to jury trial on disputed factual issues by rejecting claim as untimely rather than on its merits where the claim is timely on its face].17)

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 6

The fact that "[t]he Claim Statute did not exist in 1850" does not mean that "there is no inherent right to a jury trial against a public entity unless

98 Cal.App.4th 613

that right is found in a statute," as respondents maintain. Respondents have misconstrued County of Sacramento v. Superior Court, supra, 42 Cal.App.3d 135, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602, where the court held there is no right to a jury trial in a section 946.6 proceeding because the statute (1) contemplates findings by the court, not a jury; (2) had no counterpart in 1850; and (3) describes a "special proceeding," not a common law action. (County of Sacramento v. Superior Court, supra, at pp. 139-140, 116 Cal. Rptr. 602.) The court did not hold, as respondents assert, that there is no right to a jury trial against a public entity unless that right is found in a statute. Instead, the court applied the rule that there is no right to a jury trial in a special proceeding, such as one under section 946.6, unless the right is extended by statute. (County of Sacramento v. Superior Court, supra, at p. 140, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602; see Vallejo etc. R.R. Co. v. Reed Orchard Co. (1915) 169 Cal. 545, 556,147 P. 238.)

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27 practice notes
  • DiPirro v. Bondo Corporation, No. A110913.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 12, 2007
    ...it exists when a current case is of the same `class' or `nature' as one which existed in 1850." (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 613-614, 120 Cal.Rptr .2d 1; see also Asare v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co. (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 856, 867, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 452.) "[T]he fact that t......
  • Ovando v. County of Los Angeles, No. B186504.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 18, 2008
    ...the claim presentation requirement under Government Code section 946.6 is a special proceeding. (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 612, fn. 16, 120 Cal. Rptr.2d 1; County of Sacramento v. Superior Court (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 135, 140, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602; see Code Civ. Pro......
  • Amtower v. Photon Dynamics, Inc., No. H030386
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 17, 2008
    ...him of his right to a jury trial 71 Cal.Rptr.3d 372 on the statute of limitations defense. (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal. App.4th 606, 610, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 1.) Photon does not dispute that the running of the statute of limitations is ordinarily a question of fact upon which a p......
  • Garber v. City Of Clovis, No. 1:09-CV-0242 AWI SMS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • March 19, 2010
    ...to the petition. Ovando v. County of Los Angeles, 159 Cal.App.4th 42, 64, 71 Cal.Rptr.3d 415 (2008); Jefferson v. County of Kern, 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 612 n. 16, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 1 (2002); County of Sacramento v. Superior Court, 42 Cal.App.3d 135, 139, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602 (1974). “The statute g......
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27 cases
  • DiPirro v. Bondo Corporation, No. A110913.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 12, 2007
    ...exists when a current case is of the same `class' or `nature' as one which existed in 1850." (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 613-614, 120 Cal.Rptr .2d 1; see also Asare v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co. (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 856, 867, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 452.) "[T]he fact......
  • Ovando v. County of Los Angeles, No. B186504.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 18, 2008
    ...the claim presentation requirement under Government Code section 946.6 is a special proceeding. (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 612, fn. 16, 120 Cal. Rptr.2d 1; County of Sacramento v. Superior Court (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 135, 140, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602; see Code Civ. Pro......
  • Amtower v. Photon Dynamics, Inc., No. H030386
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 17, 2008
    ...him of his right to a jury trial 71 Cal.Rptr.3d 372 on the statute of limitations defense. (Jefferson v. County of Kern (2002) 98 Cal. App.4th 606, 610, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 1.) Photon does not dispute that the running of the statute of limitations is ordinarily a question of fact upon which a p......
  • Garber v. City Of Clovis, No. 1:09-CV-0242 AWI SMS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • March 19, 2010
    ...to the petition. Ovando v. County of Los Angeles, 159 Cal.App.4th 42, 64, 71 Cal.Rptr.3d 415 (2008); Jefferson v. County of Kern, 98 Cal.App.4th 606, 612 n. 16, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 1 (2002); County of Sacramento v. Superior Court, 42 Cal.App.3d 135, 139, 116 Cal.Rptr. 602 (1974). “The statute g......
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