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Michael Hall v. Goodwill Industries of Southern California

March 16, 2011

MICHAEL HALL, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Joseph R. Kalin, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC345349)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bigelow, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

Plaintiff and Appellant Michael Hall filed suit against Goodwill Industries of Southern California (Goodwill) alleging a retaliation claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA; Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.), and wrongful termination. The trial court granted summary judgment to Goodwill on the ground that Hall's action was barred by the statute of limitations. The court subsequently denied Hall's motion for a new trial based on a claim that newly discovered evidence permitted the court to apply equitable tolling principles to the limitations period. We conclude that the one-year limitations period set forth in Government Code section 12965, subdivision (b) (section 12965(b)) began to run as of the date of the right-to-sue notice issued to Hall and, as a result, Hall's complaint was untimely filed. We further conclude the trial court properly denied Hall's motion for a new trial because he did not present any newly discovered evidence in support of the motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 2, 2004, Hall filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH or department). Hall alleged that after he supported a co-worker who was being sexually harassed by a supervisor and helped her complain about the harassment, Goodwill retaliated against him and terminated his employment for pretextual reasons. Hall requested an immediate right-to-sue notice. Hall's co-worker's counsel, Attorney Boyce, helped him file the administrative complaint. Although Hall did not retain Boyce at that time, she agreed to let him use her address to receive mail from the DFEH. The DFEH issued a notice of case closure and right-to-sue notice on December 24, 2004. Boyce received the right-to-sue notice on December 31, 2004.

According to Hall, after Goodwill terminated his employment he was unable to find new work. He became homeless and grew "increasingly depressed and hopeless." Hall, a recovering addict, relapsed and began to use drugs while living on the streets "in a demented state." Eventually, on November 4, 2005, Hall voluntarily entered a residential substance abuse rehabilitation program. After 30 days in the facility, he contacted Boyce. She met Hall at the rehabilitation center and showed him the right-to-sue notice. Hall retained Boyce on December 12, 2005. On December 30, 2005, Hall filed a civil complaint against Goodwill for retaliation in violation of FEHA and wrongful termination.

In March 2007, Goodwill filed a motion for summary judgment. Among other things, Goodwill argued Hall's action was untimely because he filed suit more than one year after the DFEH issued him a right-to-sue notice. Hall contended he had filed within one year of when he received the right-to-sue notice and the complaint was timely. In July 2008, the trial court denied the motion, finding there were disputed issues of material fact.

In August 2008, Goodwill filed a petition for writ of mandate contending the trial court erred in not finding Hall's complaint barred by the one-year limitations period set forth in section 12965(b). (Case No. B210068.) In October 2008, this court issued an alternative writ of mandate. We concluded the issue of whether the one-year limitations period began as of the date of the right-to-sue notice, or when Hall received the notice, was a legal question the trial court was required to resolve before ruling on the summary judgment motion. We directed the trial court to either vacate the order denying Goodwill's summary judgment motion and issue a new ruling after determining when the one-year limitations period began, or show cause why the court had not done so. We declined to address the merits of the controversy at that time.

The trial court vacated its ruling. The parties submitted supplemental briefing addressing solely the issue of the "trigger date" for the one-year limitations period. In December 2008, the trial court ruled the limitations period began upon the issuance of the right-to-sue notice, concluding: "Plaintiff has not [presented] the court with any case or authority that the statute of limitations commences to run upon receiving or obtaining the Right to Sue Letter. The statute clearly says the date of the notice. The court finds no basis for equitable tolling of the statute."

Hall filed a motion for reconsideration but the trial court entered judgment in the case before the motion was heard. In February 2009, Hall filed a motion for new trial. Hall contended he had "newly obtained" evidence indicating the limitations period should be equitably tolled. Hall argued that from November 4, 2005, through January 13, 2006, he was a full-time resident in a "lock-down Adult Rehabilitation Center," and from November 4, 2005, through December 4, 2005, he "was not permitted contact with the outside community, including his attorney." Hall further contended he was "mentally disabled" between November 4, 2005, and January 13, 2006, and could not pursue his claims during that period. In support of the motion, Hall submitted his declaration in which he described his relapse and residency at the Santa Monica Adult Rehabilitation Center; a November 14, 2008 letter from the director of rehabilitation at the center; and an information booklet that described the rehabilitation program. The letter and information booklet indicated the program Hall participated in involved an "initial 30 day restriction where the beneficiary is not permitted off premises." (Boldface omitted.)

The trial court denied Hall's motion for new trial. The court concluded Hall had not presented any newly discovered evidence that was not available to his counsel in the prior motions before the court. The court also found Hall failed to present any evidence of a mental disability.

Hall timely appealed from the ...


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