Recent Statutes of Limitation Accrual Decisions in the Circuits
What follows are three recent circuit court decisions dealing with accrual. Recall that the section 1983 accrual question is one of federal law.
For a comprehensive discussion of this technical subject, see NAHMOD, CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES LITIGATION: THE LAW OF SECTION 1983 ch. 9 (4th ed. 2013)(CIVLIBLIT on Westlaw).
Fifth Circuit: Accrual and Knowledge of Parental Injury
Where the mother of a thirteen year old arrestee sued law enforcement officers, alleging that they violated her parental due process rights when they interrogated him outside of her presence and over her objections and thereby obtained what turned out to be a false confession, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the claim, filed on March 20, 2009, was time barred under Mississippi’s general or residual personal injury three year limitations period. The court reasoned that the cause of action accrued on May 12, 2003, when the plaintiff immediately became aware of her separation from her son, at which time she believed that it was in his best interest not to answer questions without her. Edmonds v. Oktibbeha County, 675 F.3d 911, 916 (5th Cir. 2012), referring to MISS. CODE ANN. § 15-1-49 (2011).
Seventh Circuit: Knowledge of Medical Injury and Its Cause
According to the Seventh Circuit, “[t]he statute of limitations for a § 1983 deliberate indifference claim brought to redress a medical injury does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows of his injury and its cause.” In this case, plaintiff alleged in his October 2007 lawsuit that prison medical staff improperly delayed ordering a prostate biopsy for him until April 2005, and metastasized prostate cancer was discovered six months later. This delay occurred even though in 2000, when he entered the prison system, he had told the prison medical staff that he had prostate problems and needed to be tested within two to four years, and even though, in February 2004, a PSA test had disclosed highly elevated PSA. Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit found the Eighth Amendment claim timely: the plaintiff did not know of his injury in April 2005 when the defendants finally ordered a biopsy but only discovered the injury six months later when he found out he had cancer that might have been diagnosed and treated earlier. It was at that time that his cause of action accrued, and he filed suit shortly before the applicable Indiana two year limitations period expired. The Seventh Circuit emphasized that the plaintiff was suing for his actual physical injury and rejected argument that the limitations period began to run before plaintiff knew he had cancer. Devbrow v. Kalu, 705 F.3d 765 (7th Cir. 2013).
Ninth Circuit: Discrete Act Starting Limitations Period Anew
The plaintiff, a Muslim, sued prison officials on April 29, 2009, under § 1983, alleging that they violated his First Amendment rights when, in 2008, they denied his request for a conjugal visit with his second wife pursuant to a prison regulation that permanently prohibited him from having such visits. Complicating the accrual question—California’s two year personal injury limitations period applied–was the fact that he had previously been denied a conjugal visit with his first wife in 2002 under the same regulation. The defendants argued that the plaintiff had notice of the allegedly wrongful acts in 2002 when he was denied a conjugal visit under the regulation and that his § 1983 claim was therefore untimely. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument and found that the denial of a conjugal visit in 2008 was an independent discrete act that began the running of the two year limitations period all over again. Thus, his § 1983 claim was timely. Pouncil v. Tilton, 704 F.3d 568 (9th Cir. 2012). The plaintiff also brought a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act which was governed by a federal four year limitations period.