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Coppernoll v. Hamcor, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 27, 2017

WYATT COPPERNOLL, Plaintiff,
v.
HAMCOR, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR EQUITABLE TOLLING

          WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         In this putative wage-and-hour class action, plaintiff moves for equitable tolling of his putative Fair Labor Standards Act collective claims that were stayed by a previous order. For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion is Granted.

         STATEMENT

         In October 2016, Plaintiff Wyatt Coppernoll filed this putative wage-and-hour class action asserting claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Labor Code, and the California Business and Professions Code.

         Defendant Hamcor, Inc., moved to stay the action and compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration sections of Coppernoll's job application agreement and employment agreement with Hamcor. A January 2017 order denied that motion, finding both parties agreed the arbitration terms were unenforceable under Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016), and the fact that our Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari did not change the law of our court of appeals for the time being (Dkt. No. 41). The order limited the parties, however, to individual discovery as to Coppernoll's claims, rather than the putative class, pending the upcoming review of Morris.

         In February 2017, the parties stipulated request to stay all class and collective claims in the action was granted. The order staying the claims required the parties to update the undersigned on Morris by August 16, or when briefing was completed, whichever came sooner.

         Coppernoll now requests equitable tolling of the FLSA claims as of the order staying class discovery, January 12, 2017, and until the stay is lifted (Dkt. No. 56 at 2). Such an order would preserve claims of putative class members whose claims would otherwise be extinguished by the FLSA statute of limitations while the stay is in place.

         This order follows full briefing and oral argument.

         ANALYSIS

         For purposes of calculating the timeliness of a FLSA claim, the statute of limitations is tolled for each putative class member individually upon filing a written consent to become a party plaintiff. 29 U.S.C. 256(b). This opt-in standard differs from the opt-out standard in a Rule 23 class action, where the statute of limitations is tolled for all putative class members when the complaint is filed. Thus, without equitable tolling, the statute of limitations on a putative class member's FLSA claim continues to run in the time between the filing of the collective action complaint and the filing of their written consent opting-in. See 29 U.S.C. 256; Woodard v. FedEx Freight East, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 178, 194 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 19, 2008) (Judge Thomas Vanaskie).

         The legal issue presented is whether a court-issued stay pending our Supreme Court's review of controlling precedent justifies equitably tolling the statute of limitations on FLSA collective action claims. Our court of appeals has not addressed the issue squarely, but it has provided guidance on equitably tolling FLSA claims generally.[*]

         The FLSA statute of limitations is a procedural limitation that may be tolled when equity warrants. See Partlow v. Jewish Orphan's Home of Southern California, Inc., 645 F.2d 757, 761 (9th Cir. 1981) (abrogated on other grounds). “Equitable tolling applies when the plaintiff is prevented from asserting a claim by wrongful conduct on the part of the defendant, or when extraordinary circumstances beyond the plaintiff's control ma[ke] it impossible to file a claim on time.” Stoll v. Runyon, 165 F.3d 1238, 1242 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Coppernoll does not make this motion under the first standard, expressly disclaiming making this motion based on wrongful conduct by Hamcor (Dkt. No. 56 at 2). Coppernoll does not outright acknowledge the second standard - that an extraordinary circumstance beyond putative plaintiffs' control prevents them from making a timely claim. Rather, he bases this motion on the stay of FLSA proceedings in this action pending our Supreme Court's disposition of Morris and provides similar district court decisions that equitably tolled FLSA claims pending California Supreme Court review of relevant decisions. See Castle v. Wells Fargo Financial, Inc., 2007 ...


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