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Legal Memorandum: Equitable Estoppel and Equitable Tolling

Issue: Under what grounds may equitable estoppel and equitable tolling be applied?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Equitable estoppel; Equitable tolling claim
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 11/01/2009

Equitable estoppel occurs when a party may be generally aware of his rights “but does not make a timely filing due to his reasonable reliance on his employer’s misleading or confusing representations or conduct.”  Kale v. Combined Ins. Co. of Am., 861 F.2d 746, 752 (1st Cir. 1988).  There are four criteria for determining whether equitable estoppel applies:

(1) The party to be estopped must know the facts; (2) he must intend that his conduct shall be acted upon or must so act that the party asserting estoppel has a right to believe it is so intended;(3) the latter must be ignorant of the true facts; (4) he must rely on the former’s conduct to his injury.

Romero-Villanueva v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Auth., 112 Fed. Appx. 74, 77 (1stst Cir. 2004).  In addition, “[e]vidence of either the employer’s improper purpose or his constructive knowledge of the deceptive nature of his conduct [i.e. that he knew or should have known] must also be shown.”  Kale, 861 F.2d at 752.

“Equitable tolling excuses a plaintiff’s delay in asserting his rights when the plaintiff was unaware of his rights because of employer misconduct.”  Romer-Villanueva, 112 Fed. Appx. at 77.  As stated in Kale:

Equitable tolling . . . casts a wider net [than equitable estoppel]. Although there may be a number of grounds upon which to ask for equitable tolling, by far the most commonly asserted basis . . . is that of plaintiff’s “excusable ignorance” of his statutory rights.  […]

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