California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

457. Statute of Limitations—Equitable Tolling—Other Prior Proceeding

[Name of plaintiff] claims that even if [his/her/its] lawsuit was not filed by [insert date from applicable statute of limitations], [he/she/it] may still proceed because the deadline for filing the lawsuit was extended by the time during which [specify prior proceeding that qualifies as the tolling event, e.g., she was seeking workers’ compensation benefits]. In order to establish the right to proceed, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] received timely notice that [name of plaintiff] was [e.g., seeking workers’ compensation] instead of filing a lawsuit;

2. That the facts of the two claims were so similar that an investigation of the [e.g., workers’ compensation claim] gave or would have given [name of defendant] the information needed to defend the lawsuit; and

3. That [name of plaintiff] was acting reasonably and in good faith by [e.g., seeking workers’ compensation].

For [name of defendant] to have received timely notice, [name of plaintiff] must have filed the [e.g., workers’ compensation claim] by [insert date from applicable statute of limitations] and the [e.g., claim] notified [name of defendant] of the need to begin investigating the facts that form the basis for the lawsuit.

In considering whether [name of plaintiff] acted reasonably and in good faith, you may consider the amount of time after the [e.g., workers’ compensation claim] was [resolved/abandoned] before [he/she/it] filed the lawsuit.

New December 2009

Directions for Use

The verdict form should ask the jury to find the period of time that the limitation period was tolled on account of the other proceeding. The court can then add the additional time to the limitation period and determine whether the action is timely.

Equitable tolling is not available for legal malpractice (see Laird v. Blacker (1992) 2 Cal.4th 606, 618 [7 Cal.Rptr.2d 550, 828 P.2d 691] [statutory tolling provisions of Code Civ Proc., § 340.6 are exclusive for both one-year and four-year limitation periods]; see also CACI No. 610, Affırmative Defense—Statute of Limitations—Attorney Malpractice—One-Year Limit, and CACI No. 611, Affırmative Defense—Statute of Limitations—Attorney Malpractice—Four-Year Limit) nor for medical malpractice with regard to the three-year limitation period of Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5. (See Belton v. Bowers Ambulance Serv. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 928, 934 [86 Cal.Rptr.2d 107, 978 P.2d 591] [statutory tolling provisions of Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5 are exclusive only for three-year period; one-year period may be tolled on other grounds]; see also CACI No. 555, Affırmative Defense—Statute of Limitations—Medical Malpractice—One-Year Limit, and CACI No. 556, Affırmative Defense—Statute of Limitations—Medical Malpractice—Three-Year Limit.)

Sources and Authority

  • “The equitable tolling of statutes of limitations is a judicially created, nonstatutory doctrine. It is ‘designed to prevent unjust and technical forfeitures of the right to a trial on the merits when the purpose of the statute of limitations—timely notice to the defendant of the plaintiff’s claims—has been satisfied.’ Where applicable, the doctrine will ‘suspend or extend a statute of limitations as necessary to ensure fundamental practicality and fairness.’ ” (McDonald v. Antelope Valley Community College Dist. (2008) 45 Cal.4th 88, 99 [84 Cal.Rptr.3d 734, 194 P.3d 1026], internal citations omitted.)
  • “The equitable tolling doctrine rests on the concept that a plaintiff should not be barred by a statute of limitations unless the defendant would be unfairly prejudiced if the plaintiff were allowed to proceed. ‘[T]he primary purpose of the statute of limitations is normally satisfied when the defendant receives timely notification of the first of two proceedings.’ The doctrine has been applied ‘where one action stands to lessen the harm that is the subject of the second action; where administrative remedies must be exhausted before a second action can proceed; or where a first action, embarked upon in good faith, is found to be defective for some reason.’ ” (Aguilera v. Heiman (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 590, 598 [95 Cal.Rptr.3d 18], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[T]he effect of equitable tolling is that the limitations period stops running during the tolling event, and begins to run again only when the tolling event has concluded. As a consequence, the tolled interval, no matter when it took place, is tacked onto the end of the limitations period, thus extending the deadline for suit by the entire length of time during which the tolling event previously occurred.” (Lantzy v. Centex Homes (2003) 31 Cal.4th 363, 370–371 [2 Cal.Rptr.3d 655, 73 P.3d 517].)
  • “A major reason for applying the doctrine is to avoid ‘the hardship of compelling plaintiffs to pursue several duplicative actions simultaneously on the same set of facts.’ ‘[D]isposition of a case filed in one forum may render proceedings in the second unnecessary or easier and less expensive to resolve.’ ” (Guevara v. Ventura County Community College Dist. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 167, 174 [87 Cal.Rptr.3d 50], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[A]pplication of the doctrine of equitable tolling requires timely notice, and lack of prejudice, to the defendant, and reasonable and good faith conduct on the part of the plaintiff. These elements seemingly are present here. As noted, the federal court, without prejudice, declined to assert jurisdiction over a timely filed state law cause of action and plaintiffs thereafter promptly asserted that cause in the proper state court. Unquestionably, the same set of facts may be the basis for claims under both federal and state law. We discern no reason of policy which would require plaintiffs to file simultaneously two separate actions based upon the same facts in both state and federal courts since ‘duplicative proceedings are surely inefficient, awkward and laborious.’ ” (Addison v. State (1978) 21 Cal.3d 313, 319 [146 Cal.Rptr. 224, 578 P.2d 941], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘ “The timely notice requirement essentially means that the first claim must have been filed within the statutory period. Furthermore[,] the filing of the first claim must alert the defendant in the second claim of the need to begin investigating the facts which form the basis for the second claim. Generally this means that the defendant in the first claim is the same one being sued in the second.” “The second prerequisite essentially translates to a requirement that the facts of the two claims be identical or at least so similar that the defendant’s investigation of the first claim will put him in a position to fairly defend the second.” “The third prerequisite of good faith and reasonable conduct on the part of the plaintiff is less clearly defined in the cases. But in Addison v. State of California, supra, 21 Cal.3d 313[,] the Supreme Court did stress that the plaintiff filed his second claim a short time after tolling ended.” ’ ” (McDonald, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 102, fn. 2, internal citations omitted.)
  • “The third requirement of good faith and reasonable conduct may turn on whether ‘a plaintiff delayed filing the second claim until the statute on that claim had nearly run . . .’ or ‘whether the plaintiff [took] affirmative actions which . . . misle[d] the defendant into believing the plaintiff was foregoing his second claim.’ ” (Tarkington v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 1494, 1505 [92 Cal.Rptr.3d 131].)
  • “Where exhaustion of an administrative remedy is mandatory prior to filing suit, equitable tolling is automatic: ‘It has long been settled in this and other jurisdictions that whenever the exhaustion of administrative remedies is a prerequisite to the initiation of a civil action, the running of the limitations period is tolled during the time consumed by the administrative proceeding.’ This rule prevents administrative exhaustion requirements from rendering illusory nonadministrative remedies contingent on exhaustion.” (McDonald, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 101, internal citation omitted.)
  • “The trial court rejected equitable tolling on the apparent ground that tolling was unavailable where, as here, the plaintiff was advised the alternate administrative procedure he or she was pursuing was voluntary and need not be exhausted. In reversing summary judgment, the Court of Appeal implicitly concluded equitable tolling is in fact available in such circumstances and explicitly concluded equitable tolling is not foreclosed as a matter of law under the FEHA. The Court of Appeal was correct on each count.” (McDonald, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 114.)
  • “Equitable tolling and equitable estoppel [see CACI No. 456] are distinct doctrines. ‘ “Tolling, strictly speaking, is concerned with the point at which the limitations period begins to run and with the circumstances in which the running of the limitations period may be suspended. . . . Equitable estoppel, however, . . . comes into play only after the limitations period has run and addresses . . . the circumstances in which a party will be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense to an admittedly untimely action because his conduct has induced another into forbearing suit within the applicable limitations period. [Equitable estoppel] is wholly independent of the limitations period itself and takes its life . . . from the equitable principle that no man [may] profit from his own wrongdoing in a court of justice.” ’ ” (Lantzy, supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 383–384.)
  • “[V]oluntary abandonment [of the first proceeding] does not categorically bar application of equitable tolling, but it may be relevant to whether a plaintiff can satisfy the three criteria for equitable tolling.” (McDonald, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 111.)
  • “Section 340.6, subdivision (a), states that ‘in no event’ shall the prescriptive period be tolled except under those circumstances specified in the statute. Thus, the Legislature expressly intended to disallow tolling under any circumstances not enumerated in the statute.” (Laird, supra, 2 Cal.4th at p. 618 [applying rule to one-year limitation period].)
  • “We see no reason to apply the second sentence of section 340.5 to the one- year period it does not mention, in addition to the three-year period it does mention. The general purpose of MICRA does not require us to expand that sentence beyond its language.” (Belton, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 934 [rejecting application of rule to one-year limitation period].)

Secondary Sources

Brown et al., California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group) ¶ 1:57.2

3 California Torts, Ch. 32, Liability of Attorneys, § 32.60[1][g.1] (Matthew Bender)

30 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 345, Limitation of Actions, § 345.21 (Matthew Bender)

14 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 143, Limitation of Actions, § 143.46 (Matthew Bender)