Raghukultilak v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation et al

Filing 25

ORDER signed by District Judge Troy L. Nunley on 11/17/2020 DENYING 7 Petition for Relief from Government Code § 945.4. (Huang, H)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 BHARATH RAGHUKULTILAK, M.D., 12 13 14 15 No. 2:19-cv-00455-TLN-DMC Plaintiff, v. ORDER CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, et al., 16 Defendants. 17 18 19 This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Bharath Raghukultilak’s (“Plaintiff”) Petition 20 for Relief from Government Code § 945.4. (ECF No. 7.) Defendants California Department of 21 Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Correctional Health Care Services, David Snell, M.D., 22 Kevin Rueter, M.D., and Todd Murray, Psy.D. (collectively, “Defendants”) filed an opposition. 23 (ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff filed a reply. (ECF No. 12.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court 24 DENIES Plaintiff’s petition. 25 I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 26 Plaintiff was previously employed as a doctor at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, 27 California. (See generally ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff’s employment was subject to a six-month 28 probationary period, during which time Defendants rejected Plaintiff’s continued employment. 1 1 (Id.) Plaintiff alleges claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment under federal and state 2 law arising from his employment. (Id.) Plaintiff brings the instant petition seeking relief from 3 the claim presentation requirement of Government Code § 945.4 (“§ 945.4”) “as a precautionary 4 measure” because “there is a question whether Plaintiff timely filed a claim” with the proper 5 public entity prior to bringing this action. (ECF No. 7-1 at 1–2.) 6 II. STANDARD OF LAW 7 Prior to bringing tort claims against state and local public entities, plaintiffs in California 8 must comply with the strict procedural requirements of the California Tort Claims Act (“the 9 Act”). Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 810–996.6. Among the Act’s procedural prerequisites for a suit is the 10 requirement that a claimant file a written claim with the proper public entity. See id. § 945.4. If 11 the claim is not presented within the time set forth by the statute, “a written application may be 12 made to the public entity for leave to present the late claim.” Id. §§ 911.2, 911.4. The application 13 for leave to present the late claim must be submitted to the public entity “within a reasonable time 14 not to exceed one year after the accrual of the cause of action and shall state the reason for the 15 delay in presenting the claim.” Id. § 911.4. If the application is denied, the claimant may file a 16 petition with “a superior court that would be a proper court for the trial of an action on the cause 17 of action to which the claim relates.” Id. § 946.6(a). “The granting of a petition under [§] 946.6 18 allows the petitioner to bypass the claims procedure altogether and does not then require the re- 19 filing of a late claim.” Perez v. Escondido, 165 F. Supp. 2d 1111, 1115 (S.D. Cal. 2001). 20 III. ANALYSIS 21 Plaintiff brings the instant petition pursuant to California Government Code § 946.6 (“§ 22 946.6”). (ECF No. 7-1 at 2.) As a threshold matter, Defendants argue this Court is not the proper 23 court to provide Plaintiff’s requested relief. (ECF No. 8 at 6.) The Court agrees. 24 “The Ninth Circuit has not decided whether a federal court, rather than a state court, has 25 jurisdiction to rule on a petition for leave to file a late claim, and there is a split of authority 26 among California’s district courts.” Garza v. Alvara, No. 115-cv-00234-DAD-SKO, 2016 WL 27 4921542, at *10 (E.D. Cal. July 8, 2016). Plaintiff argues that Perez is the most well-reasoned 28 and illustrative case to address this question. (ECF No. 12 at 4.) In Perez, a district court in the 2 1 Southern District of California concluded it had jurisdiction to consider a § 946.6 petition because 2 “[t]here is no plain language in [§] 946.6 depriving this Court of jurisdiction.” 165 F. Supp. 2d at 3 1115. However, a majority of courts in this circuit have rejected Perez because it relied in part on 4 language in § 946.6(a) predating 2002 amendments. See, e.g., Hill v. City of Clovis, No. 1:11-cv- 5 01391-AWI-SMS, 2012 WL 787609, at *12 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 9, 2012); Deats v. Cnty. of Orange, 6 No. CV 09-6322 PSG (CTX), 2010 WL 11549366, at *3 n.4 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2010); San Diego 7 Branch of Nat’l Ass’n for the Advancement of Colored People v. Cnty. of San Diego, No. 16-cv- 8 2575-JLS (BGS), 2017 WL 5194579, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 9, 2017). 9 Before 2002, § 946.6(a) stated “the proper court for filing the petition is a court which 10 would be a competent court for the trial of an action on the cause of action to which the claim 11 relates and which is located in a county or judicial district which would be a proper place for the 12 trial of the action.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 946.6(a) (2001 ed.) As of 2002, the language of § 13 946.6(a) became more specific. The “proper court” for obtaining relief is no longer “a court,” 14 rather, it is now “a superior court.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 946.6(a). Courts in this district have 15 consistently held that federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear § 946.6 petitions because the statute 16 as amended unambiguously vests jurisdiction to consider such petitions only with state superior 17 courts. See Hill, 2012 WL 787609, at *12 (“Since § 946.6(a) was amended to identify a specific 18 court, and that court is the state superior court, this Court will follow the majority position and 19 conclude that only state superior courts have been given the authority to grant relief pursuant to § 20 946.6(a).”); see also Crisp v. Wasco State Prison, No. 1:13-cv-00816-GSA-PC, 2013 WL 21 3805150, at *3 (E.D. Cal. July 22, 2013); Medina v. Lopez, No. 1:14-cv-01850-GSA PC, 2015 22 WL 1405284, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 26, 2015); Oliver v. Ybarra, No. 1:15-cv-00723-GSA-LJO, 23 2015 WL 2381349, at *4 (E.D. Cal. May 18, 2015). 24 While the Court arguably does have jurisdiction to consider whether Plaintiff timely 25 complied with the Act, that is not the purpose of Plaintiff’s § 946.6 petition. See Ovando v. City 26 of Los Angeles, 92 F. Supp. 2d 1011, 1022 (C.D. Cal. 2000) (“The question presented by a § 27 946.6 petition . . . is whether a claimant should be relieved of his obligations under the Act and is 28 separate from the merits and not properly within a federal court’s subject matter jurisdiction.”). 3 1 Plaintiff “preemptively” requests the Court relieve him from the provisions of § 945.4 even 2 though it is unclear whether his claims were untimely. (ECF No. 7-1 at 2 (“Out of an abundance 3 of caution, because it can be argued July 2, 2018 was the termination date, Plaintiff preemptively 4 seeks relief from this Court.”).) The parties are free to argue the issue of timeliness in a properly 5 noticed motion, but a § 946.6 petition is not the proper vehicle for doing so. See id. (“The issue 6 of timeliness can then be raised in the form of demurrer, motion for summary judgment, motion 7 for judgment on the pleadings, or motion to strike.”). Because the plain language of § 946.6 as 8 amended explicitly vests jurisdiction only with state superior courts, the Court agrees with the 9 majority of courts in this circuit that it lacks jurisdiction to grant Plaintiff’s requested relief. 10 IV. CONCLUSION 11 For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s Petition for Relief from 12 Government Code § 945.4. (ECF No. 7.) 13 DATED: November 17, 2020 14 15 16 Troy L. Nunley United States District Judge 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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