On August 30, 2014, Isaul Alvarado, an employee of Ventura Coastal, sustained a serious leg injury when he stepped into an uncovered screw conveyor (also known as an auger) located below ground level on Ventura’s premises.
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducted an inspection of Ventura’s facility and issued a citation to Ventura under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act for a serious violation of a regulation requiring screw conveyors at or below floor level to be guarded by railings or substantial covers or gratings.
Ventura appealed the citation to the Board, arguing that it did not violate the safety order or, if there was a violation, it was misclassified as serious. The ALJ upheld the citation, finding Ventura committed the violation alleged, and it was properly classified as a serious violation. The ALJ did, however, reduce the proposed penalty.
The Board, on its own motion, ordered reconsideration of the ALJ’s decision regarding the penalty. Ventura also filed a petition for reconsideration by the Board, asserting as grounds for reconsideration that the evidence did not justify the findings of fact, and the findings of fact did not support the decision.
On September 22, 2017, the Board issued its decision after reconsideration, upholding the decision of the ALJ.
On October 20, 2017, Ventura filed a second petition for reconsideration with the Board. It asserted three of the Board’s factual findings were not supported by the evidence, so the decision exceeded the Board’s authority. Alternatively, at a minimum, the violation should be reclassified from serious to general.
On December 15, 2017, Ventura filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the superior court, seeking review of the Board’s September 22, 2017 decision. The Board filed a motion to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings, asserting the writ petition was statutorily required to be filed within 30 days after the Board’s decision was issued. The trial court granted the Board’s motion and entered a judgment of dismissal.
The Court of Appeal reversed and remand with directions in the published decision of Ventura Coastal LLC, v Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.
Ventura’s second petition for reconsideration was not properly filed and had no effect on the timeliness of its petition for writ of mandate. The Board’s decision after reconsideration was filed on September 22, 2017, and Ventura’s time for filing a petition for writ of mandate for review of that decision expired 31 days thereafter, on October 23, 2017 (because October 22 fell on a Sunday). Its petition for writ of mandate was not filed until December 15, 2017.
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Saint Francis Memorial Hospital v. State Dept. of Public Health (2020) 9 Cal.5th 710, the time limitation for filing the writ petition is subject to equitable tolling, and the employer should have been allowed to amend its petition to allege facts supporting application of that doctrine.
The requirements for its application present questions of fact that have not yet been addressed by the trial court. This includes questions regarding whether the conduct of Ventura, the reason for its delay in filing the petition, and the length of the delay were reasonable and in good faith. Additionally, if tolling is appropriate, the trial court must determine the length of the tolling period and whether the petition was timely filed, in light of any tolling period that is allowed. The trial court must also address the issues of notice and prejudice to the Board.