DOE v. ALBANY UNIFIED SCHOOL DIST. No. C063271.
190 Cal.App.4th 668 (2010)
JOHN DOE, a Minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. ALBANY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Court of Appeals of California, Third District.
November 30, 2010.
Porter Scott, Michael W. Pott and Sophia S. Kwan for Defendants and Respondents Albany Unified School District and Board of the Albany Unified School District.
Education Code section 51210 states: "The adopted course of study for grades 1 to 6, inclusive, shall include instruction . . . in the following areas of study: [¶] . . . [¶] (g) Physical education, with emphasis upon the physical activities for the pupils that may be conducive to health and vigor of body and mind, for a total period of time of not less than 200 minutes each 10 schooldays, exclusive of recesses and the lunch period." (Italics added; further undesignated section references are to the Education Code.) Plaintiffs, a third grade student in the Albany Unified School District (the District) and his father, brought this action against the District, the District's board of education (Board), and the State Department of Education (CDE) claiming the District and the Board (hereafter collectively AUSD) are not complying with the 200-minute requirement of section 51210, subdivision (g), and CDE is facilitating this noncompliance. Defendants demurred, arguing section 51210 does not establish mandatory duties, but goals and guidelines that are not enforceable by private parties. The trial court agreed and sustained the demurrers without leave to amend.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
The complaint was filed on February 3, 2009. At the time, fictitiously named plaintiff John Doe was a third grade student at Cornell Elementary School (Cornell), one of three elementary schools within the District. Doe and his father, Donald D., filed the action against defendants alleging four causes of action. However, plaintiffs later dismissed all but the first cause of action. The first cause of action alleges a violation of section 51210, subdivision (g), in that the District schedules no more than 120 minutes of physical education every 10 schooldays at Cornell, rather than the required 200 minutes, and CDE aids and abets the District's actions.
Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to prohibit the District from violating section 51210, subdivision (g), during the pendency of this action. AUSD opposed the motion.
Defendants demurred to the complaint, asserting plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a claim under section 51210, because that section does not provide a private right of enforcement.
The trial court issued a tentative ruling sustaining the demurrers to the first cause of action without leave to amend. The court also issued a tentative ruling denying plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction.
At the hearing on defendants' demurrers, plaintiffs asserted they could state a claim for a writ of mandate to compel compliance with section 51210, subdivision (g). The trial court gave the parties leave to file supplemental briefs on the issue.
Following further briefing, the trial court affirmed its tentative rulings. The court concluded a writ of mandate is not available because section 51210, subdivision (g), does not impose any mandatory duty on defendants. The court thereafter issued orders sustaining defendants' demurrers without leave to amend and entered judgment for defendants.
Mandatory or Discretionary
Plaintiffs challenge both the order sustaining demurrers and the order denying their motion for preliminary injunction. They contend section 51210, subdivision (g), imposes a mandatory duty that may be enforced by private parties. They argue the complaint adequately states a claim for a violation of that provision and, if not, they should have been granted leave to amend to state a claim for a writ of mandate. Finally, plaintiffs argue they are entitled to a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to comply with section 51210, subdivision (g), until this matter can be resolved.
"On appeal from a dismissal after an order sustaining a demurrer, we review the order de novo, exercising our independent judgment about whether the complaint states a cause of action as a matter of law." (Lazar v. Hertz Corp. (1999)
The complaint alleges section 51210, subdivision (g), mandates that students in grades one through six receive 200 minutes of physical education every 10 schooldays, but AUSD "schedules at most 120 minutes of physical education every 10 school days" at Cornell. It further alleges Doe receives at most 120 minutes of physical education every 10 schooldays, and CDE aids and abets this violation of section 51210, subdivision (g), "and communicates to AUSD that it will do nothing if AUSD violates the law." Finally, the complaint alleges plaintiffs have "repeatedly" asked AUSD to provide the required physical education, but they "continue to violate and refuse to comply with" section 51210, subdivision (g). Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief.
Plaintiffs contend the foregoing adequately states a claim against both AUSD and CDE. They argue section 51210, subdivision (g), creates a mandatory duty on schools to provide a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education every 10 schooldays. By implication, they further argue CDE has a mandatory duty to enforce this 200-minute requirement.
The trial court relied in part on the general statement of legislative intent contained in section 51002. That section reads: "The Legislature hereby recognizes that, because of the common needs and interests of the citizens of this state and the nation, there is a need to establish a common state curriculum for the public schools, but that, because of economic, geographic, physical, political and social diversity, there is a need for the development of educational programs at the local level, with the guidance of competent and experienced educators and citizens. Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature to set broad minimum standards and guidelines for educational programs, and to encourage local districts to develop programs that will best fit the needs and interests of the pupils, pursuant to stated philosophy, goals, and objectives."
AUSD contends the trial court got it right, and section 51002 is the clearest statement of legislative intent with respect to section 51210, subdivision (g). AUSD argues the Legislature enacted section 51210, subdivision (g), as a "guideline to assist school districts" while encouraging them to develop programs that recognize the differences in philosophy, goals and objectives of each school district. According to AUSD, finding a mandatory duty in section 51210, subdivision (g), "would result in a contradictory legislative intent since it would mean the Legislature intended to impose a blanket mandatory duty despite recognizing there to be economic, geographic, and social diversity among the public schools which would result in variations in programs based on the needs and interests of the students."
Finally, we note also that section 51002, on which the trial court relied says, in part: "[I]t is the intent of the Legislature to set broad minimum standards and guidelines for educational programs. . . ." (§ 51002, italics added.)
Defendants argue the word "shall" in section 51210 does not necessarily denote a mandatory duty. In Morris v. County of Marin (1977)
In Taliaferro, the court noted that while the statute uses the word "shall," this is qualified by ensuing clauses implying the district attorney must first reasonably suspect the person to be charged and have information causing him or her to believe an offense has been committed. In view of these clauses, the court concluded "the matters of investigation and prosecution [are] matters in which the district attorney is vested with discretionary power. . . ." (Taliaferro, supra, 182 Cal.App.2d at p. 757.)
In the present matter, neither AUSD nor CDE suggests any reason why the word "shall" as used in section 51210 should not be given its usual and ordinary meaning. Although they cite numerous cases where the courts have refused to impose a mandatory duty despite statutory language providing that certain actions "shall" be taken by a governmental entity, those cases must be viewed in context. As discussed in the next part, those cases did not concern the existence of a mandatory duty in the abstract. They involved a government tort claim, where the question was whether the statute in question created a mandatory duty that can be enforced in a civil action for damages. As we shall explain, this is very different from whether the statute in question can be enforced by an action in equity or a writ proceeding.
Plaintiffs have requested that we take judicial notice of three documents: (1) a May 11, 2009, letter from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to school administrators expressing the view, among others, that the 200-minute provision of section 51210 is a requirement; (2) a faxed letter from CDE to plaintiff Donald D. regarding a government records request submitted by Donald D.; and (3) a copy of a page from CDE's Web site regarding physical education testing. Plaintiffs contend the first document is relevant to the question whether section 51210, subdivision (g), imposes a mandatory duty, and the other documents are relevant to whether plaintiffs can state a claim if given leave to amend. CDE opposes the request.
We have already concluded section 51210, subdivision (g), imposes a mandatory duty and, therefore, need not consider the first document. As for the other two, we conclude in the third part below that plaintiffs should have been granted leave to amend. Consequently, we need not consider the other documents either. Therefore, we deny plaintiffs' request for judicial notice.
We now turn to the question whether plaintiffs may enforce section 51210, subdivision (g), in a private civil action.
Private Right of Action
Defendants cite numerous cases in support of their argument that section 51210 does not provide for enforcement by a private right of action. However, those cases all involved claims for damages under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 810 et seq.). That act generally provides immunity to governmental agencies for injuries caused by their acts or omissions. (Gov. Code, § 815.) However, Government Code section 815.6 provides: "Where a public entity is under a mandatory duty imposed by an enactment that is designed to protect against the risk of a particular kind of injury, the public
For example, in Keech v. Berkeley Unified School Dist. (1984)
The trial court dismissed the complaint after it sustained the defendants' demurrers with leave to amend and the plaintiffs failed to amend. (Keech, supra, 162 Cal.App.3d at pp. 466-467.) The Court of Appeal affirmed. The appellate court first rejected the plaintiffs' attempt to use the statutes as a basis for establishing a duty of care for purposes of their negligence claim. (Id. at p. 469.) It then rejected the plaintiffs' alternate theory that the statutory provisions imposed a mandatory duty and that failure to comply constituted an actionable tort under Government Code section 815.6. The court explained "Government Code section 815.6 `imposes liability for failure to discharge only such "mandatory duty" as is "imposed by an enactment that is designed to protect against the risk of a particular kind of injury."'" (Keech, supra, 162 Cal.App.3d at p. 470.) The court indicated use of the word "shall" in the statute is not conclusive. Rather, "[t]he controlling question is whether the enactment at issue was intended to impose an obligatory duty to take specified official action to prevent particular foreseeable injuries, thereby providing an appropriate basis for civil liability. [Citation.] If injury of the kind sustained by appellants was not one of the consequences which the Legislature sought to prevent through imposition of the alleged mandatory duty, liability does not obtain under Government Code section 815.6." (Ibid.) The court went on to conclude the statutes "cannot reasonably be construed as designed to `protect' the parents of handicapped children from the `injury' of having to pay the costs of hospitalizing a disturbed child pending assessment of the appropriate form of special education to be afforded. . . ." (Id. at p. 471.)
In Tirpak v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (1986)
The Court of Appeal affirmed. The statutes in question, sections 48900, 48911 and 48918, prohibit suspension absent a prior determination that the student has committed one or more of a series of acts, and set up compulsory hearing and expulsion procedures. The plaintiffs argued liability existed under Government Code section 815.6. The defendants countered that the Education Code sections are directed at attaining education goals not safeguarding against injury. The appellate court agreed with the defendants. (Tirpak, supra, 187 Cal.App.3d at p. 643.) The court explained: "[S]ections 48900, 48911 and 48918 can only be read as part of a comprehensive legislative scheme designed to ensure procedural fairness in suspension and expulsion proceedings. Although, these sections are broader than those litigated in Keech because they apply to all children, they clearly retain their administrative character. They do not expressly set forth a private cause of action for damages for breach of their provisions. And we otherwise do not discern a mandatory duty of care owed to plaintiffs with respect to economic damages arising from educational injury. The appropriate remedy for a breach of these statutory provisions is to proceed by way of administrative mandamus or injunction to enforce the procedures contained therein." (Id. at p. 645.)
The present matter is not based on any injury to plaintiffs caused by defendants' failure to comply with section 51210, subdivision (g), and plaintiffs are not seeking damages. They are instead seeking to force defendants to comply with the law by way of injunctive or declaratory relief. Nevertheless, the question remains whether plaintiffs have a right to do so through a civil action seeking equitable relief.
Writ of Mandate
At the hearing below, plaintiffs for the first time asserted a right to seek relief by way of a traditional writ of mandate. The trial court gave the parties leave to file supplemental briefs on the issue, which they did. The court thereafter ruled that mandamus relief is unavailable because section 51210, subdivision (g), does not create a mandatory duty.
AUSD contends the question whether mandamus relief is appropriate here is irrelevant, because plaintiffs did not petition for a writ of mandate, the trial court did not treat the complaint as a petition for writ of mandate, and the court did not consider whether plaintiffs may petition for a writ of mandate. CDE likewise argues plaintiffs did not assert a writ of mandate claim, did not raise the issue until the hearing below, and therefore may not pursue such a claim here.
Furthermore, contrary to AUSD's representation, the trial court did consider whether plaintiffs may petition for a writ of mandate. After permitting supplemental briefing on the issue, the court considered and rejected such a claim, concluding mandamus is unavailable because section 51210, subdivision (g), does not impose a mandatory duty. Thus the question whether the complaint states a claim for traditional mandamus is properly before us.
CDE contends the allegations of the complaint do not satisfy the requirements for a mandate claim in that they fail to allege plaintiffs have a legally protected beneficial interest in defendants' compliance with section 51210, subdivision (g), greater than that of the general public. AUSD in turn argues the complaint does not adequately allege plaintiffs have a beneficial interest in issuance of a writ of mandate inasmuch as there is no claim that plaintiffs "have suffered an injury that is concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent."
AUSD argues the intent underlying section 51210 was not to protect the health and welfare of elementary school students but to "establish a common curriculum and to encourage local school districts to develop programs that would incorporate the education guidelines and standards it establishes." However, this argument is belied by section 51210.1, which is a statement of legislative findings regarding physical education in schools. It reads:
"(a)(1) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
"(A) The Education Code currently mandates 200 minutes of physical education every 10 schooldays for pupils in elementary school. Recent studies have shown that the vast majority of children and youth are not physically fit.
"(B) According to a March 1997 report by the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight has more than doubled in the last 30 years. Most of this increase occurred within the last 10 years.
"(C) Nearly 40 percent of children of ages five to eight years have health conditions that significantly increase their risk of early heart disease.
"(D) Some 70 percent of girls, and 40 percent of boys, who are from 6 to 12 years of age do not have enough muscle strength to do more than one pullup.
"(E) Most children lead inactive lives. On the average, first through fourth graders spend two hours watching television on schooldays and spend close to three and one-half hours watching television on weekend days.
"(2) It is, therefore, the intent of the Legislature that all children shall have access to a high-quality, comprehensive, and developmentally appropriate physical education program on a regular basis."
While the Legislature may have been interested in encouraging local schools to adopt uniform curricula that meet various legislative guidelines,
"It is well settled as a general proposition that a litigant will not be afforded relief in the courts unless and until he has exhausted available administrative remedies." (In re Strick (1983)
An exception to the exhaustion requirement is recognized where pursuit of administrative remedies would be futile. (In re Strick, supra, 148 Cal.App.3d at p. 911.) Specifically, exhaustion is not required where the petitioner "can positively state that the [administrative agency] has declared what its ruling will be in the particular case." (Gantner & Mattern Co. v. California E. Com. (1941) 17 Cal.2d 314, 318 [109 P.2d 932]; see also George Arakelian Farms, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. (1985)
CDE asserts plaintiffs had an adequate administrative remedy available to them, to wit, "they could have sought relief through a grievance or similar hearing proceeding before the AUSD Board." However, CDE provides no specifics as to this purported grievance procedure and no citation to the record or law supporting their bare assertion that such procedure exists and was available to plaintiffs. On the other hand, the burden would normally be on plaintiffs to allege either that there is no available administrative remedy, they pursued any available remedy to no avail, or resort to the administrative remedy would be futile under the circumstances.
Plaintiffs do not respond to this argument. However, we note the complaint currently alleges: "Plaintiffs have repeatedly asked defendants AUSD and the Board of Education to provide the physical education to which students are legally entitled, but AUSD and the Board of Education continue to violate and refuse to comply with Education Code Section 51210." This allegation is less than clear as to whether plaintiffs are asserting they pursued available administrative remedies, if any, or simply made informal requests for modification of the physical education program. Nevertheless, we believe it is sufficient to suggest plaintiffs may be able to provide a more specific allegation regarding the availability of administrative remedies.
When a demurrer is sustained without leave to amend, "we decide whether there is a reasonable possibility that the defect can be cured by amendment: if it can be, the trial court has abused its discretion and we reverse; if not, there has been no abuse of discretion and we affirm. [Citations.]" (Blank v. Kirwan, supra, 39 Cal.3d at p. 318.) In this instance, we conclude the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to state a more complete claim for mandamus.
Plaintiffs contend the trial court erred in denying their motion for a preliminary injunction to require defendants to comply with section 51210, subdivision (g), pending final resolution of this matter. They argue the declarations submitted by defendants in opposition to their motion do not provide legitimate examples of supplemental physical education provided by teachers at Cornell. They further argue the inherent harm in defendants' continued failure to comply with section 51210, subdivision (g), is "a continued increase in childhood obesity and related health problems."
Because the complaint in its present form does not state a claim against defendants, there was no basis for the trial court to provide interim relief. Plaintiffs will have an opportunity to seek such relief upon remand.
The judgment of dismissal is reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate its order sustaining defendants' demurrers without leave to amend and to enter a new order sustaining the demurrers with leave to amend to state a claim for traditional mandamus. Plaintiffs are awarded their costs on appeal. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.278(a)(1).)
Robie, J., and Butz, J., concurred.
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