California appeals court sends long-running wage and hour litigation against Ralphs Grocery back to Superior Court

By Karen Kidd | Nov 13, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – After about a decade of litigation against a southern California grocery store chain, a wage and hour lawsuit is headed back to Los Angeles Superior Court after a state appeals court found that at least some new claims in the case should be heard.

In its 27-page decision issued Oct. 31, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal directed the lower court to overrule part of the defendants' objection to new claims in the case but to continue to sustain objections in other areas. The lower court is to make exceptions where one or more of the claims remaining in the case can be maintained under a portion of the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), according to the appeals court's decision.

Specifically, the appeals court found that the original notice filed in the case by the plaintiff, Terri Brown, had been sufficient under section 226 of the PAGA to cover new claims filed two years ago.

"No statute of limitations or notice requirement prevents plaintiff's claim for a violation of that section to go forward," the ruling states. "But the third amended complaint alleges a claim under that section in the same cause of action as claims under the other sections for which plaintiff failed to give timely and adequate notice."

The trial court may strike portions of Brown's case in sections other than 226 "which it determines do not relate back to that section," the decision said.

The decision was written on behalf of the appeals court by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura Seigle, who was assigned to the case. Appeals court judges Lamar W. Baker and Justice Carl H. Moor concurred in the decision.

Brown originally filed a representative action against Ralphs Grocery Co. and its parent company, Kroger, under the PAGA, according to the background portion of the court's decision. In 2009, Brown filed notice with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, alleging labor code violations.

Mile marks in the case over the years included a National Labor Relations Board decision in July 2014 that firing a union member for refusing drug and alcohol testing after demanding representation by the union is a National Labor Relations Act violation. The NLRB closed its part in the case in February 2015.

In March 2016, Brown amended her notice and filed a third amended complaint, arguing that equitable tolling made up for the new claims that hadn't been included in the original notice, saving it from the one-year statute of limitations under the PAGA. The Los Angeles Superior Court sustained the defendants' objection to the 2016 filings, saying the 2009 notice head been deficient and that Brown's amended notice was barred by the PAGA's statute of limitations.

The appeals court disagreed in part, concluding that Brown's 2009 notice had been adequate and satisfied a portion of the PAGA notice requirements.

"We also conclude plaintiff's later-added PAGA claims for violations of Labor Code provisions not alleged in the 2009 notice did not timely comply with section 2699.3's notice requirements and are time-barred," Seigle wrote. "Furthermore, the deficient claims and later-added claims are not saved by equitable tolling, the relation back doctrine, judicial estoppel, or waiver, except to the extent the later-added claims may relate back to the PAGA claim adequately and timely noticed in 2009."

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California Second District Court of Appeal Los Angeles Superior Court National Labor Relations Board

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