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Hopkins v. Kedzierski

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

April 16, 2014

LINDA HOPKINS, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
JUREK KEDZIERSKI, as Trustee, etc., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 37-2010-00100179-CU-PO-CTL Luis R. Vargas, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Pettit Kohn Ingrassia & Lutz, Damian Michael Dolin and Christina G. Bernstein for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Horton Oberrecht Kirkpatrick & Martha, Kimberly S. Oberrecht; Horvitz & Levy, Robert H. Wright and Eric S. Boorstin for Defendants and Respondents.

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OPINION

AARON, J.

I.

INTRODUCTION

In May 2008, Linda Hopkins fell from an outdoor balcony at the offices of her employer, Perfect Smile Dental Ceramics, Inc. (Perfect Smile). As a result of the injuries she suffered in the fall, she was unable to work. Jurek Kedzierski (Jurek) and Margo Kedzierski (Margo) own Perfect Smile and also own the office building in which Perfect Smile is located.[1] Shortly after her accident, Hopkins began receiving workers' compensation benefits. In April 2009, she filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, seeking additional benefits.

In September 2010, Hopkins filed this action. In the operative fourth amended complaint, Hopkins brought a negligence/premises liability claim against respondents Jurek Kedzierski, as trustee of the Jerzy Jurek Kedzierski and Margo Kedzierski Revocable Living Trust (the Trust), and against Margo, as an individual, and a negligence claim against the Trust.[2] Hopkins alleged that the statute of limitations on these claims had been equitably tolled while she pursued her April 2009 workers' compensation claim. Hopkins also alleged that respondents were equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense based on settlement negotiations that she claimed had taken place prior to her filing the original complaint in this action.[3]

The trial court denied Hopkins's request for a jury trial with respect to whether equitable tolling and/or equitable estoppel apply, held a bifurcated bench trial on these issues, and determined that neither doctrine applied. Based on these findings, the court concluded that Hopkins's complaint was not timely filed. The trial court entered judgment in favor of respondents.

On appeal, Hopkins claims that the trial court erred in denying her request for a jury trial on the issues of whether the doctrines of equitable tolling

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and/or equitable estoppel apply so as to render her action timely. Hopkins also claims that the trial court erred in determining that neither doctrine applied.

We conclude that the trial court did not err in denying Hopkins's request for a jury trial, and further conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the trial court's determination that the doctrine of equitable estoppel does not apply. However, we conclude that the reasons that the trial court provided as the basis for its determination that the equitable tolling doctrine is inapplicable are legally insufficient and that the matter must be remanded to the trial court for factual findings as to whether Hopkins demonstrated the elements of equitable tolling.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Hopkins's injury

On May 9, 2008, Hopkins fell from a second story balcony of the office building at which she worked while employed by Perfect Smile.

B. Hopkins's initial workers' compensation claim

Shortly after Hopkins's accident, Perfect Smile's human resources manager, Deanna Sanchez-Aardema, filed a workers' compensation claim form on Hopkins's behalf. Hopkins began to receive workers' compensation benefits within a month of her accident and continued to receive those benefits through the December 2012 bifurcated trial in this action.

C. Hopkins's April 2009 workers' compensation claim

In April 2009, Hopkins filed a "Workers' Compensation Appeals Board Application for Adjudication of Claim." In her application, Hopkins stated that she filed the April 2009 claim "because of a disagreement regarding [Perfect Smile's] liability, " for several types of benefits including, "Temporary disability indemnity, " "Reimbursement for medical expense, " "Medical treatment, " "Compensation at proper rate, " "Permanent disability indemnity, " "Rehabilitation, " and "Supplemental Job Displacement/Return to Work." Hopkins's April 2009 claim remained pending as of the date of the bifurcated trial.

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D. Hopkins files this action on September 14, 2010

On September 14, 2010, Hopkins filed this action against Perfect Smile and Jurek, as an individual. Hopkins's complaint contained a negligence cause of action seeking damages for personal injuries that she suffered in the May 2008 accident.

In March 2012, Hopkins filed the operative fourth amended complaint against Perfect Smile, the Trust, and Margo, among other defendants. As applicable to this appeal, the complaint contained a negligence cause of action based on premises liability against the Trust and Margo, and a separate negligence cause of action against the Trust. Hopkins alleged that the doctrines of equitable tolling and equitable estoppel applied so as to render her action timely.

Respondents filed an answer to the fourth amended complaint in which they alleged that the action was barred by the statute of limitations, among other defenses.

E. The bench trial on Hopkins's equitable tolling and equitable estoppel allegations

The trial court granted respondents' application to bifurcate the trial of the statute of limitations defense from the trial on liability and damages. In December 2012, the trial court denied Hopkins's request for a jury trial on the issues of whether the doctrines of equitable tolling and/or equitable estoppel applied so as to make her action timely.

The court held a bench trial with respect to whether the doctrines of equitable tolling and/or equitable estoppel applied. The court heard testimony from Jurek, Margo, Sanchez-Aardema, and Hopkins's former counsel, Eric Welch. Attorney Welch testified that he received information in September 2009 that led him to believe that Perfect Smile owned the building where the accident occurred. In October 2009, Attorney Welch sent a demand letter to Jurek and Perfect Smile. Golden Eagle Insurance, the insurer for both Perfect Smile and the ...


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