801 F.2d 1170 (9th Cir. 1986), 85-6348, Valenzuela v. Kraft, Inc.

Docket Nº:85-6348.
Citation:801 F.2d 1170
Party Name:Daryl Ford VALENZUELA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. KRAFT, INC., Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 08, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1170

801 F.2d 1170 (9th Cir. 1986)

Daryl Ford VALENZUELA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

KRAFT, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 85-6348.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 8, 1986

Argued and Submitted June 6, 1986.

Page 1171

Cecil E. Ricks, Jr., Anaheim, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

John W. Prager, Jr., P.C., Santa Ana, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before REINHARDT and HALL, Circuit Judges, and MUECKE [*], District Judge.

CYNTHIA HOLCOMB HALL, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-appellant Kraft, Inc., appeals from the decision of the district court denying its motion for judgment on the pleadings. We affirm.

I

On March 3, 1983, plaintiff-appellee Daryl Valenzuela filed a complaint in California state court alleging sex discrimination by Kraft in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-2. The state court action was filed within 90 days from Valenzuela's receipt of a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Kraft removed the action to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The district court dismissed the action, finding that the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Title VII actions, and therefore concluding that it lacked removal jurisdiction because the state court did not have jurisdiction over the action before removal. On July 31, 1984, this court affirmed the dismissal on the same grounds. Valenzuela v. Kraft, Inc., 739 F.2d 434 (9th Cir.1984) (Valenzuela I ).

Valenzuela then filed her current Title VII action in the district court on August

Page 1172

16, 1984, before the mandate issued in Valenzuela I. Kraft moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the complaint because it was not filed within 90 days of the issuance of Valenzuela's right to sue letter as required by 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-5(f)(1). Relying on Fox v. Eaton Corp., 615 F.2d 716 (6th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 935, 101 S.Ct. 1401, 67 L.Ed.2d 371 (1981), the district court found that Valenzuela's action in state court tolled the running of the 90-day filing requirement, and denied Kraft's motion. The district court subsequently granted Kraft's request for certification of this issue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(b) because of the potential conflict between its application of Fox and previous decisions of this court, and we agreed to hear the appeal.

II

Title VII contains several distinct filing requirements which a claimant must comply with in bringing a civil action. 1 We are concerned with the requirement that an action be filed within ninety days from the issuance of the right to sue letter by the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-5(f)(1). There is no question that Valenzuela's action was filed in the district court more than ninety days after the EEOC issued Valenzuela's right to sue letter, so we address two issues. First, whether the 90-day filing period is subject to equitable tolling. This question of statutory construction is an issue of law which we review de novo. See United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1200-01 (9th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 101, 83 L.Ed.2d 46 (1984). Second, if the 90-day filing period is subject to equitable tolling, whether Valenzuela's state court action tolled the filing period under the circumstances of this case. Because the facts which Valenzuela relies on to establish tolling are not disputed, this is also a question of law which we review de novo. Cf. Acri v. International Association of Machinists, District Lodge 115, 781 F.2d 1393, 1395 (9th Cir.1986) (holding that accrual of cause of action was question of law when evidentiary facts regarding accrual were not in dispute).

III

Filing periods, such as the 90-day period for filing actions against private employers under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-5(f)(1), are either statutes of limitations or jurisdictional prerequisites to filing an action. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 392, 398, 102 S.Ct. 1127, 1135, 71 L.Ed.2d 234 (1982). If the time period is a statute of limitations non-compliance may be excused by equitable doctrines such as waiver or tolling, but this is not true if the filing period is jurisdictional. Id. We have held that the 90-day period is a jurisdictional requirement. See, e.g., Millard v. La Pointe's Fashion Store, Inc., 736 F.2d 501, 502-03 (9th Cir.1984); Cleveland v. Douglas Aircraft Co., 509 F.2d 1027, 1029-30 (9th Cir.1975) (30-day limit for filing actions against private party at that time).

The Supreme Court, however, has applied equitable tolling analysis to the 90-day time limit for filing civil actions against private employers under Title VII. The Court first indicated that the 90-day period for filing an action in the district court is not jurisdictional in Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 811, 100 S.Ct. 2486, 2489, 65 L.Ed.2d 532 (1980). In considering another filing period under Title VII the Court noted that the plaintiff filed his action 91 days after...

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