Tammy Gong was the managing partner of L&G Rosemead Garden LLC. L&G spent approximately $780,000 to acquire a parcel of land in the City of Rosemead. Rosemead is a general law city governed by a City Council consisting of the mayor and four other members. The City approved L&G's parcel of land for construction of a 7,200 square-foot office building.
The following year, John Tran, a former mayor and former City Council member, approached Gong in the City Hall parking lot and engaged her in conversation as she walked in to obtain a building permit for the office building. Tran suggested that Gong would have City support if she constructed a mixed-use building instead of an office building. City officials contacted Gong at Tran's request and notified her that if she intended to move forward with the City-endorsed plan to construct a mixed-use building, she would need to purchase the lot adjoining her original parcel of land. L&G agreed to purchase the adjoining plot of land for $700,000, and submitted various applications with the City so that L&G could proceed with construction of the mixed-use building.
While L&G's applications were pending, Tran borrowed $38,000 from Gong for various reasons, including a purported family emergency. Tran also tried to engage Gong in a romantic relationship. When Gong continued to decline Tran's advances, he started retaliating against her, and indefinitely tabled L&G's building plans. When Gong demanded that Tran return her money, Tran threatened to kill her if she reported him to the authorities.
Gong and L&G filed two claims with the City. Both claims alleged that the prior City Managers and employees made them purchase property for the mixed-use building project, that Tran had delayed the plans, and that they could no longer build the project because of City Council and policy changes. The City rejected both claims.
Gong contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which requested that Gong withhold filing her lawsuit until it completed its investigation. Tran later pled guilty to federal charges of extortion and fraud. (He subsequently withdrew his plea.)
In July 2012, Gong and L&G initiated their lawsuit, alleging claims against Tran for money lent, against the City for promissory estoppel and "pursuant to Government Code 815.3," and against Tran and the City for fraud and extortion, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court sustained the City's demurrer without leave to amend. Gong and L&G appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.
Public entities in California are only liable to the extent allowed by statute. The Government Claims Act limits the circumstances under which a public entity may be held liable for an injury, and sets out uniform procedural requirements for bringing a claim and/or lawsuit against a public entity. The Act requires that a claimant must first present the public entity with a written claim for money or damages before filing suit. Government Code section 815.3, which applies only to elected officials, provides that a public entity cannot be held liable for an elected official's intentional torts unless the plaintiff names the public entity and elected official as co-defendants. Section 815.3 further provides procedural steps for enforcing a judgment against the elected official and/or public entity.
Gong and L&G argued that Section 815.3 establishes a separate basis for a claim against a public entity when an elected official is sued, and that the claim is not subject to the immunity and claim presentation provisions of the Claims Act. The Court of Appeal disagreed. It analyzed the legislative history, which demonstrated that Section 815.3 was enacted in order to limit public entity liability for the intentional torts of elected officials. It requires the plaintiff to name the public entity and elected official as co-defendants and to execute the judgment against the elected official before looking to the public entity for compensation. The Court of Appeal held that the section did not create a new basis for liability, and therefore the trial court properly sustained the City's demurrer to Gong and L&G's "Section 815.3 claim" without leave to amend.
Gong and L&G also argued that the trial court erred when it sustained the City's demurrer to their intentional tort claims for failure to timely file a proper tort claim against the City.
Before a party may bring suit against a local public entity, he or she must timely file a written claim with the proper officer or body. Any party who fails to do so is barred from bringing suit. The complaint will also be subject to demurrer if it does not "fairly reflect" the factual basis presented in the written claim.
Gong and L&G argued that a plaintiff asserting claims for the intentional torts of an elected official under Section 815.3 is not required to present a governmental claim before filing suit. They also argued that they did present a timely claim to the City and thus fulfilled the governmental claim requirement. The Court of Appeal rejected the argument that Section 815.3 dispensed with the claim presentation requirement. If the Legislature had intended to do so, it could have included language to that effect.
The Court also held that Gong and L&G did not fulfill the claim presentation requirement. While they had filed two claims with the City, neither claim mentioned any of the facts or allegations contained in their complaint. For instance, Appellants' complaint alleged $38,000 in extortion, physical assault, sexual harassment, and death threats. Appellants' claims, however, only discussed how L&G's development project failed because of changes in the City Council and the City's policies.
On those bases, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order sustaining the City's demurrer without leave to amend.
The Claims Act does not apply when an employee brings a claim under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Instead, for those claims (which are generally discrimination or retaliation claims), the employee must first file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) before bringing suit.
Gong v. City of Rosemead (2014) 171 Cal.Rptr.3d 881.