Shalabi v. City of Fontana

Decision Date12 July 2021
Docket NumberS256665
Parties Luis Alexandro SHALABI, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CITY OF FONTANA et al., Defendants and Respondents.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Ortiz Law Group, Jesse S. Ortiz, Nolan Berggren and Andres Salas, Sacramento, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Lynberg & Watkins, S. Frank Harrell, Pancy Lin, Ruben Escobedo III and Jesse K. Cox, Orange, for Defendants and Respondents.

Horvitz & Levy, Steven S. Fleischman, Burbank, Scott P. Dixler and Sarah E. Hamill for Association of Southern California Defense Counsel as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

Opinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.

The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum amount of time within which legal proceedings may be initiated.

As established by Code of Civil Procedure section 12,1 the general rule for computing the time by which a plaintiff must bring a cause of action is to exclude the first day of the limitations period and include the last day.

A tolling provision suspends the running of a limitations period. When a minor is injured, the statute of limitations for any claim arising from the injury is tolled until the minor reaches age 18. ( § 352, subd. (a) ; Fam. Code, § 6500.) We granted review in this matter to decide whether, in cases in which the statute of limitations is tolled based on the plaintiff minor's age, the day after which the tolling period ends is either included or excluded in calculating whether an action is timely filed within the limitations period.

Here, the Court of Appeal held, consistent with section 12, that a minor's 18th birthday is excluded in calculating when the statute of limitations begins to run. The appellate court acknowledged that this court had reached a different conclusion more than a century earlier in Ganahl v. Soher (1884) 2 Cal.Unrep. 415, 5 P. 80 ( Ganahl I ), an unreported Supreme Court decision, but it resolved that Ganahl I was not controlling because that decision did not explicitly address the applicability of section 12. ( Shalabi v. City of Fontana (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 639, 644, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268 ( Shalabi ).)

We agree with the Court of Appeal's conclusion that an individual's 18th birthday is excluded when calculating the applicable limitations period. As articulated in section 12, the ordinary rule for computation of time excludes the first day and includes the last. We have long held that significant public order and security considerations compel a definite and certain method of computing time. Before a given case will be deemed to fall outside the general rule, there must be a clearly expressed intention that a different method of computation was intended and provided for. No such intent, compelling reason, or direction is evident from the relevant statutory language or history.

We also agree that our decision in Ganahl I , supra , 2 Cal.Unrep. 415, 5 P. 80 is not binding, but not for the reason expressed by the Court of Appeal. This court granted hearing in bank in Ganahl I and issued a subsequent superseding decision, thereby vacating Ganahl I . And so, although defendants in this case now urge us to uphold and not "overrule" the initial decision in Ganahl I , there is in fact nothing to uphold or overrule, because the former decision never possessed precedential authority. Nor does the reasoning set out in that vacated decision have persuasive force. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.


On December 3, 2013, plaintiff Luis Alexandro Shalabi filed a lawsuit against the City of Fontana and several of its police officers (collectively, defendants) asserting a deprivation of civil rights under title 42 United States Code section 1983 ( section 1983 claim). Plaintiff alleged that on May 14, 2011, one of the officers wrongfully shot and killed plaintiff's father. Plaintiff was a minor at the time of his father's death.

The parties agreed to a bifurcated bench trial ( § 1048, subd. (b) ) concerning whether plaintiff's section 1983 claim was barred by the relevant two-year statute of limitations. The parties stipulated to the following facts: (1) plaintiff's date of birth is December 3, 1993; (2) plaintiff reached the age of majority on December 3, 2011; and (3) plaintiff filed his original complaint on December 3, 2013.

The trial court ruled that plaintiff's claim was time-barred because he filed suit one day outside the two-year limitations period. It found that plaintiff's 18th birthday must be included in calculating the limitations period, and, accordingly, plaintiff's lawsuit had to be filed by December 2, 2013. The court relied on the unreported decision in Ganahl I , supra , 2 Cal.Unrep. 415, 5 P. 80,2 which, in its analysis, included the date on which the plaintiff reached the age of majority in calculating when the applicable statute of limitations period commenced after tolling during minority ended.

Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed. ( Shalabi , supra , 35 Cal.App.5th 639, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268.) It held that plaintiff's 18th birthday should have been excluded pursuant to section 12 in calculating when the statute of limitations period started running after tolling during minority ended. ( Shalabi , at pp. 643–644, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268.) It also determined that the 1884 opinion in Ganahl I was not controlling in light of that decision's failure to address section 12. ( Shalabi , at p. 644, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268.) "Because [ Ganahl I ] did not cite section 12 or explain how the court could create an exception to a law created by the Legislature," the Court of Appeal reasoned, "we conclude [ Ganahl I ] is not binding authority on the issue of how to calculate time under section 12." ( Ibid. ) Counting two years from December 4, 2011, the day after plaintiff's birthday, the appellate court held that plaintiff's complaint was timely filed. ( Id. at p. 643, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268.) It observed that "[i]f the Legislature prefers to include a plaintiff's birthday when calculating time in cases in which the statute of limitations has been tolled awaiting the plaintiff's 18th birthday, then the Legislature — not this court — must create that exception." ( Id. at p. 644, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 268.)

We granted review.


A section 1983 cause of action is subject to the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury torts. ( Wallace v. Kato (2007) 549 U.S. 384, 387, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 ( Wallace ).) California's statute of limitations governing a personal injury claim is two years. ( § 335.1 ["Within two years: An action ... for the death of ... an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another"].) Federal law governs when a cause of action accrues and when the statute of limitations begins to run on a federal civil rights cause of action. ( Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park (9th Cir. 1998) 159 F.3d 374, 379 ( Cabrera ).) Plaintiff's federal civil rights cause of action based on his father's death accrued at the time of death. ( Estate of B.I.C. v. Gillen (10th Cir. 2013) 710 F.3d 1168, 1176.)

A tolling provision suspends the running of a limitations period. We have analogized tolling to "the stopping and restarting of a clock." ( People v. Leiva (2013) 56 Cal.4th 498, 507, 154 Cal.Rptr.3d 634, 297 P.3d 870.) State law controls the tolling of the statute of limitations for a federal civil rights claim. ( Wallace , supra , 549 U.S. at p. 394, 127 S.Ct. 1091.) In California, when a minor is injured, the statute of limitations is tolled during minority and until the minor turns 18. ( § 352, subd. (a) ["If a person entitled to bring an action ... is, at the time the cause of action accrued ... under the age of majority ..., the time of the disability is not part of the time limited for the commencement of the action"]; Fam. Code, § 6500 ["A minor is an individual who is under 18 years of age. The period of minority is calculated from the first minute of the day on which the individual is born to the same minute of the corresponding day completing the period of minority"]; In re Harris , supra , 5 Cal.4th at p. 845, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 373, 855 P.2d 391 ["the period of minority terminates on the first minute of one's 18th birthday"].)

Thus, the two-year statute of limitations governing plaintiff's federal civil rights cause of action, triggered by the death of his father, was tolled while plaintiff was a minor. We now turn to the question of whether plaintiff's 18th birthday — the day after the tolling period ended — should be included or excluded in calculating plaintiff's final date by which to file suit.

Section 12 sets forth "the ordinary rule of computation of time." ( Ley v. Dominguez (1931) 212 Cal. 587, 594, 299 P. 713 ( Ley ).) This section provides in full: "The time in which any act provided by law is to be done is computed by excluding the first day, and including the last, unless the last day is a holiday, and then it is also excluded."

( § 12.) This general statutory rule was first codified in 1850 as section 307 of the Original Practice Act3 and has remained unchanged since its enactment in 1872. ( § 12 ; see Cabrera , supra , 159 F.3d at p. 379.)

Prior to the enactment of the general rule, the cases were not in agreement regarding whether the first day was included or excluded in computing a time period. ( People v. Clayton (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 440, 443, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 371 ( Clayton ).) "In early common law cases, where the computation was to be made from the doing of an act, the usual practice was to include the day when that act was done. [Citations.] In later cases, however, this rule of construction was gradually repudiated and the rule excluding the first day of the period was adopted. [Citation.] For more than two centuries, however, the cases were in conflict and there was no fixed rule." ( Ibid. , fn. omitted.) Thereafter, Lord Mansfield set forth a rule that was dependent...

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