A woman, claiming her ex-husband, a McDonald’s franchise owner, forced her into a life of prostitution while she was working at McDonald’s, has sued the food chain for “Negligent Retention and Supervision of Franchises.”  Shelley Lynn v. Keith Handley, Inc., McDonald’s USA, United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. CV 12-02140.

Plaintiff claims that McDonald’s created the environment that led to her abuse.  She alleges it “has an active, notorious, and hostile campaign to keep unions out,” “offers an inferior health care plan and no pension benefits,” pays minimum wage, and has “no affirmative action to encourage women employees and other women to purchase franchises.”

She has also sued her ex-husband for RICO violations, human trafficking, fraud, Bane Act violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Without getting to the potential merits of such claims, one wonders how they will avoid being barred by the statute of limitations.

The events described happened between 18 and 27 years ago. Plaintiff seems to be aware of this problem, and alleges that she only recently discovered that her husband, during the course of their divorce in 1994, suborned perjured testimony of third-party witnesses in order to get a favorable judgment.

Since the crux of her complaint is the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband (not the divorce judgment), it is difficult to see how such an allegation will toll her claim against McDonald’s, or even the claims against her ex-husband, for that matter.

In California, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of “accrual” – that is, at the time the wrongful action causing damage is done.  City of Vista v. Robert Thomas Sec., 84 Cal. App. 4th 882, 886 (2000).

As discussed in Slovensky v. Friedman, 142 Cal. App. 4th 1518, 1529 (2006),

[a] cause of action accrues when the claim is complete with all of its elements. [Citation omitted].  Although this ordinarily occurs on the date of the plaintiff’s injury, accrual is postponed until the plaintiff either discovers or has reason to discover the existence of a claim, i.e., at least has reason to suspect the factual basis of its elements.”

In other words, “[s]o long as there is a reasonable ground for suspicion, the plaintiff must go out and find the facts; she cannot wait for the facts to find her.” Id. 

Since Plaintiff alleges she knew of her abuse at the hands of her husband at the time it occurred, it is difficult to see how the discovery of suborned perjury in her subsequent divorce will have any effect on this analysis.

The Complaint makes for unusual reading.

Whereas most complaints tend to be dry and functional documents, this one begins with a 14-paragraph op-ed about gender relations, discussing Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, Bill Maher, the testimonial of a transgendered man about his experiences as both a man and woman, and the glamorization of pimps in popular culture, among other things. The rest of the Complaint is likewise peppered with political and sociological commentary.