United States District Court, N.D. California
November 16, 2005.
JOHN L. WHEELER, Plaintiff,
OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES LARSON, Magistrate Judge
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which
relief can be granted. The motion came on for hearing on November
2, 2005. Plaintiff appeared pro se. Michael Lee Smith appeared
for Defendants. The court considered the written pleadings and
the oral arguments of the parties and the record in this case and
hereby grants Defendants' motion. Plaintiff's complaint is
dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff filed suit in the Alameda County Superior Court on
December 9, 2003, seeking damages for injuries allegedly
sustained in the course of his employment with the Oakland
Unified School District ("District") on or about April 15, 1968. The District demurred to Plaintiff's state court complaint and
the trial court sustained the demurrer with leave to amend. The
court held that on its face the complaint alleged facts
indicating that the statute of limitations on all of Plaintiff's
claims began to run in July of 1968 and his claims were
Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint for damages in
state court on June 16, 2004, in which he expanded his factual
allegations about how Defendants had handled his original injury
claim between April 15, 1968 and June 28, 1972. In addition, he
alleged that as a result of his injury, he "suffered psychiatric
disability, . . . was of such unsound mind that he was incapable
of caring for his property or transacting business or
understanding the nature and effects of his acts," and
consequently was "released. . . . from legal responsibility." On
this basis he asserted that the statute of limitations should be
tolled pursuant to Code Civ. Proc. § 352, and that such tolling
continued until he was "restored to sanity."
Plaintiff attached as an exhibit to his first amended complaint
a "summary of evidence" presented to the Workmen's Compensation
Appeals Board on February 27, 1973, which contained summaries of
the testimony of two physicians concerning his mental capacity.
The District again demurred that the complaint was barred by
statutes of limitations, and that Plaintiff had failed to show
that he had ever suffered from a condition which justified
tolling the statute. The state court sustained the District's
demurrer without leave to amend, again finding that all of
Plaintiff's claims were time-barred.
Plaintiff filed a petition for reconsideration of the ruling on
the District's demurrer, which was denied, because Plaintiff had
offered "no new facts, circumstances or law that would warrant a
Plaintiff then appealed to the California Court of Appeal,
which held: "The trial court was clearly correct in sustaining
respondent's demurrer without leave to amend and dismissing the
first amended complaint as barred by the applicable statutes of
limitations." Federal Case
Plaintiff now attempts to litigate the same facts and four of
the same causes of action in federal court. He filed his
complaint August 30, 2005. In addition to the four causes of
action that were previously filed in state court, Plaintiff has
added three new causes of action violation of federal civil
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff's
civil rights, and Defendants have no defense for violation of
Federal Civil Rights 42 U.S.C. § 1983. All parties consented to
this court's jurisdiction as provided by 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and
Civil Local Rule 73.
Statute of limitations
Federal law determines when a federal civil rights claim
accrues. Elliot v. City of Union City, 25 F.3d 800, 801-802
(9th Cir. 1994). Such a claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or
has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the
action. Id. Because § 1983 contains no specific statute of
limitations, federal courts borrow state statutes of limitations
for personal injury actions. Wilson, 471 U.S. at 276.
At the time plaintiff's claims accrued, in July of 1968, the
applicable statute of limitations in California was one year. The
basis of Plaintiff's complaint is that Defendant on July 5, 1968
stopped paying wages to Plaintiff and subsequently terminated his
employment. Plaintiff had one year from that date to initiate
litigation but failed to do so. Plaintiff first filed in state
court in December of 2003, and the state court dismissed
Plaintiff's claims with prejudice as time barred. Plaintiff now
asserts § 1983 claims for the first time in federal court, almost
40 years after his termination. Thus, Plaintiff's § 1983 claims
are also time barred. This also applies to Plaintiff's third
cause of action for conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of his civil
Plaintiff argues that he is not barred by the statute of
limitations because he first filed a claim on May 8, 1968, case
No. 68 OAK 27226. However, this was a workmen's compensation
claim filed with the state of California Department of Industrial
Relations, where a hearing was conducted by the Workmen's
Compensation Appeals Board. This was an administrative hearing
unrelated to the case at bar. In the case at bar Plaintiff is suing Defendants for failure to pay wages and terminating his
employment. Even if the cases were related, the statute of
limitations would only be tolled during the pendency of the
administrative proceedings, which ended in 1973. Diaz v.
Carlson, 5 F.Supp 2d 809 (1997). Plaintiff would then have had
to file within a year, which he failed to do. Plaintiff offers no
other reason why the statute of limitations should be tolled.
Res Judicata/Collateral Estoppel
Defendants allege that Plaintiff's newly added § 1983 claims
are also precluded by the judgment of the state court under the
doctrine of res judicata, because these claims relate to the
same primary right as the claims in the prior state court action.
Plaintiff seeks alleged lost wages from 1968 onward after he
was injured and placed on disability, and he seeks redress for
employment discrimination. Plaintiff sought redress for the same
primary rights in the prior state court action. The prior
judgment was final and on the merits, and Plaintiff was a party
in the prior action. Mir v. Little Co. Of Mary Hosp.,
844 F.2d 646, 651 (9th Cir. 1988) citing Trujillo v. County of Santa
Clara, 775 F.2d 1359, 1366 (9th Cir. 1956).
Additionally, in California under the doctrine of collateral
estoppel a party will be estopped from relitigating an issue if
the issue raised in the present action is identical to that
decided previously; the prior judgment was final and on the
merits; and the person against whom estoppel is asserted was a
party to the prior action. Trujillo, 775 F.2d at 1369.
Therefore, Plaintiff is also precluded in this action by
collateral estoppel, because these are the same causes of action
in his state Complaint, and Plaintiff had a full and fair
opportunity to litigate these issues in the earlier case.
Accordingly, the complaint is hereby dismissed with prejudice.
The clerk shall close the file.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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