Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

RICO Statute of Limitations — Plaintiffs Must Plead Fraudulent Concealment with Particularity to Establish Equitable Tolling

Evans v. Ariz. Cardinals Football Club, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 3706 *; __ Fed. Appx. __; 2019 WL 459857 (9th Cir. Feb. 9, 2019) (unpublished):


This case arises from a suit brought by former players and the estate of a former player of the National Football League ("NFL"), accusing the NFL of perpetuating a "return-to-play" scheme in which players were allegedly administered numerous medications and pressured to continue playing, despite having suffered physical injuries that had yet to fully heal.1 After filing their initial complaint, plaintiffs amended their complaint in November 2016 to include a cause of action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The district court subsequently dismissed plaintiffs' RICO claim as time barred and entered a final judgment.2 Plaintiffs appealed.3 A district [*4]  court's dismissal on statute of limitations grounds is reviewed de novo. Donoghue v. Orange Cty., 848 F.2d 926, 929 (9th Cir. 1989). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

The statute of limitations for a civil RICO claim is four years. Grimmett v. Brown, 75 F.3d 506, 510 (9th Cir. 1996). Plaintiffs argue that their civil RICO claim was timely because their RICO claim did not begin to accrue until March 2014 when plaintiffs allegedly first learned of defendants' fraudulent scheme (i.e., that their claims are subject to the injury and pattern discovery rule). Plaintiffs' argument is barred by the Supreme Court's holding in Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549, 555 (2000). In Rotella, the Court rejected the "injury and pattern discovery" rule instead holding, "we have been at pains to explain that a discovery of the injury, not discovery of the other elements of a claim, is what starts the clock [for civil RICO claims]." Id. (emphasis added).

Even prior to Rotella, this Circuit has applied the "injury discovery" rule, which provides that "the civil RICO limitations period begins to run when a plaintiff knows or should know of the injury that underlies his cause of action." Grimmett, 75 F.3d at 510 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Pincay v. Andrews, 238 F.3d 1106, 1109 n.3 (9th Cir. 2001) (noting that Rotella "left our 'injury discovery' rule intact."). Here, plaintiffs knew, or should have [*5]  known, of their primary business injury—that their careers had been "cut short"—when their respective playing careers ended. All seven RICO plaintiffs alleged that their careers ended prematurely after suffering significant physical injuries. Because the most recent plaintiff's NFL career ended in 2004 (Jerry Wunsch's career), plaintiffs' RICO claim expired at the latest in 2008, approximately eight years before plaintiffs amended their complaint to include a RICO claim. The possibility that plaintiffs may have discovered their allegedly diminished post-NFL business prospects after 2004 does not render plaintiffs' RICO claim timely. See Grimmett, 75 F.3d at 512-14 (limitations period begins to run as soon as plaintiff suffers any business injury unless a "new" injury is caused by a "new and independent" act within the four-year limitations period).

Plaintiffs cite Living Designs, Inc. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., a post-Rotella case, for the proposition that a civil RICO claim instead begins to accrue when a plaintiff has actual or constructive knowledge of the fraud rather than the injury. See 431 F.3d 353, 365 (9th Cir. 2005). However, Living Designs is distinguishable. In that case, it was not until plaintiffs discovered defendant's fraud [*6]  that they discovered their injury. See id. at 364 ("The harm Plaintiffs allege is fraudulent inducement . . . ."). In this case, plaintiffs knew of their injury—that their careers had been "cut short"—as soon as their careers ended due to physical injuries. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' RICO claim as time barred.

Plaintiffs also argue that their RICO claim should be equitably tolled due to Defendants' fraudulent concealment. To establish equitable tolling, a plaintiff must plead with particularly that the defendant actively misled her, and that she had neither actual nor constructive knowledge of the facts constituting her RICO claim despite her due diligence in trying to uncover those facts. Grimmett, 75 F.3d at 514. Here, plaintiffs failed to allege any facts, let alone with particularity, that they exercised due diligence in trying to uncover the facts giving rise to their RICO claim. Plaintiffs' argument that defendants' doctors and trainers engaged in "passive conduct," namely the failure to disclose the consequences of taking various medications, which concealed from plaintiffs the existence of their RICO claim, likewise fails. Plaintiffs' amended complaint is replete with allegations [*7]  demonstrating plaintiffs' knowledge of the facts on which their RICO claim is based, such as the receipt of pills on airplanes, in unmarked containers, and without prescriptions. Accordingly, plaintiffs' RICO claim is untimely, and equitable tolling is not warranted.4



End of Document


This disposition is not appropriate for publication and is not precedent except as provided by Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3.

We assume the parties' familiarity with the facts and procedural history.

The district court dismissed all of Plaintiffs' other claims on Defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs failed to raise in their opening brief any arguments concerning the dismissal of their conspiracy claim, and accordingly, we deem such arguments waived on appeal. Tri-Valley CAREs v. U.S. Dep't of Energy, 671 F.3d 1113, 1129-30 (9th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted).

Plaintiffs' motion to supplement the record (No. 24) is DENIED as moot.

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