United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
CLAIMS UNDER FLORIDA LAW
GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
TracFone Wireless, Inc. (“TracFone”) brings this
antitrust action against multiple defendant manufacturers of
lithium-ion batteries. TracFone alleges claims under both
section one of the Sherman Act and the Florida Deceptive and
Unfair Trade Practices Act, Fla. Stat. Section 501.201 et
seq. (“FDUTPA”). Defendants NEC Corporation,
NEC TOKIN Corporation, Samsung SDI Co., Ltd., Samsung SDI
America, Inc., LG Chem America, Inc. and LG Chem, Ltd.,
Maxell Corporation of America and Hitachi Maxell, Ltd.
to dismiss TracFone's claim under the FDUTPA, contending
that the claim is barred by the applicable four-year statute
of limitations. See Fla. Stat. §§
carefully considered the papers submitted and the pleadings
in this action, and for the reasons set forth below, the
Court Denies the Motion to Dismiss.
first filed its claim under FDUTPA on April 29, 2015. In its
initial complaint, TracFone alleged that defendants engaged
in a conspiracy between at least January 1, 2000, through
“some time in 2011” to fix, raise, stabilize, and
maintain the prices of lithium-ion battery cells, the main
components of lithium ion batteries used in a number of
consumer products, including mobile wireless handsets.
(15-2199, Dkt. No. 1 at Compl.¶¶ 1-4.)
TracFone's First Amended Complaint alleges that the
conspiracy occurred “from at least as early as January
1, 2000 through at least May 31, 2011.” (Dkt. No. 22,
“FAC, ” ¶ 1.) TracFone further alleges that
defendants made misleading statements and concealed their
wrongdoing so that TracFone did not discover the price-fixing
conspiracy until the summer of 2012, well within the
four-year time period preceding the filing of its complaint.
(FAC ¶¶ 377-399.)
determination of whether a cause of action is time-barred may
involve the separate and distinct issues of when the action
accrued and whether the limitation period was tolled.”
Hearndon v. Graham, 767 So.2d 1179, 1184 (Fla.
2000). The statute of limitations runs from the time the
cause of action accrues, generally the date “when the
last element constituting the cause of action occurs.”
Id. at 1184-85 (citing Fl. Stat. § 95.031(1).)
By contrast, tolling interrupts the running of the time
limitation after accrual of the claim. Id. at 1185.
Florida Statute section 95.051 enumerates nine categories of
tolling of a statute of limitations (subsection (a) - (i)),
and further provides that a “disability or other reason
does not toll the running of any statute of limitations
except those specified in this section, s. 95.091, the
Florida Probate Code, or the Florida Guardianship Law.”
Fla. Stat. § 95.051(2).
Florida Supreme Court has recognized that statutes of
limitations, by definition, are legislative constructs and do
not supplant common law which is “deeply rooted, and a
century old tenet. . . .” Florida Dep't of
Health & Rehab. Servs. v. S.A.P, 835 So.2d 1091,
1096 (Fla. 2002) (“S.A.P.”). In this
context, the Florida Supreme Court issued a number of
opinions creating a framework that confirms a continuing use
of common law equitable principles to preclude dismissal
based upon the running of the statute of limitations. The
Court reviews the progression.
1976, the Florida Supreme Court in Nardone held that
“the equitable principle of fraudulent concealment will
be utilized to toll the statute of limitations” when
the plaintiff can establish “both successful
concealment of the cause of action and fraudulent means to
achieve that concealment.” Nardone v.
Reynolds, 333 So.2d 25, 37 (Fla. 1976) holding
modified on other grounds by Tanner v. Hartog, 618 So.2d
177 (Fla. 1993). As the court there stated, “[t]he
philosophy behind the exception to the statute of limitations
of fraudulent concealment and the tolling of the statute if
such concealment exists, is [that] courts will not protect
defendants who are directly responsible for the delays of
filing because of their own willful acts.” Id.
at 36. The court in Nardone did not address the
effect of the recently enacted tolling limitations in Florida
Statute section 95.051. Nevertheless, subsequent Florida
Supreme Court cases confirmed that fraudulent concealment, as
an equitable safeguard against a defendant's wrongful
conduct preventing the filing of a cause of action, continues
to be a viable exception to the statutes of limitation set
forth in section 95.051.
in 2000, the Florida Supreme Court addressed the issue
through a series of cases, first in a case raising the
related but distinct delayed discovery
doctrine. In Hearndon, the Florida Supreme
Court held that “the Legislature limited the
justification for tolling limitation periods to the exclusion
of delayed discovery due to loss of memory, but did not
likewise limit the circumstances under which accrual may have
been delayed.” Hearndon, 767 So.2d at
1185. The Hearndon court overruled a
lower court's decision that delayed discovery caused by
traumatic amnesia would not toll the running of the statute
of limitations. Id. Hearndon distinguished the
Legislature's restrictions on tolling the statutory clock
from equitable principles that effectively prevent the time
clock from commencing. Id.
later, in Morsani, the Florida Supreme Court held
that “the ‘tolling' proscription in section
95.051 . . . does not embrace the common law doctrine of
equitable estoppel, for equitable estoppel is not a
‘tolling' doctrine.” Major League
Baseball v. Morsani, 790 So.2d 1071, 1080 (Fla. 2001)
(“Morsani”). Presented with the
certified question of whether section 95.051 prohibited
application of equitable estoppel, the court held that
although “[a]s a rule, statutes of limitation impose a
strict time limit for filing legal actions . . . [they] can
be deflected by several legal theories, including the
doctrine of equitable estoppel.” Id. at 1074.
following year, in S.A.P., the Florida Supreme Court
clarified that because “equitable estoppel is a basic
tenet of the common law, ” any statute intended to
change the common law, such as a statute of limitations, must
state that overruling unequivocally in order to be effective.
S.A.P, 835 So.2d at 1098 (citing Thornber v.
City of Fort Walton Beach, 568 So.2d 914, 918 (Fla.1990)
and Morsani, 790 So.2d at 1076-77). S.A.P.
held that equitable common law bases for
“deflecting” the statutes of limitations continue
to be viable unless specifically abrogated by the
legislature. Id. at 1098-99. The S.A.P. court
described equitable estoppel as encompassing “an act of
wrongdoing-such as fraud and concealment-that prejudices a
party's case.” Id. at 1097. The language
of the statutory tolling provision at issue there did
“not expressly change the common law doctrine of
equitable estoppel, [since] it does not mention or allude to
that doctrine.” Id. at 1098-99. Thus, the
court concluded that the statutory limitations period could
be avoided by application of equitable estoppel. Id.
this line of Florida Supreme Court authority, including
S.A.P., defendants contend equitable estoppel only
applies in situations where a plaintiff is aware of the facts
that form the cause of action but is lulled into delaying
suit by some misrepresentation of the defendant. In support
of this contention, defendants rely heavily on the decision
of the Florida Supreme Court in Ryan v. Lobo De
Gonzalez, 921 So.2d 572 (Fla. 2005) (Lobo De
Gonzalez II) and the underlying appellate decision in
Ryan v. Lobo De Gonzalez, 841 So.2d 510 (Fla. Dist.
Ct. App. 2003) (Lobo De Gonzalez I). They argue
strenuously that TracFone's reliance on S.A.P.
is misplaced, based on Lobo De Gonzalez II and
Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court has subsequently
clarified its holding, explaining that the court in
S.A.P. “simply created an exception to the
[equitable estoppel] doctrine in childhood sexual
abuse” cases that does not require plaintiffs in such
cases to have prior knowledge of a claim to invoke equitable
estoppel. Lobo De Gonzalez, 921 So.2d at 578.
The court did not, however, “intend in
S.A.P. to extend the doctrine beyond its historical
use.” Id. at 577 (noting that “[s]everal
facts in S.A.P. render that case unique”). Nor
did it “hold that, in all cases where a plaintiff
asserts equitable estoppel to avoid the statute of
limitations, prior knowledge of the cause of action is no
longer required.” Id. Accordingly,
S.A.P. does not bring the two ...