Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Berkeley Abuse Action Leaves Federal Court

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A county judge must determine whether the University of California, Berkeley, ignored a teaching assistant's abuse that led to the death of a student, a federal judge ruled.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court last year but removed to U.S. District Court, involves the May 18, 2012, car collision that killed 23-year-old student Milanca Lopez and severely injured her son, Xavier. The 6-year-old died at the hospital a week later.

Medardo and Margarita Lopez claimed that their daughter's abusive boyfriend, Jose Lumbreras, had been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he caused the fatal crash.

His blood alcohol content was 0.219 - almost three times the legal limit - at the time of the crash, according to the lawsuit.

Milanca's parents said Milanca met Lumbreras while volunteering in student organizations for UC-Berkeley's Ethnic Studies department. Lumbreras was a graduate student teacher in the department.

Shortly after they began dating in late 2011, Lumbreras harassed and publicly insulted Milanca, calling her a "slut" and "dirty whore," and telling her she was "not Mexican enough," according to the complaint.

The Lopezes said Lumbreras smoked marijuana and had sex with Milanca in front of Xavier against Milanca's will.

Lumbreras moved into Milanca's apartment in March, but she and her son fled to a friend's place one night in April to escape his physical abuse, according to the complaint. She allegedly returned the next morning to find her apartment trashed.

Though Berkeley police responded visited Milanca's apartment at least twice after that, they did not draft notes or reports or remove Lumbreras, according to the complaint.

Around the same time, Milanca allegedly called and emailed Cephas John, a campus family housing manager.

The complaint does not state what she told him, though it claims he failed to take action before the fatal accident.

Though U.S. District Judge Edward Chen dismissed the Lopezes' federal claims last month, he granted the couple leave to fix the defects he outlined.

The Lopezes instead revealed that they would not amend their federal claims and requested remand.

Chen granted the remand Monday, noting that the case is in its early stages and the court has not made any factual determinations on the state-law claims.

"Further, the particular facts of this case may raise novel questions of state law; at the very least, given the nature of the issues and the potential impact on the University of California and similar institutions, the Court finds it is particularly appropriate to allow the California courts the opportunity to address the state law issues raised in this case," the opinion states.

The Lopezes are represented by Joel Siegel in San Francisco.

Gaylynn Kirn Conant from Lombardi Loper & Conant represents the University of California.

Neither side replied immediately to a request for comment.

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