Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that filing an Fair Labor Standards Act law suit in the wrong court does not lead to tolling (or halting) the statute of limitations in the correct court. See Wright v. Waste Pro USA, Inc., No. 22-12261, 2023 WL 395927 (11th Cir. Jun. 13, 2023).
Anthony Wright worked in Florida for Waste Pro of Florida, Inc., a subsidiary of Waste Pro USA, Inc. (“Waste Pro”). In October 2017, he joined with other employees to sue Waste Pro and its Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina subsidiaries in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. In July 2019, the South Carolina court dismissed Waste Pro and Waste Pro of Florida without prejudice because it did not have personal jurisdiction over those companies — meaning they weren’t sufficiently tied to South Carolina to be sued there.
In August 2019, Wright re-filed his lawsuit in Florida. But, the FLSA has two to three year statute of limitations — depending on whether the FLSA violation was willful. As a result, Wright’s lawsuit in Florida was untimely. So, he argued that the statute of limitations was tolled while his prior lawsuit was pending in South Carolina.
In short, the Eleventh Circuit was having none of it. Generally, the filing of a lawsuit that is later dismissed without prejudice does not toll the statute of limitations. See Justice v. United States, 6 F.3d 1474, 1478-79 (11th Cir. 1993). As a result, Wright was forced to ask the Eleventh Circuit to create a special tolling rule for FLSA cases. The Court declined to create a special rule and further found that Wright was not entitled to generalized “equitable tolling” because he could have taken other actions to preserve his claim before the statute ran.
This is a good decision for employers because it brings finality and clarity to a troublesome statute of limitations issue. If an employer gets sued for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, the first thing they should do is find the last possible date that an employee could have been paid improperly. Many times, the statute of limitations will have expired on some or all of an employee’s claims.