Equitable Tolling Doctrine California

In Elkins v. Derby (1974) 12 Cal.3d 410, the California Supreme Court formulated the principle of equitable tolling, applying the doctrine to situations "'when an injured person has several legal remedies and, reasonably and in good faith, pursues one.'" (Id. at p. 414, quoting Myers v. County of Orange (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 626, 634 86 Cal. Rptr. 198.) In Elkins v. Derby, the plaintiff, who was injured while working, "reasonably and in good faith filed a timely claim for benefits" against his supposed employer but, after several months of adjudication, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board determined he had not been an "employee" at the time of his injury because he received no compensation for his services. (Elkins v. Derby, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 412.) One month later, the plaintiff filed his personal injury action seeking recovery against the same defendants for the same injury that served as the basis for his workers' compensation claim. (Id. at p. 413.) The court held the statute of limitations was tolled for the period during which the plaintiff had pursued his compensation remedy. The court stated: "An awkward duplication of procedures is not necessary to serve the fundamental purpose of the limitations statute, which is to insure timely notice to an adverse party so that he can assemble a defense when the facts are still fresh. the filing of a compensation claim accomplishes this purpose and the tolling of the statute does not frustrate it." (Id. at p. 412.) 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. "The primary purpose of the statute of limitations is normally satisfied when the defendant receives timely notification of the first of two proceedings." (Elkins v. Derby, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 417, fn. 3; see also Collier v. City of Pasadena (1983) 142 Cal.App.3d 917, 923 191 Cal. Rptr. 681.) The doctrine has been applied "where one action stands to lessen the harm that is the subject of a potential 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." (McDonald v. Antelope Valley Community College Dist. (2008) 45 Cal.4th 88, 100 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 734, 194 P.3d 1026, citing Collier v. City of Pasadena, supra, at p. 923.) Equitable tolling requires that three essential elements be satisfied by the party seeking the tolling: "(1) timely notice to the defendant in filing the first claim; (2) lack of prejudice to defendant in gathering evidence to defend against the second claim; (3) good faith and reasonable conduct by the plaintiff in filing the second claim." (Collier v. City of Pasadena, supra, 142 Cal.App.3d at p. 924; see also Addison v. State of California (1978) 21 Cal.3d 313, 319 146 Cal. Rptr. 224, 578 P.2d 941; Loehr v. Ventura County Community College Dist. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 1071, 1085 195 Cal. Rptr. 576; and see Mojica v. 4311 Wilshire, LLC, supra, 131 Cal.App.4th at p. 1073.) The requirement of timely notice basically means the first claim must have been filed within the statutory period; the filing of the first claim also must have alerted the defendant in the second claim of the need to begin investigating the facts that form the basis for the second claim. (Collier v. City of Pasadena, supra, at p. 924.) Normally, this means the defendant in the first claim is the same one being sued in the second. (Ibid.) The second prerequisite in essence translates into 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. (Id. at p. 925.) So long as the defendant is timely placed on notice by the first claim so he can investigate in order to "appropriately defend" the second claim, "it is irrelevant whether those two claims are alternative or parallel, consistent or inconsistent, compatible or incompatible." (Id. at pp. 925, 926.)