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Silvestre Soto and Olga Galvan, On Behalf of v. Castlerock Farming and Transport Inc.

March 22, 2013



I. History

This case arises out of a complex procedural history. Plaintiff seeks to represent a class of farmworkers who have worked for Defendant Castlerock Farming and Transport, Inc. ("Castlerock") in the past. The named plaintiffs were Silvestre Soto ("Soto" or "Plaintiff") and Olga Galvan ("Galvan").*fn1 Soto alleges that Castlerock failed to abide by a number of California regulations concerning uncompensated "off the clock" work, forced purchasing of tools, meal and rest periods, time-keeping documentation, and wage statements. The origins of this case can arguably be traced back to a suit filed on March 5, 2004, in Superior Court, County of Kern. The complaint in that case did not have Soto as a named plaintiff, but was a class action against Castlerock's farm labor contractor concerning the same subject matter as this case. Doc. 89, Ex.

C. The present complaint lists nine causes of action including one under California's Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA"). Castlerock moved for summary adjudication of this claim, arguing that Soto failed to comply with the administrative requirements of PAGA within the statute of limitation. Doc. 73. This court granted the motion. Doc. 109. Meanwhile, Soto made a number of motions to compel with respect to pre-class certification discovery. Docs. 25, 29, 38, and 39. Magistrate Judge Thurston granted them in part and denied them in part. Doc. 110. The parties have filed a number of interrelated requests for reconsideration of both orders; additionally, Castlerock seeks sanctions against Soto. Docs. 111, 114, and 116.

II. Legal Standards

"Reconsideration is appropriate if the district court (1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in controlling law. There may also be other, highly unusual, circumstances warranting reconsideration." School Dist. No. 1J Multnomah County v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993), citations omitted.

Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 72(a) allows a party to serve and file objections to a Magistrate Judge's nondispositive order, to be decided by the District Judge. In the Eastern District of California, this type of objection is treated as a motion for reconsideration by the assigned District Court Judge. See Local Rule 303. When filing a motion for reconsideration, Local Rule 230(j) requires a party to show "what new or different facts or circumstances are claimed to exist which did not exist or were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion." The court reviews a motion to reconsider a Magistrate Judge's ruling under the "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). See also Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 72(a). "A finding is 'clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948); see also Anderson v. Equifax Info. Services LLC, 2007 WL 2412249, *1 (D. Or. 2007) ("Though Section 636(b)(1)(A) has been interpreted to permit de novo review of the legal findings of a magistrate judge, magistrate judges are given broad discretion on discovery matters and should not be overruled absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion"). Motions to reconsider are committed to the discretion of the trial court. Rodgers v. Watt, 722 F.2d 456, 460 (9th Cir. 1983).

III. Discussion

A. Soto's Requests For Reconsideration

Soto requests reconsideration of two orders, one issued by Judge Thurston and one by the undersigned. In general, Soto seeks reconsideration by making new legal arguments that could and should have been made in the prior motion for summary judgment. The court reviews those requests using the clear error or manifest injustice standard.

1. April 18, 2012 PAGA Notice

The prior order explored the interplay between the administrative exhaustion requirement and statute of limitations for PAGA. Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration requires review of that case law. Under PAGA: "A civil action by an aggrieved employee pursuant to subdivision

(a) or (f) of Section 2699 alleging a violation of any provision listed in Section 2699.5 shall commence only after the following requirements have been met....The aggrieved employee or representative shall give written notice by certified mail to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the employer of the specific provisions of this code alleged to have been violated, including the facts and theories to support the alleged violation." Cal. Labor Code §2699.3(a). The complaining employee may only file suit after the LWDA gives notice that it has decided not to investigate or cite the employer for the alleges violations (or if the LWDA does not act within certain time deadlines). Cal. Labor Code § 2699.3(a)(2)(B). Additionally, one year statute of limitations under Cal. Code Civ. Proc §340(a) applies to PAGA. Butterworth v. Am. Eagle Outfitters, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119192, *12 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 13, 2011). Thus, a plaintiff must file a PAGA notice with the LWDA within one year of the labor violations complained of. Soto worked for Castlerock in September 2003. The prior order determined that an LWDA notice sent on January 24, 2006 did not satisfy the administrative exhaustion requirement.

Soto asserts that his April 18, 2012 filing with the LWDA and Defendant has cured the problem. Doc. 113, Plaintiff Brief, 4:1-3. Plaintiff analogizes to federal Title VII jurisprudence which similarly requires a plaintiff to formally file a charge with the EEOC and receive a right to sue letter before commencing suit. The Ninth Circuit has found "the subsequent issuance of the 'right to sue' letters cured any jurisdictional defects. Although the case was filed prematurely, the 'right to sue' letters issued before trial. There is no evidence that early filing of the Title VII claim precluded the state from performing its administrative function." Wrighten v. Metropolitan Hospitals, Inc., 726 F.2d 1346, 1351 (9th Cir. 1984). The Wrighten case is factually distinguished. In key part, the plaintiff in that case had filed timely charges with the EEOC; the commencement of the lawsuit before receipt of the right to sue notice was the defect that could be cured. In this case, Plaintiff did not file a timely notice with the LWDA, putting Plaintiff in a completely different position. As there was no timely filing with the LWDA, that agency was denied the opportunity to investigate and resolve the concerns raised. Only if Plaintiff had timely filed a notice with the LWDA and then jumped the gun in filing suit, would the logic of Wrighten apply.

As previously stated, the Northern District has found that filing a late PAGA notice with the LWDA is not sufficient to save the claim. Baas v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 1765759, *5 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2009) ("Because Plaintiffs did not even serve the required notice until after the statute of limitations had passed, their proposed PAGA claim does not relate back"); Moreno v. Autozone, Inc., 2007 WL 1650942, *4 (N.D. Cal. June 5, 2007) ("The passage of approximately 20 months between the accrual of her Ninth Claim and her first pursuit of administrative remedies is fatal to the claim under the one-year limitations period"). Soto also asserts that PAGA allows for "an absolute right to add a PAGA claim to a pre-existing complaint." Doc. 113, Plaintiff Brief, 6:5-7. The prior order clearly rejected this ...

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