Supreme Court of California Justia
Docket No. S108220
Stockett v. Asso. Calif. Water Agencies

Filed 11/1/04


) Ct.App.
) Sacramento
Super. Ct. No. 96AS04669
Defendant and Appellant.

) Ct.App.
) Sacramento
Super. Ct. No. 96AS04669
Defendant and Respondent.

The question presented is whether a dismissed government employee is
precluded under the Tort Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 810 et seq.) from asserting, in
a complaint for wrongful termination, theories of illegal motivation that were not
specified in the required notice of claim. We conclude the claimant is not barred
from asserting additional wrongful dismissal theories in his complaint where, as

here, the notice of claim informs the public entity of the employment termination
cause of action giving rise to the claim and provides sufficient detail for
investigation by the public entity. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeal.
The Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance
Authority (JPIA) is a public agency that provides insurance and risk management
services to nearly 300 public water agencies in California. Plaintiff Jerry Stockett
was the general manager of JPIA from 1983 until his termination on August 25,
1995. Under the terms of his 1992 employment contract, he was an at-will
employee. Stockett was terminated by JPIA’s Executive Committee (the
committee) after it discussed his job performance in a closed session meeting.
Stockett asked Warren Buckner, president of the committee, why he had been
terminated, but Buckner said the committee was unwilling to disclose its reasons.
Stockett presented a notice of tort claim to JPIA, alleging he had been
wrongfully terminated. The claim stated that Stockett was terminated for
supporting a female employee’s sexual harassment complaints against William G.
Malone, JPIA’s insurance broker, which harassment was in violation of the Fair
Employment and Housing Act and the public policy of the State of California; that
Stockett became aware that members of the committee and Malone had purchased
insurance without determining that the insurer provided the lowest price or value
to its members, and refused to select a provider through a competitive bidding
process; and that Malone and some members of the committee, learning that
Stockett was considering soliciting other bids, conspired to induce the committee
to terminate Stockett by meeting secretly and making false charges against him.
Stockett’s notice of claim stated he was wrongfully terminated on
August 25, 1995, after the committee held a closed session meeting. It asserted
that Buckner (the committee president), Wes Bannister (the vice-president),

Malone (JPIA’s insurance broker and consultant), Daniel Klaff (the assistant
general manager) and other unknown parties caused his injury, and identified
Malone as the instigator of the action through his close ties with Buckner,
Bannister and Klaff.
After JPIA denied Stockett’s claim, Stockett and his wife, Judith Stockett,
(collectively Stockett) filed this lawsuit against JPIA. Stockett later moved to
amend his complaint to allege he had been terminated in violation of public policy
on three grounds: (1) opposing sexual harassment by Malone in the workplace;
(2) objecting to a conflict of interest involving Malone’s dual role as both JPIA’s
insurance consultant and a vendor of insurance products to JPIA; and
(3) exercising his First Amendment right of free speech by objecting to JPIA’s
practice of not having its insurance purchased on the open market through an open
bid process, which was in the best interests of JPIA’s member agencies. JPIA
unsuccessfully opposed Stockett’s motion to amend the complaint, claiming the
facts in the amended complaint had not been set forth in the government tort
claim. At trial, Stockett also argued he had been terminated for exercising his free
speech rights when he made statements to Smart’s California Workers’
Compensation Bulletin (Smart’s), an insurance industry newsletter, to the effect
that JPIA’s workers’ compensation insurer was selling insurance below cost.
JPIA again raised the issue of variance between Stockett’s claim and his
theories of liability in a motion for nonsuit, which the trial court denied.
Ultimately, the court instructed the jury on three public policies that JPIA was
alleged to have violated. The jury was told: (1) an employer shall not terminate
an employee in retaliation for disclosing a practice that violates the conflict of
interest provisions of the Political Reform Act; a conflict of interests exists when a
public official makes, participates in making, or attempts to influence a
governmental decision in which he knows he has a financial interest; (2) an

employer shall not terminate an employee in retaliation for opposing sexual
harassment as prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act; and (3) an
employer shall not terminate an employee in retaliation for the exercise of the
employee’s free speech rights protected by the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution; the First Amendment protects the right to speak out on matters
of public concern.
The jury returned a verdict in Stockett’s favor, awarding him about $4.5
million in damages. On JPIA’s appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the resulting
judgment, holding that “[b]y allowing the conflict of interest and free speech
theories to be presented to the jury, the trial court allowed the Stocketts to present
a very different case than one based solely on retaliation for objection to sexual
Government Code section 945.41 provides that “no suit for money or
damages may be brought against a public entity on a cause of action for which a
claim is required to be presented in accordance with . . . Section 910 . . . until a
written claim therefore has been presented to the public entity and has been acted
upon by the board, or has been deemed to have been rejected by the board . . . .”
Section 910, in turn, requires that the claim state the “date, place, and other
circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim
asserted” and provide “[a] general description of the . . . injury, damage or loss
incurred so far as it may be known at the time of presentation of the claim.”2

All further statutory references are to the Government Code.
Section 910 provides in full: “A claim shall be presented by the claimant or
by a person acting on his or her behalf and shall show all the following:

“(a) The name and post office address of the claimant.

(footnote continued on next page)

The purpose of these statutes is “to provide the public entity sufficient
information to enable it to adequately investigate claims and to settle them, if
appropriate, without the expense of litigation.” (City of San Jose v. Superior
Court (1974) 12 Cal.3d 447, 455.) Consequently, a claim need not contain the
detail and specificity required of a pleading, but need only “fairly describe what
[the] entity is alleged to have done.” (Shoemaker v. Myers (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th
1407, 1426; Turner v. State of California (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 883, 888.) As
the purpose of the claim is to give the government entity notice sufficient for it to
investigate and evaluate the claim, not to eliminate meritorious actions (Blair v.
Superior Court (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 221, 225), the claims statute “should not be
applied to snare the unwary where its purpose has been satisfied” (Elias v. San
Bernardino County Flood Control Dist. (1977) 68 Cal.App.3d 70, 74).
The parties disagree as to whether Stockett’s tort claim provided JPIA with
sufficient notice of two wrongful termination theories Stockett asserted at trial:
that he was fired for opposing Malone’s conflict of interest, and that he was fired

(footnote continued from previous page)
“(b) The post office address to which the person presenting the claim
desires notice to be sent.

“(c) The date, place, and other circumstances of the occurrence or
transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted.

“(d) A general description of the indebtedness, obligation, injury, damage
or loss incurred so far as it may be known at the time of presentation of the claim.

“(e) The name or names of the public employee or employees causing the
injury, damage or loss, if known.

“(f) The amount claimed if it totals less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000)
as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any
prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the
presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount
claimed. If the amount claimed exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), no dollar
amount shall be included in the claim. However, it shall indicate whether the
claim would be a limited civil case.”

for exercising the right to free speech in his statements to Smart’s. JPIA argues
that Stockett’s claim was insufficient under section 910, subdivision (c) to support
the new theories. Stockett contends he is not precluded from raising additional
reasons at trial for his termination because he was not required, in order to comply
with section 910, to claim more than that JPIA’s agents wrongfully terminated
him, while giving the basic circumstances of that occurrence. We agree with
Stockett that his claim was sufficient under the Tort Claims Act to give JPIA
notice of all theories of wrongful termination.
As noted above, section 945.4 requires each cause of action to be presented
by a claim complying with section 910, while section 910, subdivision (c) requires
the claimant to state the “date, place, and other circumstances of the occurrence or
transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted.” If the claim is rejected and the
plaintiff ultimately files a complaint against the public entity, the facts underlying
each cause of action in the complaint must have been fairly reflected in a timely
claim. (Nelson v. State of California (1982) 139 Cal.App.3d 72, 79.) “[E]ven if
the claim were timely, the complaint is vulnerable to a demurrer if it alleges a
factual basis for recovery which is not fairly reflected in the written claim.” (Ibid.)
The claim, however, need not specify each particular act or omission later
proven to have caused the injury. (Blair v. Superior Court, supra, 218 Cal.App.3d
at p. 225.) A complaint’s fuller exposition of the factual basis beyond that given
in the claim is not fatal, so long as the complaint is not based on an “entirely
different set of facts.” (Stevenson v. San Francisco Housing Authority (1994) 24
Cal.App.4th 269, 278.) Only where there has been a “complete shift of
allegations, usually involving an effort to premise civil liability on acts or
omissions committed at different times or by different persons than those
described in the claim,” have courts generally found the complaint barred. (Blair
v. Superior Court, supra, at p. 226.) Where the complaint merely elaborates or

adds further detail to a claim, but is predicated on the same fundamental actions or
failures to act by the defendants, courts have generally found the claim fairly
reflects the facts pled in the complaint. (White v. Superior Court (1990) 225
Cal.App.3d 1505, 1510-1511.)
Stockett’s claim complied with sections 910 and 945.4. He stated the date
and place of his termination, named those JPIA officers and agents he believed
responsible, and generally stated the “circumstances” (§ 910, subd. (c)) of his
termination. In addition, he stated the termination had been wrongful because it
was effected in violation of California public policy. He thus notified JPIA of his
wrongful termination cause of action in compliance with section 954.4’s command
that each “cause of action” be presented by notice of claim. While Stockett’s
claim did not specifically assert his termination violated the public policies
favoring free speech and opposition to public employee conflicts of interest, these
theories do not represent additional causes of action and hence need not be
separately presented under section 945.4.3
Unlike Fall River v. Superior Court (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 431, which
JPIA cites as illustrating a fatal variance between a plaintiff’s claim and
complaint, the additional theories pled in Stockett’s amended complaint did not
shift liability to other parties or premise liability on acts committed at different
times or places. In Fall River, the plaintiff was injured at school when a steel door
struck his head. His notice of claim stated the injury was caused by the school’s

JPIA acknowledged at trial, and does not argue otherwise in its briefs, that
under the primary right analysis used in California law (see 4 Witkin, Cal.
Procedure (4th ed. 1997) Pleading, §§ 24-26, pp. 85-88) Stockett’s claim of
dismissal in violation of public policy constitutes only a single cause of action
even though his dismissal allegedly violated several public policies.

negligent maintenance of the door, but his complaint additionally alleged the
school had negligently failed to supervise students engaged in horseplay. (Id. at
pp. 433-434.) The court held the factual divergence between claim and complaint
was too great; the complaint alleged liability “on an entirely different factual basis
than what was set forth in the tort claim.” (Id. at 435.)4 Stockett’s complaint, in
contrast, alleged liability on the same wrongful act, his termination, as was stated
in his notice of claim.
Nor were the fundamental facts underlying Stockett’s claim changed in his
amended complaint. Rather, the free speech and conflict of interest theories
simply elaborated and added detail to his wrongful termination claim by alleging
additional motivations and reasons for JPIA’s single action of wrongful
termination. This case is thus similar to previous cases holding that the claim
fairly reflected the theories of liability set forth in the complaint. In Blair v.
Superior Court, supra, 218 Cal.App.3d 221, for example, the plaintiff was injured
when he lost control of his vehicle on a highway and collided with a tree. His
claim stated the state had negligently constructed and maintained the highway
surface, particularly by failing to sand it to prevent icing, whereas the complaint
alleged the state had failed to provide warning signs and a guardrail on the

See also, e.g., Lopez v. Southern Cal. Medical Group (1981) 115
Cal.App.3d 673, 676-677 (claim alleging the state negligently issued a driver’s
license to defendant despite his epileptic condition was insufficient to allow
amended complaint alleging the state neglected to suspend or revoke license
despite defendant’s failure to comply with accident reporting and financial
responsibility laws); Donohue v. State of California (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 795,
803-804 (claim alleging the Department of Motor Vehicles negligently allowed an
uninsured motorist to take a driving test
did not give adequate notice of
complaint’s allegation that the department negligently supervised and instructed
the driver during the driving exam).

highway. (Id. at pp. 223-224.) The appellate court stated the general claim of
“negligent construction” could “reasonably be read to encompass defects in the
placement of highway guard rails . . . or inadequate warning signs,” and the
plaintiff was not obliged to specify in his notice of claim his particular theories of
negligence. (Id. at p. 226.) The claim and complaint were based on the same
foundation: “because of its negligent construction or maintenance, the highway at
the scene of the accident constituted a dangerous condition of public property.”
(Ibid.)5 Stockett’s claim and complaint, similarly, are based on the same factual
foundation, viz., that certain named JPIA agents wrongfully terminated him.
In comparing claim and complaint, “we are mindful that ‘[s]o long as the
policies of the claims statutes are effectuated, [the statutes] should be given a
liberal construction to permit full adjudication on the merits.’ ” (Smith v. County
of Los Angeles, supra, 214 Cal.App.3d at p. 280, quoting Minsky v. City of Los

See also, e.g., Shoemaker v. Myers, supra, 2 Cal.App.4th at page 1426
(state health investigator’s claim that his dismissal from government employment
was an interference with his responsibility to carry out the law fairly reflected
complaint’s theory that his termination violated the whistle-blower statute, as “any
interference with plaintiff’s reporting duties implicated the whistle-blower
statute”); Mouchette v. Board of Education (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 303, 311,
disapproved on other grounds in Caldwell v. Montoya (1994) 10 Cal.4th 972, 984,
footnote 6 (plaintiff’s claim alleging he was permanently terminated and that his
job functions were being performed by other employees “set forth the factual
basis” for the complaint’s theory he was illegally denied statutory reemployment
rights); Smith v. County of Los Angeles (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 266, 273-274, 279-
280 (claim that county “cut into the hill” to create a road, removing support for
residences, fairly reflected allegation in complaint that county removed slide
debris that had provided hillside support); Stephenson v. San Francisco Housing
, supra, 24 Cal.App.4th at pages 276-278 (claim that city negligently
maintained public housing building and failed to discover plaintiff’s injured father,
a building resident, for seven days after an earthquake fairly reflected allegation in
complaint that defendant had failed to inspect and/or disclose latent defects of the

Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 123.) If the claim gives adequate information for
the public entity to investigate, additional detail and elaboration in the complaint is
By notifying JPIA of its act (wrongful termination) that caused his injury
(loss of earnings, mental and physical pain and suffering) and naming those JPIA
agents he believed responsible, Stockett’s claim provided sufficient information
for JPIA to investigate and evaluate its merits. Contrary to JPIA’s suggestion, a
reasonable investigation of a wrongful termination claim would not be limited to
the motives for termination hypothesized in the fired employee’s claim form;
certainly it would not be so limited where, as here, the employee at the time of
termination asked for the reasons and was refused them. A reasonable
investigation by JPIA would have included questioning members of the committee
to discover their reasons for terminating Stockett and an evaluation of whether any
of the reasons proffered by the committee, including but not limited to the theories
in Stockett’s claim, constituted wrongful termination. (Cf. Sandhu v. Lockheed
Missiles and Space Co. (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 846, 859 [where administrative
charge claimed only racial discrimination, complaint was not defective in alleging
national origin discrimination as well; “we are confident that the administrative
investigation into Sandhu’s claim of disparate treatment because he was ‘Asian’
would likely have encompassed both race and national origin”]; Baker v.
Children’s Hospital Medical Center (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1057, 1065
[investigation of administratively charged instances of discrimination “would lead
to the investigation of subsequent discriminatory acts undertaken by respondents
in retaliation for appellant’s filing an internal grievance”].)
In summary, Stockett adequately presented to JPIA his wrongful
termination cause of action. His notice of claim satisfied the purposes of the
claims statutes by providing sufficient information for the public entity to conduct

an investigation into the merits of the wrongful termination claim, and the
complaint’s free speech and conflict of interest theories of termination in violation
of public policy were fairly reflected in the claim because the complaint did not
change the fundamental facts of the claim. Stockett was therefore not precluded
from amending his complaint to include these theories or from presenting them to
the jury. The Court of Appeal erred in holding he was.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed, and the matter is
remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with the views expressed


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion Stockett v. Assciation of California Water Agencies etc.


Unpublished Opinion XXX NP opn. filed 5/30/02 – 3d Dist.
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
Rehearing Granted


Opinion No. S108220
Date Filed: November 1, 2004

Court: Superior
County: Sacramento
Judge: Janice M. Hayes


Attorneys for Appellant:

Horvitz & Levy, Peter Abrahams, Sandra J. Smith, Nina E. Scholtz; Matheny, Sears, Linkert & Long,
Michael Bishop and Mary E. Wood for Defendant and Appellant.


Attorneys for Respondent:

Eisen & Johnston, Jay-Allen Eisen, Marian M. Johnston, Frederic L. Snowden; Wilcoxen, Callahan,
Montgomery & Deacon, Callahan & Deacon, Gary B. Callahan and Ted Deacon for Plaintiffs and


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

Jay-Allen Eisen
Jay-Allen Eisen Law Corporation
980 Ninth Street, Suite 1900
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 444-6171

Peter Abrahams
Horvitz & Levy
15760 Ventura Blvd., 18th Floor
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 995-0800


Opinion Information
Date:Docket Number:
Mon, 11/01/2004S108220

1Stockett, Jerry (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Jay-Allen Eisen
Jay-Allen Eisen Law Corporation
980 Ninth Street, Ste. 1400
Sacramento, CA

2Stockett, Jerry (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Gary Callahan
Wilcoxen Callahan Montgomery & Harbison
2114 "K" Street
Sacramento, CA

3Stockett, Jerry (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by E. S. Deacon
Gary Callahan/Judith C. Deacon
2114 K Street
Sacramento, CA

4Stockett, Jerry (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Marian Mcclure Johnston
Eisen & Johnston Law Corporation
980 Ninth Street, Ste 1400
Sacramento, CA

5Association Of California Water Agencies (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by Nina E. Scholtz
15760 Ventura Boulevard, 18th Floor
Encino, CA

6Association Of California Water Agencies (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by Michael A. Bishop
Matheny, Poidmore & Sears
3638 American River Drive
Sacramento, CA

Nov 1 2004Opinion: Reversed

Jul 9 2002Petition for review filed
  by counsel for respondents (Jerry Stockett, et al,.)
Jul 10 2002Received Court of Appeal record
  1 doghouse
Jul 30 2002Answer to petition for review filed
  by counsel for appellant (Assoc. of Calif Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority). (timely per rule 40k)
Aug 2 2002Received Court of Appeal record
Aug 28 2002Petition for Review Granted (civil case)
  votes: George, C.J., Baxter, J., Werdegar, J., Chin,J., Brown, J., and Moreno, J.
Sep 12 2002Certification of interested entities or persons filed
  by counsel for respondent
Sep 16 2002Certification of interested entities or persons filed
  counsel for appellant
Sep 26 2002Opening brief on the merits filed
  by counsel for respondents (J. Stockett, et al.)
Oct 18 2002Request for extension of time filed
  by counsel for appellant (Assoc. of Calif. Water Agencies Joint Powers Ins. Authority) requesting an extension to November 27, 2002 to file the answer brief on the merits.
Oct 22 2002Extension of time granted
  Appellant's time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including November 27, 2002.
Nov 12 2002Filed:
  Notice of Name Change of law firm (Eisen & Johnston Law Corp. to Jay-Allen Eisen Law Corp.)
Nov 27 2002Answer brief on the merits filed
  by counsel for appellant (Assoc. of Calif. Water Agencies, etc)
Dec 3 2002Request for extension of time filed
  counsel for respondents (J. Stockett, et al.) requests extension to January 16, 2003 to file the reply brief on the merits.
Dec 6 2002Extension of time granted
  Respondent's time to serve and file the reply brief on the merits is extended to and including January 16, 2003.
Dec 9 2002Received:
  from counsel for respondent correction to Req. for Extension of Time correcting error of client's name (Jerry Stocket, et al.) not Jacquetta Moore and Leticia Faxas.
Jan 16 2003Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  by counsel for respondents (J. Stockett, et al.)
Mar 12 20042nd record request
  remaining records.
Mar 16 2004Received Court of Appeal record
  3-boxes (15-doghouses)
Aug 3 2004Filed:
  by counsel for aplt. (Calif. Water Agencies, etc.) letter notification of vacation and dates unavailable for oral argument.
Aug 11 2004Case ordered on calendar
  9-9-04, 1:30pm, S.F.
Aug 30 2004Received:
  from counsel for petnr. (Stockett, et al.) Notice of Additional Authorities to be cites at Oral Argument.
Sep 9 2004Cause argued and submitted
Nov 1 2004Opinion filed: Judgment reversed
  and Remanded OPINION BY: Werdegar, J. -- joined by: George, C.J., Chin, Baxter, Kennard, Brown, Moreno, JJ.
Dec 2 2004Remittitur issued (civil case)
Dec 3 2004Note:
  record returned (15 doghouses)
Dec 9 2004Received:
  from CA 3 receipt for remittitur.

Sep 26 2002Opening brief on the merits filed
Nov 27 2002Answer brief on the merits filed
Jan 16 2003Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website