Practice Area Details
The litigators of Dannis Woliver Kelley focus on finding solutions first. If litigation becomes necessary, we go into court fighting—we go in to win. Litigation is never anyone's first choice, but when that time comes, you need a law firm on your side that you feel confident has the experience, resources, and expertise to solve your problems, not perpetuate them. The breadth and depth of Dannis Woliver Kelley's litigation practice sets us apart from other firms. Not only are we adept at all aspects of general civil litigation, but we also possess a unique expertise in education law, as well as in the special claims and defenses afforded public entities and the special procedures that govern them. This concentration enables us to devise sound strategies for resolving disputes expediently and cost-effectively.
Our 35 years of experience helping clients successfully navigate the maze that is California education law gives us the historical perspective needed for handling the wide range of issues facing educational agencies today.
Our litigation attorneys advise and represent clients in many areas of law, including:
- School finance
- Constitutional law
- Eminent domain
- Public contracting
- Breach of contract
- Personal injury
- Special education and disability law
- Student issues
- Civil rights
- Charter schools
- Teacher Dismissal and Discipline
- Labor and Employment law
- Wage and hour law
- Public Records Act
- Brown Act
- Conflicts of interest
At Dannis Woliver Kelley, our litigation attorneys have handled hundreds of lawsuits in state and federal court. Our collective experience includes numerous trials, and countless arbitrations and administrative hearings.
Representative Education Legal Services Cases
General Education Law Litigation
- Beatriz Vergara v. State of California, et al. (2012) Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC484642
Plaintiffs were students from across the state, some of whom attended the District’s schools. Plaintiffs challenged five Education Code provisions related to teacher tenure, teacher dismissal and lay offs on the basis that they violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. Specifically, they alleged that are unconstitutional because they serve to keep “grossly ineffective teachers” in the classroom, particularly affecting low wealth and minority students. DWK worked closely with the Office of General Counsel to obtain a dismissal of the District from the case.
- Cruz v. State of California, et al. (2014) Alameda Superior Court Case No. RG14727139
This action is brought by students from across the State through ACLU and Public Counsel who assert a variety of equal protection and discrimination based claims founded on allegations that students, particularly those of color, are being deprived of instructional time due to “lockdowns,” instruction-free classes, and problems with master schedules. Instead of meaningful instruction, it is alleged that these students are provided classes that do not offer instructional content and do not advance them toward college preparation, among other things. The LAUSD schools involved are Fremont High School, Dorsey High School, Jefferson High School and Griffith Joyner Elementary School. The action is brought against the State and, and although the District is not currently a party, it is the subject of a Temporary Restraining Order and was the subject of a requested order for injunctive relief to involve the State in the District’s educational program.
- Bain v. California Teachers’ Association (2015) Case No: 2:15-cv-02465-SVW-AJW
DWK represents one of the named defendants in the above-litigation challenging the California Teachers Association’s opt-out structure of agency fees on First Amendment grounds.
Charter General Advice and Litigation
- United Teachers Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2012) 54 Cal.4th 504
DWK defended petition to compel arbitration filed by UTLA regarding the Board’s decision to grant the Locke Charter High School charter petition. The trial court confirmed that the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement that purport to control the chartering process are invalidated pursuant to Education Code section 47611.5. The California Supreme Court held that the Board’s decision to approve the charter could not be rescinded.
- San Diego Unified School District v. Alpine Union School District et. al. (2014) San Diego Superior Court Case No. 37-2014-00021153-CU-MC-CTL
San Diego Unified School sought to establish interpretation and enforcement of the geographic requirements and limitations of the Charter Schools Act, and established that charter schools are required to locate within their authorizes boundaries subject only to few exceptions in Charter Schools Act and only upon proper notice to district in which charter proposes to locate prior to approval. Court held the charter was not validly approved and ordered revocation.
- Corey Randall, et al. v. Birmingham Community Charter School, Los Angeles Unified School District, et al. (2013) Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. LC100810
Plaintiffs alleged various state and federal discrimination claims based upon allegations that they were discriminated against by the charter school and the District failed to take appropriate oversight action. DWK obtained a dismissal of the District by demurrer and also enforced charter school’s obligation to indemnify the District which resulted in full reimbursement of District fees.
General Special Education Compliance Advice/Specified Special Education Training
Special Education Litigation
- A.C., by and through his guardian ad litem Gail Campos; et al., v. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of California; CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; JACK O’CONNELL, in his official capacity as California State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Los Angeles Unified School District and Ramon Cortines; et al., United States Central District Court Case No. 2:10-cv-07956-GW (AGRx)
When the Governor vetoed AB 3632, ACLU and Public Counsel brought this action against the State as well as several local school districts including LAUSD to compel the provision of mental health services. DWK defended the District and was able to work with related agencies to develop a memorandum of understanding between agencies to resolve issues including allocation of funding. Because of the immediate and cooperative role the District took in ensuring provision of mental health services after the veto, we were able to successfully defend plaintiffs’ request for an award of attorneys’ fees and the District was not required to pay plaintiffs’ fees.
Representative Labor and Employment Services Cases
- Kolter v. Los Angeles Unified School District (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1346
In an important case clarifying the Brown Act and the often-misunderstood 24 Hour Notice Rule set forth in Government Code section 54957, the California Court of Appeal held that permanent certificated employees are not entitled to 24 hours written notice of the right to have the governing board’s consideration of the statement of charges for dismissal heard in open session.
- Sullivan v. Centinela Valley Union High School District (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 69
DWK was successful in asking the court of appeal to uphold the district’s non-reelection of a second year probationary teacher who had actual notice of his non-reelection decision by March 15, but who did not actually receive his non-reelection letter until March 16. The court found that the teacher had actual notice of the decision because on March 10, the district’s human resources director told him that he would be non-reelected and offered him the option to resign, and because his mother signed for a certified letter from the district regarding his non-reelection on March 15. The court also noted that actual notice could be inferred by the board’s announcement of the non-reelection decision at its March 13 meeting, which the teacher’s attorney attended.
- Hildebrandt v. St. Helena Unified School District (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 334
In a case involving bumping rights, the Court of Appeal ruled that when a school district lay off certificated employees, pursuant to Education Code section 44955, part-time employees with greater seniority are not entitled to “bump” a full-time employee with lesser seniority.
- Sunnyvale School District v. Jacobs (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 168
A probationary teacher grieved his non-reelection claiming that it was in retaliation for his union-related activities and sought arbitration. The arbitrator found in the employee’s favor and ordered reinstatement. The district petitioned to vacate the award and the union and employee petitioned to confirm the award. The Court of Appeal ruled in the district’s favor and held that any alleged Educational Employment Relations Act violations stemming from a district’s decision not to reelect a probationary teacher are not subject to collective bargaining and therefore, could not be challenged via an arbitration provision in a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the proper recourse in such a situation is an unfair practices charge with the Public Employment Relations Board.
Representative Administrative Legal Services Cases
Retirement System Audits and Reviews
- (2015) CalSTRS and CalPERS Compensation Reporting
County Office of Education raised concerns regarding District’s longstanding practice of reporting compensation provided to district administrators pursuant to contract in lieu of provision of benefits. DWK opened a dialogue with the County Office of Education, reviewed contracts in question, and proposed revisions where advisable. District is continuing to work with the County Office of Education to resolve the situation.
- (2015) CalSTRS Audit Appeal
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (“CalSTRS”) issued an audit report which found that district incorrectly reported compensation for two employees causing their CalSTRS benefits to be incorrectly calculated. The audit found that the district incorrectly reported salary converted from benefits for a former district administrator as well as compensation provided to a former teacher, for his longer work day. The employees and the district exercised their ability to seek an administrative appeal of the findings. At the same time, the employees filed claims against the district which were denied and the parties agreed to toll any deadline for litigation over those claims during the course of the administrative appeal. After a hearing on the administrative appeal at which evidence and testimony was taken, an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision granting the appeal as to the administrator, but denying the appeal as to the employee. CalSTRS adopted the opinion of the administrative law judge ultimately restoring the benefits to the administrator. The former teacher subsequently filed litigation against CalSTRS and named district as a Real Party in Interest. We are continuing our representation of the district as the dispute enters litigation.
- (2013) CalPERS Audit Review
Provided guidance and advice to District where CalPERS audit suggested adjustment to retirement benefits of former District administrator based on allegations the District had failed to properly document adjustment to the administrator's salary and former administrator threaten legal action against the District. After working with District to investigate and take action to rectify any deficiency, CalPERS withdrew its concerns and administrator decided not to pursue litigation.
- (2012) CalSTRS Audit Review
Provided representation to former County Superintendent of Schools after audit recommended an adjustment to retirement benefits on two grounds. First, that some fringe benefits were not “creditable compensation” under Education Code section 22119.2 and therefore should be excluded from the benefits calculation. Second, the agency had failed to provide documentation illustrating that the governing board publicly ratified compensation agreements and addendums. DWK provided guidance, advice and representation resulting in favorable outcome without need for further litigation.
Representative Construction Cases
- In Taisei Construction Company v. San Joaquin Delta Community College District, a highly contentious $25 million construction and design-deficiency claim, we resisted very aggressive litigation by the contractor while at the same time advising the district through the project completion and close-out process. We devised and executed a cost-effective strategy to prepare the case for mediation, and achieved a very favorable settlement for our client, extricating the District from (still ongoing) litigation between the contractor and the architect and construction manager.
- We represented the Arcadia Unified School District when a contractor sued for $4.7 million in damages over construction of two new high school buildings. The already-aggressive contractor litigation became more complex as numerous subcontractor actions were consolidated. We advanced the district’s sizeable delay damages claim, and were able to achieve a favorable settlement in time to avoid expensive trial preparation.
Training and In-Servicing
Dannis Woliver Kelley prides itself on its preventative and problem-solving approach to litigation. Our attorneys have provided practical and timely trainings to our clients in the areas of law that affect their decision-making on a day-to-day basis and help reduce their exposure to liability. These topics include:
- Sexual Harassment: Training and Strategies for Avoiding Liability
- Worker's Compensation: Human Resources’ Role in Determining Rights and Benefits of an Injured Employee
- Protecting Employees
- Handling Subpoenas for Student Records
- Avoiding Liability for Violation of Student Constitutional Rights
- Litigating the Special Education Appeal
- Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Serving Students Under Section 504
- Litigating Under the False Claims Act
- How to Effectively Handle Stop Notice Claims
- Contractual Indemnity: Protection from Liability
- Litigating a Facilities Dispute Under Proposition 39
- Monitoring and Oversight: Protection from Liability (Charter Schools)
- Revocation: Litigating the Closure of a Charter School
- Understanding and Managing the Brown Act
- Responding to California Public Records Act Requests
- Getting a Grip: Effective Management Related to Students with Aggressive Behaviors
- Public Officer Ethics and Conflicts of Interest
- Clarissa R. Canady
- Lauren M. Charneski
- Sue Ann Salmon Evans
- Richard A. Gonzalez
- Jessika K. Johnson
- Matt P. Juhl-Darlington
- Amy R. Levine
- Daniel M. McElhinney
- Ingrid A. Meyers
- Bryan J. Park
- R. Peter Rittling
- Deidree Y.M.K. Sakai
- Deepika S. Saluja
- Matthew J. Tamel
- William B. Tunick
- Cameron C. Ward
- Karl H. Widell
- Steven Wong
- Keith A. Yeomans
Court of Appeal Upholds DWK's Pre-condemnation Right-of-Entry Order
December 8, 2015
Superior Court Denies Effort to Require State to Intervene in School Districts to Ensure Meaningful Instructional Time
April 21, 2015
What Does the Vergara Decision Mean for California Schools?
Sue Ann Salmon Evans
June 11, 2014
Vergara v. State of California: Court Strikes Down Teacher Protection Statutes
June 10, 2014
CA Supreme Court Reverses Appeals Decision in American Nurses Association v. Torlakson
August 12, 2013
- 2014 CSBA Annual Education Conference and Trade Show: Sue Ann Salmon Evans presents "Landmark Litigation Impacts Education Reform"
December 14, 2014
Conference Speaking Date
San Francisco, CA
- 2014 Education Insights: Legal Update
May 28, 2014
Court Affirms School District Consultants Are Subject To Conflict Prohibitions
Vol. 2015, No. 8 - June 5, 2015
Financing Now Required for Lease-Leaseback Agreements
Vol. 2015, No. 7 - June 4, 2015
Education Insights: Legal Update, Season 2, Episode 6 - "Adequacy"
Sue Ann Salmon Evans
May 27, 2015
Public Agency Can Not Compel Return of Privileged Documents that are Inadvertently Produced in Response to Public Document Request
Vol. 2014, No. 15 - December 18, 2014
Student Achievement Must Be Considered As the Most Important Factor in Determining Whether to Revoke a Charter
Vol. 2014, No. 11 - July 9, 2014
Vergara v. State of California Decision
June 10, 2014
Ninth Circuit Issues Two Decisions Involving School Clothing
Vol. 2014, No. 6 - March 28, 2014
Court Limits Damages in Mixed-Motive Discrimination Cases
March 1, 2013