The California Supreme Court recently held that service of a Government Code claim upon a responsible official of the public entity, but not the proper statutory officer, is insufficient under the Government Claims Act. (DiCampli-Mintz v. County of Santa Clara (2012) 55 Cal.4th 983. Moreover, a public employee who receives a misdirected claim does not have a duty to forward the claim to the proper person, because such duty would inappropriately shift responsibility for presenting a claim from the claimant to the public entity.
Plaintiff Hope DiCampli-Mintz retained counsel to pursue a medical malpractice claim against two surgeons and Valley Medical Center (“VMC”), a hospital operated by Santa Clara County. DiCampli-Mintz’s counsel prepared a letter addressed to the surgeons and VMC’s Risk Management Department, giving notice of DiCampli-Mintz’s intent to sue as required under California Code of Civil Procedure section 364. The counsel personally delivered the letter to an employee of the medical staffing office in VMC’s administrative building. The letter did not include a request that it be forwarded to any of the recipients statutorily designated in Government Code section 915 – the Government Claims Act. Although the Santa Clara County Risk Management Department eventually received it, the letter was never personally served, presented, or mailed to the County “clerk, secretary, auditor or board” as required by Government Code section 915.
After DiCampli-Mintz filed suit, the County moved for summary judgment because her claim was never presented to or received by a statutorily-designated recipient. The Court of Appeal found that DiCampli-Mintz had substantially complied with presentation requirements in the Government Claims Act when the letter was received by the County Risk Management Department.
The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision as an improper judicial expansion of statutory requirements and affirmed that claims against public entities must satisfy express delivery provisions set forth in Government Code section 915. Section 915 identifies those who must receive claims on behalf of a public entity, and provides that a misdirected claim will meet the presentation requirement if it is “actually received” by a statutorily-designated recipient. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal erred by holding that there was substantial compliance with the statutory presentment requirements when DiCampli-Mintz’s letter of intent was received by the County Risk Management Department. Rather than adhering to the plain language of Government Code section 915, the Court of Appeal had essentially rewritten the statute to read as the court believed it should. The Supreme Court admonished that even if a public entity has actual knowledge of facts that might support a claim, the claims delivery statutes must still be satisfied, as the filing of a claim is a condition precedent to maintaining a cause of action against a public entity.
Further, the Supreme Court expressly disapproved Jamison v. State of California (1973) 31 Cal.App.3d 513, a case on which the Court of Appeal relied in support of its decision. Jamison placed a duty on a public official who received a misdirected claim to forward the claim to the proper person. (See Jamison, supra, at 518.) “By placing a duty on a public employee who receives a misdirected claim to forward it to the proper agency, Jamison improperly shifted the responsibility for presenting a claim from the claimant to the public entity.” Furthermore, the Jamison rule created uncertainty about how and where claims must be delivered, which contradicts the Government Claims Act’s goal of eliminating uncertainty in the claims-presentation requirements.
A claimant has not satisfied the prefiling requirements of the Government Claims Act if: (i) he fails to deliver his claim to the District’s clerk, secretary, or auditor; or (ii) he fails to mail his claim to the District’s clerk, secretary, auditor or governing body at its principal office; and (iii) the claim is not otherwise received by the District’s clerk, secretary, auditor or governing body. As a reminder, because a claim delivered or mailed in conformity with the information contained in the Roster of Public Agencies substantially complies with the Government Code section 915 presentment requirements, we recommend reviewing and, if necessary, updating information contained in the Roster on file with the County Clerk or Secretary of State.
If you have any questions about claims received pursuant to the Government Claims Act, please do not hesitate to contact us directly at our offices in San Francisco, Long Beach, or San Diego.