146 Cal. Rptr. 224, 578 P.2d 941 (1978).
Although equitable tolling may apply regardless of whether exhaustion of remedies is required, "[it] is most appropriate when the plaintiff is required to avail himself of an alternate course of action as a precondition to filing suit." Conley v. International Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local 639, 810 F.2d 913, 915 (9th Cir. 1987). Courts may apply the equitable tolling doctrine to "[satisfy] the policy underlying the statute of limitations without ignoring the competing policy of avoiding technical and unjust forfeitures." Addison, 21 Cal. 3d at 319.
California courts have developed a three-part test as a prerequisite to invoking this doctrine: (1) timely notice in filing the first claim; (2) lack of prejudice to defendant in gathering evidence to defend the second claim; and (3) good faith and reasonable conduct by plaintiff in filing the second claim. Collier v. City of Pasadena, 142 Cal. App. 3d 917, 922-24, 191 Cal. Rptr. 681 (1983) (summarizing the history and rationale behind the doctrine of equitable tolling). However, as the term suggests, the doctrine of equitable tolling rests on invocation by the court. As such, the court should apply the doctrine in a reasonable, not a technical fashion.
II. Plaintiff's Claim Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
In the present case, plaintiff claims that the statute of limitations on his section 1983 claim was tolled during the pendency of his state administrative remedies. Specifically, Stone submits that these remedies consisted of his OCC complaint and the claim filed pursuant to California Tort Claims Act, California Government Code section 810 et seq. ("tort claim"). The court, however, finds plaintiff's contention untenable.
A. Plaintiff's OCC Complaint
Plaintiff submits that his OCC complaint is sufficient to invoke the doctrine of equitable tolling. To support this point, plaintiff cites a plethora of cases in which courts have applied this doctrine to save claims made outside the applicable statute of limitations. These cases, however, involve situations where the claimant had already timely filed a separate, formal legal action, usually before a formally constituted agency authorized to adjudicate claims and provide a remedy. E.g., Retail Clerks Union Local 648 v. Hub Pharmacy, Inc., 707 F.2d 1030 (9th Cir. 1983) (NRLB proceeding preceded complaint); Elkins v. Derby, 12 Cal. 3d 410, 115 Cal. Rptr. 641, 525 P.2d 81 (1974) (complaint preceded by workers' compensation claim).
Here, there is no indication that plaintiff's OCC complaint qualifies as a formal, legal remedy designed to lessen the extent of the his injuries. An OCC complaint is not intended to compensate an aggrieved individual; rather, it is the San Francisco Police Department's internal check on police misconduct. See Spellberg Dec., Ex. C (attached to original summary judgment motion). In fact, the OCC complaint form does not even provide the complainant with a space to indicate what type of redress he or she seeks. Thus, the court concludes that Stone's OCC complaint does not, as a matter of law, constitute a legal remedy sufficient to toll the statute of limitations on his federal claim.
B. Plaintiff's Notice of Claim
Equally unpersuasive is Stone's argument that his tort claim filed with CCSF is sufficient to toll the statute. While there is a paucity of law on this specific issue, cases involving employment discrimination actions brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C § 2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are instructive. For example, in Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 461, 44 L. Ed. 2d 295, 95 S. Ct. 1716 (1975), the Supreme Court held that the timely filing of an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") under Title VII did not toll the statute of limitations applicable to an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 based on the same facts. In reaching its decision, the Court focused on the separation and independence of the administrative and legal remedies afforded by Title VII and section 1981:
The filing of a Title VII charge and resort to Title VII's administrative machinery are not prerequisites for the institution of a § 1981 action.
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