CACI No. 1123. Affirmative Defense - Design Immunity (Gov. Code, § 830.6)

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2024 edition)

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1123.Affirmative Defense - Design Immunity (Gov. Code, § 830.6)
[Name of defendant] claims that it is not responsible for harm to [name of
plaintiff] caused by the plan or design of the [insert type of property, e.g.,
highway]. In order to prove this claim, [name of defendant] must prove
both of the following:
1. That the plan or design was [prepared in conformity with
standards previously] approved before
[construction/improvement] by the [[legislative body of the public
entity, e.g., city council]/[other body or employee, e.g., city civil
engineer]] exercising [its/specifically delegated] discretionary
authority to approve the plan or design; and
2. That the plan or design of the [e.g., highway] was a substantial
factor in causing harm to [name of plaintiff].
New December 2014; Revised June 2016
Directions for Use
Give this instruction to present the affirmative defense of design immunity to a
claim for liability caused by a dangerous condition on public property. (Gov. Code,
§ 830.6; see Martinez v. County of Ventura (2014) 225 Cal.App.4th 364, 369 [169
Cal.Rptr.3d 880] [design immunity is an affirmative defense that the public entity
must plead and prove].)
A public entity claiming design immunity must establish three elements: (1) a causal
relationship between the plan or design and the accident; (2) discretionary approval
of the plan or design before construction; and (3) substantial evidence supporting
the reasonableness of the plan or design. (Cornette v. Dept. of Transportation (2001)
26 Cal.4th 63, 66 [109 Cal.Rptr.2d 1, 26 P.3d 332].) The first two elements,
causation and discretionary approval, are issues of fact for the jury to decide. (Id. at
pp. 74-75; see also Alvis v. County of Ventura (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 536, 550
[100 Cal.Rptr.3d 494] [elements may be resolved as issues of law only if facts are
undisputed].) The third element, substantial evidence of reasonableness, must be
tried by the court, not the jury. (Cornette,supra, 26 Cal.4th at pp. 66−67; see Gov.
Code, § 830.6.)
In element 1, select “its” if it is the governing body that has exercised its
discretionary authority. Select “specifically delegated” if it is some other body or
employee.
The discretionary authority to approve the plan or design must be “vested,” which
means that the body or employee actually had the express authority to approve it.
This authority cannot be implied from the circumstances. (Castro v. City of
Thousand Oaks (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1451, 1457 [192 Cal.Rptr.3d 376].)
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Sources and Authority
Design Immunity. Government Code section 830.6.
“The statutory defense of design immunity, however, precludes liability for
injuries that were allegedly caused by a defect in the design of a public
improvement when certain conditions are met. To obtain design immunity, a
public entity must establish that the challenged design was discretionarily
approved by authorized personnel and that substantial evidence supported the
reasonableness of the plan.” (Tansavatdi v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes (2023)
14 Cal.5th 639, 647 [307 Cal.Rptr.3d 346, 527 P.3d 873], internal citation
omitted.)
“The purpose of design immunity ‘is to prevent a jury from second-guessing the
decision of a public entity by reviewing the identical questions of risk that had
previously been considered by the government officers who adopted or approved
the plan or design. [Citation.]’ “[T]o permit reexamination in tort litigation of
particular discretionary decisions where reasonable men may differ as to how the
discretion should be exercised would create too great a danger of impolitic
interference with the freedom of decision-making by those public officials in
whom the function of making such decisions has been vested.” (Martinez,
supra, 225 Cal.App.4th at p. 369, internal citations omitted.)
“Section 830.6 makes it quite clear that ‘the trial or appellate court’ is to
determine whether ‘there is any substantial evidence upon the basis of which (a)
a reasonable public employee could have adopted the plan or design or the
standards therefor or (b) a reasonable legislative body or other body or employee
could have approved the plan or design or the standards therefor.’ (Cornette,
supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 66.)
“To prove [the discretionary approval element of design immunity], the entity
must show that the design was approved ‘in advance’ of the construction ‘by the
legislative body of the public entity or by some other body or employee
exercising discretionary authority to give such approval or where such plan or
design is prepared in conformity with standards previously so approved
. . . .’ ‘Approval . . . is a vital precondition of the design immunity.’
(Martinez,supra, 225 Cal.App.4th at p. 369, internal citations omitted.)
“A detailed plan, drawn up by a competent engineering firm, and approved by a
city engineer in the exercise of his or her discretionary authority, is persuasive
evidence of the element of prior approval.” (Rodriguez v. Department of
Transportation (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 947, 955 [230 Cal.Rptr.3d 852].)
“In many cases, the evidence of discretionary authority to approve a design
decision is clear, or even undisputed. . . . When the discretionary approval issue
is disputed, however, as it was here, we must determine whether the person who
approved the construction had the discretionary authority to do so.” (Martinez,
supra, 225 Cal.App.4th at pp. 370−371, internal citations omitted.)
“Discretionary approval need not be established with testimony of the individual
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who approved the project. A former employee may testify to the entity’s
‘discretionary approval custom and practice’ even if the employee was not
involved in the approval process at the time the challenged plan was approved.”
(Gonzales v. City of Atwater (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 929, 947 [212 Cal.Rptr.3d
137], internal citation omitted.)
“[T]he focus of discretional authority to approve a plan or design is fixed by law
and will not be implied. ‘[T]he public entity claiming design immunity must
prove that the person or entity who made the decision is vested with the
authority to do so. Recognizing “implied” discretionary approval would vitiate
this requirement and provide public entities with a blanket release from liability
that finds no support in section 830.6.’ (Castro, supra, 239 Cal.App.4th at p.
1457.)
“We conclude that the discretionary approval element of section 830.6 does not
implicate the question whether the employee who approved the plans was aware
of design standards or was aware that the design deviated from those standards.
The issue of the adequacy of the deliberative process with respect to design
standards may be considered in connection with the court’s determination
whether there is substantial evidence that the design was reasonable. In addition,
the discretionary approval element does not require the entity to demonstrate in
its prima facie case that the employee who had authority to and did approve the
plans also had authority to disregard applicable standards.” (Hampton v. County
of San Diego (2015) 62 Cal.4th 340, 343 [195 Cal.Rptr.3d 773, 362 P.3d 417].)
“[A] case involving design immunity does not function as a typical summary
judgment case would. The court’s role in evaluating the third element of the
design immunity is not to provide a de novo interpretation of the design, but
instead to decide whether there is ‘any substantial evidence’ supporting its
reasonableness.” (Menges v. Dept. of Transportation (2020) 59 Cal.App.5th 13,
21 [273 Cal.Rptr.3d 231].)
Secondary Sources
5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 243 et seq.
Haning et al., California Practice Guide: Personal Injury, Ch. 2(III)-D, Liability For
“Dangerous Conditions” Of Public Property, 2:2855 et seq. (The Rutter Group)
5 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 61, Particular Liabilities and Immunities of
Public Entities and Public Employees, § 61.03[3] (Matthew Bender)
40 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 464, Public Entities and Offıcers:
California Government Claims Act, § 464.85[2] (Matthew Bender)
19A California Points and Authorities, Ch. 196, Public Entities, § 196.12[1]
(Matthew Bender)
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