Inconsistent Deadlines In the Government Claims Act Can Provide A Potential Defense – Or Trap

Before filing a lawsuit seeking damages against a California public agency, a person must generally file a claim with the agency within the statutory time period (usually six months after the accrual of the cause of action). If the claim is not timely, the claimant must file an application with the agency for leave to present a late claim. If the agency then denies leave to present the late claim, the claimant must file a petition with the trial court for an order relieving him or her from the claims presentation requirement before filing a lawsuit. Government Code section 946.6(b) requires that a claimant file such a petition within six months after the public agency denies leave to present the late claim. In City of San Diego v. Superior Court (Dec. 29, 2015, D068353)  __ Cal.App.4th __, ordered published Jan. 20, 2016, the Court rejected the argument that Government Code section 915.2 extends the filing deadline by five days when the public agency provides notice of the denial by mail.

Case Background

In the City of San Diego case, Jeri Dines failed to file her claim against the City of San Diego within the statutory timeframe, so she sought leave to present a late claim. San Diego denied the request to present the late claim on May 8, 2014, and mailed notice of the denial to her on that same date. On November 13, 2014, Dines filed her court petition to be relieved from the claim filing requirement. Although her court filing was not within six months of the City’s denial, Dines argued that the deadline was extended by five days since the City mailed notice of its denial to her. The trial court agreed with Dines, but the Court of Appeal determined that the five day extension did not apply. Consequently, the Court of Appeal concluded Dine's petition was untimely and ordered her petition dismissed.

Court’s Decision

Government Code section 946.6 governs petitions after a public agency denies leave to present a late claim. Section 946.6 provides, among other things, that:  “The petition shall be filed within six months after the application to the board is denied or deemed to be denied . . ..”  In notifying the claimant of the denial, the agency must expressly advise the claimant of this six month filing deadline. Government Code section 911.8 provides that the notice must advise that “[s]uch petition must be filed with the court within six (6) months from the date your application for leave to present a late claim was denied.”  In addressing these statutes, the court in Rason v. Santa Barbara City Housing Authority (1988) 201 Cal.App.3d 817, explained that the six month period begins to run from the date the agency denies the application rather than the date that the agency serves notice of the denial. Section 946.6 refers to denial of the claim rather than notice of the denial, so the date of denial and not the date of any notice controls.

Notwithstanding Dine's filing beyond the six month period, the trial court relied on Government Code section 915.2 in finding the filing timely. Section 915.2 provides that, if notice is given under the claims statute by mail, any period of notice and any duty to respond after notice are extended by five days. In rejecting the trial court’s analysis, the appellate court noted that “the plain language of section 946.6 shows its six-month period begins to run on denial of an application for leave and not on notice of that denial.”  Since the date of denial rather than the date of any notice governs, the statute extending the filing period based upon mailing of the notice is inapplicable. A claim filed more than six months after the date denial is untimely and should be dismissed even if the agency provides the claimant with notice of the denial by mail.

The Court did acknowledge that Government Code section 945.6, which governs the deadline for filing a lawsuit when the public agency denies a timely claim, is based upon the date of notice  rather than the actual date of denial. The Court in Rason noted this difference, and suggested the Legislature should address this inconsistency. However, the Legislature has opted not to take such action in the over twenty five years since the Rason decision. Also, the Court noted that its analysis might be different if the public agency unreasonably delayed providing notice of its denial. San Diego, however, provided notice to Dine immediately upon its denial.

What This Means To You

This case provides a potential defense to a public agency when it denies an application to present a late claim, and the claimant delays filing a court action. The agency must make sure the claimant files any court petition within six months of the date of denial regardless of any date of notice. The agency, however, should not delay providing notice of its denial. The claimant must make sure he or she files any petition within six months of the denial date regardless of the date the agency gives any notice of its denial. If untimely, the petition is subject to dismissal, and the claimant will not be able to recover any damages.


If you have any questions concerning this Legal Alert, please contact William Chisum or the attorney with whom you normally consult.