Beware the Statute of Limitations in §1983 Cases

Today’s post is noteworthy in that it address both §1983 cases and land use issues, specifically the need to be aware of the statute of limitations and the outer limits of tolling. The plaintiffs, who own a marina, have an acrimonious past with the Town. In fifteen years, the Town brought seven suits alleging various Zoning Code violations, culminating in 2008, when criminal charges were filed and a civil suit seeking to enjoin the plaintiffs from using the marina was commenced. On November 15, 2013, the plaintiffs brought a §1983 claim against the Town alleging deprivations of the freedom of speech and property, selective enforcement claims, tortious interference with business relationships, and so forth. The problem was the statute of limitations.

In the State of New York, the statute of limitations for a §1983 claim is three years. Since that would make the plaintiffs about 16 months late in bringing their suit, they alleged that the statutory limit should be tolled because the Town’s actions represent a continuing violation. Under continuing violation doctrine, if a qualifying act has taken place during the current statute of limitations, the statute of limitations would be extended (or “tolled”) back to encompass older acts that were a part of the same violation. For example, in employment discrimination cases recent examples of harassment can be the basis for a claim that includes acts otherwise barred by the statute of limitations, such as denied promotions, etc., for which the statute of limitations has since lapsed but are still included as part of the “continuing violation.” Ultimately, the plaintiffs in our present case were unsuccessful in taking advantage of this doctrine, as they didn’t know or have reason to know of more recent acts taken against them, they could only allege the impact of the prior acts continued, which is insufficient.

In summary, be aware of the statute of limitations and the limits of tolling, as it can pose an absolute bar in all cases, but especially in §1983 cases.

The case was Melchner v Town of Carmel, 2014 WL 6665755 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)

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