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Mark Glen Groce v. Theodore Bernard Claudat

April 30, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry Ted Moskowitz, Chief Judge United States District Court


Pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 81). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion.


In his first amended complaint ("FAC") (Doc. 31), Plaintiff alleges that he served as Defendant's employee beginning on or about November 15, 2004, and ending on July 29, 2005. Plaintiff alleges that during this period, Defendant committed various violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. ("FLSA"), California's Labor Code ("CLC"), and California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL") (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq.).

Defendant's alleged violations of these statutes include the failure to provide overtime wages, the failure to adequately provide meal breaks, the failure to provide an itemized wage statement (listing gross wages, net wages, deductions, tax and other items), the failure to make required tax deductions and contributions from Plaintiff's wages, and the failure to provide Worker's Compensation Insurance.

Plaintiff also alleges that he suffered an abdominal hernia on the job while moving a paper folder weighing "approximately 300 to 350 lbs." on or about "the week of July 15, 2005[.]" (FAC ¶¶ 29-30.) Plaintiff alleges that this injury is the result of Defendant's negligence, and that Defendant is directly liable to Plaintiff for damages arising out of this injury as a result of Defendant's failure to provide Worker's Compensation Insurance at the time of the alleged injury.


"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997). A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's case on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23.

Once the moving party establishes the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth facts showing that a genuine issue of disputed fact remains. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 314. The nonmoving party cannot oppose a properly supported summary judgment motion by "rest[ing] on mere allegations or denials of his pleadings." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must view all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).


Defendant seeks summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims on the ground that Plaintiff's claims are each barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, and Plaintiff has failed to establish grounds for tolling the applicable limitations periods. Defendant also argues that to the extent any of Plaintiff's claims are not time-barred, Plaintiff has failed to carry his burden of showing a genuine issue of disputed fact regarding the elements of his various claims. The Court addresses these arguments in turn.

Before reaching these substantive issues, however, the Court addresses Defendant's request that the Court not consider Plaintiff's opposition to the summary judgment motion. In an order dated May 16, 2012, the Court extended the deadline for Plaintiff to file his opposition to the motion to dismiss until July 6, 2012. On July 13, 2012, Defendant filed a reply brief asking that the Court (a) not consider any untimely opposition; and (b) grant the summary judgment motion based on Plaintiff's non-opposition. See Doc. 96. Plaintiff subsequently filed his opposition papers (Doc. 100) nunc pro tunc to July 18, 2012, the date the Court received those papers. The Court denies Defendant's request.

Plaintiff, who is incarcerated, signed the proof of service for his opposition papers on July 6, 2012, and declared that he deposited his opposition papers in the prison mail system on that date. (Doc. 100 at 35 of 217.) As a pro se prisoner, Plaintiff is entitled to the "mailbox rule," which dictates that the statutory filing date is the date on which Plaintiff presented his papers for mailing to the Court, not that date on which the Court receives those papers. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 276 (1988). Under this rule, Plaintiff timely filed his opposition papers. The Court denies Defendant's request to grant summary judgment on the basis of Plaintiff's non-opposition, and considers both Plaintiff's opposition papers (Doc. 100) and Defendant's substantive reply thereto (Doc. 103).

a. Statutes of limitations

The statute of limitations for a cause of action under the FLSA is either two years or three years (willful violations only). 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). The statute of limitations begins to run at the date on which the employer fails to pay the required compensation (i.e. the regular pay day following the pay period during which Plaintiff alleges unpaid labor). 29 C.F.R. § 790.21(b). The statute of limitations for a cause of action under the CLC is three years. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 338(a); Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Prods., Inc., 40 Cal. 4th 1094, 1114 (2007). The statute of limitations for any cause of action under the UCL is always four years, even where the predicate statutory violation under the Labor Code has a shorter statute of limitations. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17208; Cortez v. Purolator Air Filtration Prods. Co., 23 Cal. 4th 163, 178-79 (Cal. 2000). The statute of limitations on a personal injury action is two years. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1.

Plaintiff appears to bring his claim for damages based on his workplace injury as an ordinary personal injury claim. For the sake of completeness, the Court notes that the CLC expressly confers on injured workers the right to bring an action at law against an employer who failed to secure the payment of compensation for a workplace injury. See Cal. Labor Code § 3706. A § 3706 claim is a "statutory cause of action," not a common law personal injury claim, and thus is "subject to the three year statute of limitations." Valdez v. Himmelfarb, 144 Cal. App. 4th 1261, 1268 (2d Dist. 2006). California courts have not decided whether a § 3706 claim accrues on the date of injury or the date on which the plaintiff discovers the employer is illegally uninsured. (Id. at 1270 n.20.) Regardless, to the extent a § 3706 claim would be available to Plaintiff, ...

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