Roe v. Centinela Valley Union High Sch. Dist.

Decision Date16 September 2022
Docket NumberB311456
PartiesT. ROE, an Incompetent Person, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CENTINELA VALLEY UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC683738, Gary Y. Tanaka, Judge. Reversed with directions.

McMurray Henriks and Yana G. Henriks for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Tyson &Mendes, Susan L. Oliver, Emily S. Berman, and Ji Eun Choi for Defendants and Respondents Centinela Valley Union High School District and Andy Mehta.

Emergent and Kenneth H. Szeto for Defendant and Respondent Juan Gutierrez.



T. Roe an intellectually disabled adult, by and through his guardian ad litem, Twynlette Thompson, filed this action against Juan Gutierrez, Andy Mehta, and the Centinela Valley Union High School District. Roe alleged Mehta, who was a teacher, and Gutierrez, who was an instructional aide, sexually molested Roe in the bathroom of the high school Roe attended.

Roe appeals from the judgment entered in favor of Gutierrez, Mehta, and the School District after the trial court granted motions by each of them for summary judgment. Roe argues the court erred in granting those motions because his deposition testimony, as well as other evidence he argues the court improperly excluded on hearsay grounds, raised triable issues of material fact regarding whether Gutierrez and Mehta sexually abused him as alleged. We agree with Roe about his deposition testimony. Therefore, without reaching his argument the trial court erred in excluding evidence on hearsay grounds, we reverse.

A. Roe Files This Action

Roe was born in January 1995. Because of an intellectual disability, his verbal comprehension and functional communications skills are limited. His receptive vocabulary, for example, is equivalent to that of an eight-year-old child, and his expressive vocabulary equivalent to that of a seven-year-old child.

From fall 2009 through spring 2013, Roe attended Leuzinger High School, which is part of the School District. During the 2012-2013 school year, Roe was enrolled in a special education class in which Gutierrez, a School District employee, served as an instructional aide. After high school, including for the 2015-2016 school year, Roe was enrolled in an adult transition program at Leuzinger High School, and Mehta was his teacher.

In November 2017, by and through Thompson, who is his mother and guardian ad litem, Roe filed this action against Gutierrez, Mehta, and the School District. In the operative, third amended complaint, Roe asserted causes of action for (1) assault and battery, against all defendants; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress, against all defendants; (3) negligence, against the School District; (4) negligent hiring/retention and supervision, against the School District; (5) gender violence, against Mehta and Gutierrez; and (6) dependent adult abuse, against Gutierrez.

Roe alleged that, on various occasions during the 2012-2013 school year, Gutierrez "sexually molested and abused [him] in the Leuzinger High School bathroom by physically touching [his] genitals through and under his clothing." Roe alleged that, on various occasions during the 2015-2016 school year, Mehta also sexually abused and molested him in a Leuzinger High School bathroom in the same manner. Roe alleged that the School District was vicariously liable for the sexual abuse by Gutierrez and Mehta; that it knew, or through the exercise of reasonable care should have known, Gutierrez and Mehta had a propensity to sexually abuse students at Leuzinger; and that the School District failed to take reasonable steps to avoid such abuse by Gutierrez and Mehta.

B. Gutierrez, Mehta, and the School District File Motions for Summary Judgment

Gutierrez, Mehta, and the School District each moved for summary judgment,[1] contending there was no triable issue of material fact regarding any of Roe's causes of action against them. Their principal argument was that Roe could not-in the words of the School District-"prove by admissible evidence that the alleged sexual misconduct by either Gutierrez or Mehta actually occurred." They submitted deposition testimony by Gutierrez and Mehta in which each stated he had never touched Roe in a sexual manner.

C. Roe Opposes the Motions for Summary Judgment and Presents His Evidence

Roe opposed the motions for summary judgment, relying on the deposition testimony of several people, as well as an expert declaration and report. Roe's proffered evidence included the following:

1. The Deposition Testimony of Thompson

Roe submitted the deposition testimony of his mother, Thompson, who stated that in August 2016 Roe told her "Mr. G and Mr. Mehta touched [his] pee pee . . . and his bootie-bootie."[2]Thompson testified Roe told her that Gutierrez touched him under his clothes and that the incident occurred in the "classroom bathroom and school bathroom." Thompson said that she did not know which man touched Roe in which bathroom or whether both men touched Roe in both bathrooms, but that Roe told her the touching occurred in both bathrooms. Roe also told her that Gutierrez touched him multiple times. When Thompson asked Roe why he had not previously told her about the touching, Roe said he was scared. Thompson reported Roe's statements to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

2. The Deposition Testimony of Los Angeles

County Sheriff's Deputy Quang Huynh Roe presented the deposition testimony of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Quang Huynh, who responded to the call of sexual battery generated by Thompson's report to the Sheriff's Department. Deputy Huynh testified that, on his arriving at Roe and Thompson's home, Thompson told him Roe suffered "from a mild retardation," had "a mental capacity of a seven-year-old" child, and had told her he "was touched by his school teacher in a bathroom" at Leuzinger High School. Deputy Huynh spoke with Roe, who said that "he was touched by . . . Mehta on the outer clothing of his penis area" and that "he felt scared when [Mehta] touched him." Roe, however, could not recall for the deputy when the incident happened. Deputy Huynh testified that Roe appeared to be "mentally disabled," but that Roe "was able to communicate with [him] and pretty much told [him] what happened." It was Deputy Huynh's assessment that Roe's inability to recall when the alleged touching happened, as well as his difficulty communicating other details about the incident, was a result of his "mental condition." Deputy Huynh wrote up an incident report that included the statements to him by Thompson and Roe.

3. The Deposition Testimony of Dr. Samantha Liberman and Dr. Yuri Tsutsumi

Roe submitted the deposition testimony of two psychiatrists with whom he had therapy sessions. Dr. Samantha Liberman, who met with Roe on February 13, 2017, confirmed that her notes from that session reflected Roe "expressed that he does not want to return back to school because of 'mean teachers,'" but she did not recall whether Roe elaborated on what he meant by "mean teachers." Dr. Yuri Tsutsumi, who met with Roe on January 11, 2019, confirmed that her notes from that session reflected Roe "reported he becomes anxious at times when [he] is outside since he fears . . . encountering his teachers that abused" him, but she could not recall whether Roe "elaborated on the abuse by his teachers."

4. The Deposition Testimony of Roe

Roe presented testimony from his deposition. Although many of his substantive responses to questions by counsel for Gutierrez and counsel for the School District and Mehta were sparse, Roe did testify that Gutierrez had been "a teacher's aide" in his class at Leuzinger High School, that in 2012 Gutierrez did something at school Roe "didn't like," that Gutierrez "touch[ed]" him, that he did not like Gutierrez because Gutierrez "was mean to [him] in the bathroom" at Leuzinger, and that Roe told his mother and grandmother about it. Similarly, Roe testified that Mehta had been his teacher, that he did not like Mehta, that Mehta was not nice to him, that Mehta did something Roe "didn't like," that Mehta "did something bad to [him] in the bathroom," that this bathroom was at Leuzinger near his classroom, and that Roe told his mother about it. Generally, whenever counsel pressed Roe for more details about what Gutierrez and Mehta did to him, Roe became nonresponsive. At one point, when counsel asked where Gutierrez had touched him, Roe called out for his mother and asked for a break. The transcript also reflects that, at several points during his deposition, Roe began to laugh for reasons that were not evident, prompting counsel to ask, multiple times, what was making him laugh. Roe never answered.

5. The Declaration of Dr. Kimberley Lakes

Finally, Roe presented the declaration and expert report of Dr. Kimberley Lakes, a licensed psychologist with specialized training in "trauma, physical, and sexual abuse" and experience evaluating more than 150 adults and children who were "sexual and/or physical abuse survivors." In addition to interviewing Thompson and reviewing other relevant evidence, including Roe's medical, therapy, and education records and his video deposition, Dr. Lakes spent more than four hours, over two days in May 2020, evaluating Roe face-to-face. During that time, Dr. Lakes and Roe were alone, while Thompson waited nearby. Dr. Lakes also administered tests to evaluate Roe's cognitive and language abilities.

Dr Lakes determined that Roe "is intellectually disabled and has limited verbal comprehension and functional...

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