California Court of Appeal Clarifies Application of Relation-Back Doctrine in PAGA Cases

On February 7, 2022, the California Court of Appeal granted a petition for writ of mandate filed by Altshuler Berzon LLP and co-counsel, resolving an important question regarding application of the relation-back doctrine to claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). Former UBS Financial Services employee Andrew Hutcheson, who had timely notified the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency of alleged Labor Code violations by his former employer, sought to substitute as the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by another former UBS employee, who also had timely notified the Agency of the same claims prior to Mr. Hutcheson. The trial court concluded that, with Mr. Hutcheson as the new named plaintiff, the PAGA claims at issue in the amended complaint could not relate back for statute of limitations purposes to those in the original complaint because relation back would frustrate PAGA’s exhaustion requirement. Mr. Hutcheson filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to vacate the trial court’s order.

The Court of Appeal initially issued a summary denial of Mr. Hutcheson’s petition. Mr. Hutcheson then filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court granted, remanding the question to the Court of Appeal for plenary consideration. On remand, the Court of Appeal revisited Mr. Hutcheson’s writ petition and issued an opinion holding that the relation-back doctrine may apply in PAGA cases where a substitute plaintiff administratively exhausted claims after a first plaintiff. The Court of Appeal recognized that barring application of the relation-back doctrine in cases like Mr. Hutcheson’s would be “contrary to PAGA’s goal of strengthening Labor Code enforcement.”

Altshuler Berzon LLP, Clapp & Lauinger LLP, and the Wynne Law Firm represented Mr. Hutcheson in the appellate proceedings.

A copy of the Court’s opinion can be found here.