Beware of Attempts to Stop the Clock for No Viable Reason
By Shantel Perez
In any cause of action, there is a statute of limitations which provides some aid to potential defendants. Statute of limitations is a defense that is ordinarily asserted by a defendant to defeat an action brought against him after the time has elapsed. However, Plaintiffs time and time again attempt to circumvent the statute of limitations of certain causes of action by alleging certain injuries or damages to add more time to their claims or by coupling their arguments with other causes of action that have no bearing and are not related to their actual claims to toll the statute of limitation (stop the clock). Courts have held firm on when the statute of limitations accrues, when it should be tolled and when a Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred because they untimely filed their claim due to their own failure to be diligent in filing suit.
In the case of Kelley v. Bonham, Kelley was injured in a multi-car accident that involved a bus which was operated by a unit of local government (Ride Mass Transit District referred to as “RMTD”). 2018 IL App (5th) 170103-U (5th Dist. 2018). Plaintiff sued the bus company to recover damages for her injuries. RMTD filed a motion to dismiss arguing Plaintiff failed to file her claim within the one-year statute of limitations under the Tort Immunity Act. Plaintiff, in turn, argued the one-year statute of limitations did not apply to her case because of the common carrier exception which was not subject to the Tort Immunity Act. The trial court denied RMTD’s motion to dismiss finding it was a common carrier, therefore, the one-year statute of limitations did not apply. The case went up to the appellate court which found in favor of RMTD. The court held the common carrier exception to the one-year time limit to file a lawsuit did not apply in this case. Even though RMTD was considered a common carrier, it was not a common carrier for Plaintiff because she was not a passenger of the bus when the accident occurred. Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in which the bus driver came into contact with her vehicle. Since Plaintiff filed her claim after the one-year statute of limitations and the common carrier exception did not apply, her lawsuit was deemed untimely.
Recently, the Seventh Circuit provided some clarity in determining when a claim accrues in the case of Manuel v. City of Joliet. No. 14-1581, 2018 WL 4292913 (7th Cir. Sept. 10, 2018). The Manuel case made it to the Illinois Supreme Court which remanded the matter to the Seventh Circuit to rule on when the statute of limitations accrued on Plaintiff’s pre-trial detention claims. In Manuel, Plaintiff alleged the wrong of detention without probable cause continued for the length of the unjustified detention and analogized the accrual of his pre-trial detention claim to the tort of malicious prosecution in which the claim would not have accrued until the plaintiff prevailed (“been vindicated”).The statute of limitations of a pre-trial detention claim is two years, however, when a claim for pre-trial detention would accrue was never addressed in the Seventh Circuit. A claim for malicious prosecution accrues when proceedings are terminated in Plaintiff’s favor. Plaintiff, in Manuel, argued that his pre-trial detention claim should be analogized to the malicious prosecution standard of accrual which would toll his claim until his case was dismissed in his favor.
On remand, the Seventh Circuit reasoned that the issue in his pre-trial detention claim was “wrongful custody” without probable cause. The Court further discussed the case of Wallace v. Kato in which the Court held that wrongful pre-trial custody violated the Fourth Amendment “not only when it precedes, but also when it follows the start of legal process in a criminal case.” Plaintiffs cited to Wallace to support their claim that the pre-trial detention claim accrued when they were vindicated. The Seventh Circuit clarified Wallace by stating: “Notice that we speak of continuing wrong, not a continuing harm; once the wrong ends, the claim accrues even if that wrong has caused a lingering injury.” Plaintiff, in Manuel, stood firm in arguing their pre-trial detention claim accrued when his position was vindicated by dismissal of his criminal charges and Defendants, in turn, argued the claim accrued when the judge ordered Plaintiff held pending trial. The Seventh Circuit did not accept either party’s approach, but instead, held that Manuel’s claim accrued on the day he was released from custody which was the “wrong” that was at issue. The end of Plaintiff’s detention started the period of limitations. Even though it was possible that the wrong may or may not have caused a lingering injury, any lingering injury would not serve to toll the statute of limitations.
While Plaintiffs may view these cases as harmful to their claims, the courts in these cases, attempt to safeguard the law and statutes in question. If Plaintiffs have been wronged, they have a duty to file suit when they could have legally and rightfully learned of their cause of action. Mere ignorance of the existence of a cause of action will not toll the statute of limitations when facts could have been learned by diligence and inquiry.