Education Code section 44944, subdivision (a)1 prohibits the introduction of
evidence relating to matters occurring more than four years before a school district
files a notice of intention to dismiss a teacher.  It also
bars the dismissal of a
teacher for events occurring more than four years before the notice was
filed.  We conclude, however, that the four-year period in section 44944,
subdivision (a) (section 44944(a)) is not absolute.
 Its bar may be evaluated in
the context of equitable estoppel when the basis of equitable relief is established.  

I.  FACTS
Albert Truitt was a credentialed teacher employed by the Atwater Elementary
School District (the district).  On July 17, 2002, the district filed and served an
“Accusation and Notice of Dismissal and Charges” (notice of intent or notice)
pursuant to sections 44939 and 44944 and Government Code section 11503,
alleging that
Truitt had engaged in sexual misconduct with five students
between 1992 and 1998.  The district claimed that Truitt, who was also a
track coach, befriended young boys, encouraged their participation in
track and field, and used his position of trust to sexually abuse them.  It
alleged that on numerous occasions, Truitt improperly massaged and
touched the buttocks and genitals of several male track participants.  The
conduct occurred in Truitt’s home as well as on overnight trips when Truitt
shared accommodations with students.
 All of the incidents set out in the
district’s notice of intent involved boys who were students or former students of the
district.

Truitt denied the allegations and asserted affirmative defenses.  The district then
filed an amended notice alleging he was dishonest and unfit for service.  Truitt
again denied all charges raising the same defenses.

During subsequent administrative proceedings, Truitt moved to dismiss all
allegations based on incidents occurring more than four years before the district
served its notice of intent and to exclude any evidence relating to such incidents.  
He relied on section 44944(a), which states in pertinent part:  “No testimony shall
be given or evidence introduced relating to matters which occurred more than four
years prior to the date of the filing of the notice.  Evidence of records regularly kept
by the governing board concerning the employee may be introduced, but no
decision relating to the dismissal or suspension of any employee shall be made
based on charges or evidence of any nature relating to matters occurring more
than four years prior to the filing of the notice.”

After the administrative law judge granted Truitt’s motions, the district sought a writ
of mandate to vacate the rulings.  The trial court granted the petition and directed
the administrative law judge to enter new orders denying the motions.  The Court of
Appeal reversed, holding that the section 44944(a) time limit is “absolute and
cannot be extended by the application of equitable doctrines such as delayed
discovery, fraudulent concealment, equitable estoppel, and continuing course of
conduct.”

II. DISCUSSION
Since we granted review the case has become moot.  
Truitt resigned his
teaching position, relinquished his teaching credential pursuant to a
criminal plea bargain, and subsequently died.  However, it is undisputed
that this case involves a matter of statewide importance, so we have
retained it for decision.
 (State of California ex rel State Lands Com. v. Superior
Court (1995) 11 Cal.4th 50, 61.)

Under the Education Code, credentialed teachers may be disciplined by a local
school district or by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).  Regarding
grounds for termination by a school district, section 44932, subdivision (a)
provides, as applicable here:  “No permanent employee shall be dismissed except
for one or more of the following causes:  [¶]  (1) Immoral or unprofessional conduct.
[¶] . . . [¶] (3) Dishonesty. [¶] . . . [¶] (5) Evident unfitness for service. . . .”
Procedures for a dismissal of a credentialed teacher are detailed in section 44944.2

The question here is whether section 44944(a)’s four-year limitation is
absolute or may be subject to equitable principles.  The district argues
that the four-year time frame should be characterized as a statute of
limitations, subject to equitable principles.
 It urges that the Court of Appeal
incorrectly characterized subdivision (a) as an evidentiary bar or condition on a
substantive right.  We conclude that the distinction is immaterial.  The courts have
applied equitable principles to conditions on substantive rights as well as to
statutes of limitation (see, e.g., Estate of Caravas (1952) 40 Cal.2d 33, 42), and
“where actual or practical access to the courts is prevented the distinction between
so-called substantive and procedural statutes of limitations may be disregarded.”  
(Myers v. Stevenson (1954) 125 Cal.App.2d 399, 405.)  As one commentator has
explained:  “In some jurisdictions, circumstances or events that suspend the
running of a statute of limitations . . . do not delay the expiration of a right except as
provided in the statute creating the right.  [Citations.]  Other jurisdictions reject this
distinction as legalistic and unreasonable.  [Citations.]  [¶]  California is definitely
committed to the second position.”  (3 Witkin, Cal. Procedure 4th (1997 supp.)  
Actions, § 417, p. 525.)  Thus, the characterization of section 44944(a)’s rule does
not resolve whether equitable principles apply.  (3 Witkin, supra, § 417 at p. 526;
People ex rel. Dept. of Corporations v. SpeeDee Oil Change Systems, Inc. (2002)
95 Cal.App.4th 709, 724.)

The district invites us to individually address several equitable doctrines.3  We
decline to do so because consideration of individual doctrines is unnecessary.  A
conclusion that any one applies resolves whether the four-year time limitation is
absolute.  In addition, the record does not facilitate consideration of individual
doctrines.  Because of the procedural posture of this case, the parties have not
adequately set forth the factual basis on which various equitable principles would
rest.  Accordingly, for the purposes of this case, we narrow our focus to the one
equitable doctrine that comes readily to mind in a section 44944(a) context:  
equitable estoppel.   

Our decision in Lantzy v. Centex Homes (2003) 31 Cal.4th 363 (Lantzy) provides
guidance.  There, we explained, “ ‘ “Equitable estoppel . . . comes into play only
after the limitations period has run and addresses . . . the circumstances in which a
party will be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense to an
admittedly untimely action because his conduct has induced another into
forbearing suit within the applicable limitations period.  [Equitable estoppel] is wholly
independent of the limitations period itself and takes its life . . . from the equitable
principle that no man [may] profit from his own wrongdoing in a court of justice.” ’  
[Citations.]”  (Lantzy, supra, at p. 383.)  Because equitable estoppel is “wholly
independent” of section 44944(a)’s time limitation, it could be relied upon in some
circumstances to prevent a defendant from asserting the statutory bar.  “To create
an equitable estoppel, ‘it is enough if the party has been induced to refrain from
using such means or taking such action as lay in his power, by which he might have
retrieved his position and saved himself from loss.’ ‘. . . Where the delay in
commencing action is induced by the conduct of the defendant it cannot be availed
of by him as a defense.’ ”  (Benner v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1945) 26 Cal.2d 346,
349-350, italics and citation omitted.)  Under this analysis, if the district were able to
meet the requirements of equitable estoppel, it could have been allowed to
introduce evidence of, and base its dismissal proceedings on, incidents falling
outside the four-year window.

We hold that equitable estoppel may apply to section 44944(a)’s four-year time
limitation.  We express no opinion on whether the district could have satisfied the
doctrine’s requirements here.  Nor need we decide whether other equitable
principles might apply.  We simply conclude that the four-year time limitation is not
absolute.4  Our decision is also supported by the view that “courts should not
presume the Legislature intended ‘to overthrow long-established principles of law
unless such intention is made clearly to appear either by express declaration or by
necessary implication.’  [Citations.]  The Legislature could have easily stated it
intended to abrogate long-established equitable principles [such as equitable
estoppel].  It did not do so.”  (Juran v. Epstein (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 882, 896.)

In reaching a contrary result, the Court of Appeal referred to section 44242.7 which
applies to disciplinary actions brought by the CTC against a credentialed teacher.  
Section 44242.7 expressly exempts allegations of sexual misconduct from the
requirement that allegations of wrongful acts be presented to the CTC within four
years from the date of the alleged act.  It states,  “Any allegation of an act or
omission by the holder of a credential, except for an allegation that involves sexual
misconduct with a minor or recurring conduct resulting in a pattern of misconduct,
shall be presented to the Committee of Credentials for initial review within four
years from the date of the alleged act or omission, or within one year from the date
the act or omission should reasonably have been discovered.”  (§ 44242.7, italics
added.)  Because the Legislature did not incorporate this exemption into local
district proceedings brought under section 44944, the Court of Appeal concluded
that its time limits were absolute.

The Court of Appeal also relied on the fact that, in 1
993, the Legislature had an
opportunity to amend section 44944(a) and include language similar to the
section 44242.7 exemption.  Senate Bill No. 941 would have “create[d] an
exception to the 4-year limitation in which evidence may be admitted
against a certificated employee, in a hearing to suspend or dismiss the
employee, in the case of allegations of childhood sexual abuse or
molestation as long as the time limits applicable in a civil action for
recovery of damages in a childhood sexual abuse case would otherwise
be met.”
 (Legis. Counsel’s Dig., Sen. Bill No. 941 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) as
introduced Mar. 5, 1993.)5

The Legislature did not adopt Senate Bill No. 941.  Although numerous
reasons might explain the Legislature’s inaction, the Court of Appeal
relied on the bill’s introduction as further support for its view that the
Legislature could have, but did not, include an exemption in section 44944
(a) similar to the exemption for sexual misconduct found in section 44242.7.

We disagree with the Court of Appeal’s analysis.  By amending section 44242.7,
the Legislature created an express legal exception in the case of sexual misconduct
charges made in proceedings before the CTC.  By refusing to include a similar
express exception in section 44944(a), the Legislature did not foreclose the
application of equitable principles to the time limits set out in that statute.  Indeed,
the application of equity does not create an exception to the four-year time limit.  
Generally, as a matter of law, the limit still applies.  Equitable estoppel may apply in
a given case for particular reasons “wholly independent” of the general rule of
section 44944(a).  Thus, the Legislature’s decision to include or omit such an
express legal exception does not signal an intent to bar the application of equitable
estoppel.  It simply reflects a legislative disinclination to write a sweeping exception
into the statutory scheme as a matter of law.

The Court of Appeal’s analysis also creates an unacceptable anomaly.  A
teacher could be prosecuted criminally, the CTC could institute credential
revocation proceedings, and a school district could be sued for negligent
hiring, retention, and supervision all based on the same set of facts that
exist here.  Yet, the Court of Appeal’s literal interpretation of section 44944
(a) would deprive a school district of the ability to dismiss an employee on
the same set of facts.  
The district has no control over a prosecutor’s decision to
pursue criminal charges or over actions taken by the CTC.  We decline to embrace
the Court of Appeal’s holding that a school district may be powerless to act against
a teacher accused of sexual misconduct, no matter how compelling the evidence,
unless and until the CTC acts or the teacher is criminally charged and prosecuted.  
Such a result could not have been intended by the Legislature in light of the
different burdens of proof and procedures involved in those separate proceedings.6

We conclude the Legislature did not intend section 44944(a)’s time limitation to be
absolute.  If the requirements of equitable estoppel had been established, they
could have applied in this case.

III.  DISPOSITION
The Court of Appeal’s judgment is reversed.


CORRIGAN, J.

WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C. J.
BAXTER, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
MORENO, J.


DISSENTING OPINION BY KENNARD, J.

I dissent.  

This case does not present an issue of whether disciplinary action may be taken
against a teacher for sexual misconduct that occurred more than four years before
an accusation of such misconduct was made.  Rather, the question presented here
is whether the action may be taken by a school district or only by the Commission
on Teacher Credentialing (hereafter Commission).  I would respect the Legislature’
s clear and unambiguously stated policy decision that such actions are to be taken
only by the Commission.

The Legislature has established two separate but interrelated systems for
addressing misconduct by a credentialed teacher.  The first grants school boards
the authority to suspend or dismiss a teacher.  (Ed. Code, § 44932 et seq.)  The
second authorizes the Commission to admonish a teacher, to publicly reprove a
teacher, or to suspend or revoke a teacher’s credential.  (Id., § 44242.5 et seq.)  

The Legislature’s grant of authority to school boards to suspend or dismiss a
teacher is limited to matters occurring within four years of the filing of a notice of
charges.  Education Code section 44944, subdivision (a)(5) so provides:  “No
testimony shall be given or evidence introduced relating to matters which occurred
more than four years prior to the date of filing of the notice. . . .  [N]o decision
relating to the dismissal or suspension of any employee shall be made based on
charges or evidence of any nature relating to matters occurring more than four
years prior to the filing of the notice.”  (Italics added.)  

The Legislature’s grant of authority to the Commission, however, is not so limited.  
Education Code section 44242.7, subdivision (a) provides:  “Any allegation of an
act or omission by the holder of a credential, except for an allegation that involves
sexual misconduct with a minor or recurring conduct resulting in a pattern of
misconduct, shall be presented to the [Commission’s] Committee of Credentials for
initial review within four years from the date of the alleged act or omission, or within
one year from the date the act or omission should reasonably have been
discovered.”  (Italics added.)  A school district, as the credentialed teacher’s
employer, is specifically authorized to present such allegations to the Commission.  
(Ed. Code, § 44242.5, subd. (b)(3)(A), (4).)  

The wording of these statutes is so clear and their meaning so plain that no
statutory construction is needed or warranted.  As noted earlier, a school district’s
authority to impose professional discipline on a teacher based on evidence or
charges of any nature is limited to matters occurring more than four years before
the charges were initiated.  The Commission may, however, take action as to any
allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor without any time limitation.  (Ed. Code,
§ 44242.7, subd. (a); In re R.G. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 1408, 1417.)  The
conclusion that the Legislature made the Commission the exclusive forum for
disciplinary actions involving allegations of teacher sexual misconduct more than
four years old is unavoidable.  

Also unavoidable is the conclusion that the Legislature’s decision was an
intentional, considered one and not the result of inadvertence.  Senate Bill No. 941
was introduced in 1993 to amend Education Code section 44944, subdivision (a),
the statute governing school district actions, to create an exception to the four-year
limitation for cases involving allegations of sexual abuse or molestation of a minor.  
(Stats. 1994, ch. 681, § 3, p. 3292.)  But the Legislature never enacted Senate Bill
No. 941.  Instead, it enacted Senate Bill No. 1843, a measure that added to the
Education Code section 44242.7, which exempts allegations of sexual misconduct
with a minor from the four-year limitation in Commission proceedings.  (Sen. Bill No.
1843 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) § 3.)  Thus, as the Court of Appeal correctly
observed:  “The legislative materials show, in fact, that the lawmakers declined to
exempt allegations of sexual misconduct from section 44944’s prohibitions and,
instead, enacted provisions dealing with the topic in the credential revocation
scheme.”  

The Legislature has made a decision and expressed that decision in clear and
unmistakable language.  Whether the members of this court agree or disagree with
the Legislature’s decision is irrelevant.  “The judiciary, in reviewing statutes
enacted by the Legislature, may not undertake to evaluate the wisdom of the
policies embodied in such legislation; absent a constitutional prohibition, the choice
among competing policy considerations in enacting laws is a legislative function.”  
(Superior Court v. County of Mendocino (1996) 13 Cal.4th 45, 53.)  Whatever the
applicability, scope, and efficacy of the doctrine of equitable estoppel may be in
cases not involving allegations of teacher sexual misconduct more than four years
old, in my view it may not be invoked to nullify a decision by the Legislature to vest
authority over such cases more than four years old in the Commission and not in
school districts.

The majority suggests that unless school districts are, contrary to the Legislature’s
decision, given authority to discipline a teacher for sexual misconduct with a minor
occurring more than four years before the notice of charges is filed, a school
district will be powerless, no matter how compelling the evidence, to take any action
against the teacher.  (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 8.)  Not so.  A school district that learns
of a teacher’s sexual misconduct with a minor more than four years earlier may
immediately suspend the teacher while it presents those charges to the
Commission.  (Ed. Code, §§ 44242.5, subd. (a)(3)(A), 44939.)  Moreover, the
Legislature could reasonably decide that the Commission’s power to suspend or
revoke a teaching credential is the most effective means of ensuring that the
teacher will be denied access to students in districts statewide who might otherwise
become potential molest victims.

I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

              KENNARD, J.

Name of Opinion
Atwater Elementary School District v. Department of General Services
__________________________________________________________________
__
Unpublished Opinion
Review Granted XXX 116 Cal.App.4th 844
Rehearing Granted
_______________________________________________________
Opinion No. S124188
Date Filed: June 4, 2007
__________________________________________________________________
__
Court: Superior
County: Merced
Judge: Betty L. Dawson
__________________________________________________________________
__
Attorneys for Appellant:

Driscoll & Associates and Thomas J. Driscoll, Jr., for Real Party in Interest and
Appellant.

John F. Kohn, Beverly Tucker, Rosalind D. Wolf, Robert E. Lindquist,
Brenda E. Sutton-Wills, Michael D. Hersh and Joseph R. Colton for
California Teachers Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in
Interest and Appellant.
_______________________________________________________________
Attorneys for Respondent:

Lozano Smith, Michael E. Smith, Howard A. Friedman, Stephen A. Mendyk, Jesse J.
Maddox and Martha B. Scott for Plaintiff and Respondent.

John Bukey, Richard Hamilton and Judith Cias for The Education Legal Alliance of
the California School Boards Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff
and Respondent.

No appearance for Defendant and Respondent. [Dept of General Services]

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Thomas J. Driscoll, Jr.
Driscoll & Associates
801 South Ham Lane, Suite H
Lodi, CA  95242
(209) 334-1935

Michael E. Smith
Lozano Smith
7404 N. Spalding Ave.
Fresno, CA  93720-3370
(559) 431-5600
Filed 6/4/07


IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

ATWATER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL  
DISTRICT,                                         
                            
Plaintiff and Respondent,           
                            
v.                                                 
                             
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF        
GENERAL SERVICES                         
                              
Defendant and Respondent,
                              
ALBERT G. TRUITT, JR.,                     
                               
Real Party in Interest
and Appellant.                                 
                                             
)
)
)
)
) S124188)
)
)Ct.App. 5 F043009
)
)
)
)
) Merced County
) Super. Ct. No. 146534
)
)
)
These are the CTA
lawyers who got
involved
in the Albert Truitt,
Jr. case:
Beverly Tucker,
Rosalind D. Wolf,
Michael D. Hersh
Robert E. Lindquist,
Brenda E.
Sutton-Wills,
John F. Kohn and
Joseph R. Colton
for
California Teachers
Association
as Amicus Curiae
on behalf of
Real Party in
Interest and
Appellant.
This decision can be
found at http://www.
courtinfo.ca.gov/
opinions/documents/
S124188.DOC.
CTA calls itself a "Friend of the
Court" in the Truitt case, but CTA
often decides NOT to be a friend
California.  California Teachers
Association chief counsel Beverly
Tucker spends teacher union dues
going to the California Supreme
Court trying to keep a pedophile
in the classroom.
BeverlyTucker and Carolyn
Doggett
, who together control
CTA, have a history of being on the
wrong side of cases where the
laws of California are violated
against teachers.  When the
friends of Beverly and Carolyn
commit crimes,
even crimes
against children
, Tucker and
Doggett will go out of their way to
keep criminals in the classroom.
(See also the
Kamper Case.)
Why on earth
did the California
legislature fail to
approve an
exception to the
4-year statute of
limitations for child
abuse?

My guess:

Legislators were
lobbied by CTA,
which threatened to
withhold campaign
money unless the
legislature
protected teachers
who abuse children.
Why did CTA fight to keep the following anomaly in California law?

"A teacher could be
prosecuted criminally,
the CTC could institute credential revocation proceedings,
and a school district could be sued for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision
all based on the same set of facts that exist here.

"Yet, the Court ... would deprive a school district of the ability to dismiss an employee on the
same set of facts."
If CTA were to defend all teachers equally, there would
be no reason to criticize.  But to help child molesters
while attacking good teachers?  This is indefensible.  

There is a problem because CTA makes decisions based on politics and
personal loyalties, and thus defends incompetent and criminal teachers
while at the same time violating the law and the contract against
competent, law-abiding teachers.
June 2007: The Albert G. Truitt Case
A Troubling Pattern of Hiding and
Defending Abuse of Children
SAN DIEGO
EDUCATION REPORT
mauralarkins.com
California Teachers Association