Knapp v. Palisades Charter High School

Summary

California's 2nd District Court of Appeal found that a charter school operating as a nonprofit corporation is not a "public entity" under the California Government Tort Claims Act. The court was influenced by the California Supreme Court's modified decision in Wells v. One2One, issued on October 25, 2006, which found that charter schools did not "fit comfortably" into the category of "local public entity."

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Case Overview

After a rehearing and multiple modified decisions, the Second District Court of Appeal found that a charter school operating as a nonprofit corporation is not a "public entity" under the California Government Tort Claims Act. Under the February 5, 2007 published decision, the student's harassment claims against the Palisades Charter High School could proceed despite having filed notice with the County of Los Angeles, because no written notice to the charter school was required before filing a lawsuit. The court was influenced by the Supreme Court's modified decision in Wells v. One2One, issued on October 25, 2006, which found that charter schools did not "fit comfortably" into the category of "local public entity."

CCSA became involved in this case after the appellate court initially issued a decision in June 2006 finding that a charter school is a subdivision of its authorizing agency for purposes of the Tort Claims Act. Because the Act requires a plaintiff to present a written claim to the public entity before filing a lawsuit, among other things, the initial decision meant that authorizing agencies would be required to step in to resolve potential lawsuits on behalf of charter schools. Since such a result would be unworkable for independent, separately incorporated charter schools, CCSA immediately joined a request for rehearing and argued that a charter school is its own "public entity" under the Act and is entitled to the same immunities and responsibilities as any other local public agency for the purposes of resolving potential lawsuits. After multiple supplemental briefs and a rehearing in January 2007, the appellate court reversed its finding that the district was responsible, and instead held that the Act does not apply to charter schools at all.

Under the Knapp decision, nonprofit charter schools and their boards carry many of the burdens and risks of governmental officials without the benefit of the immunities and protections that other governmental agencies and their officials have. CCSA has sought legislation to remedy this problem.

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