A Statute of Limitations is a law that sets the maximum time the parties involved have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of the subject occurrence or alleged offense, whether civil or criminal.
The length of time a Statute of Limitations allows for a victim to bring legal action against the suspected wrong doer can vary from one jurisdiction to another. The Statute of Limitations is a separate timeframe, adopted by each state, that prescribes a period of limitation for the bringing of certain kinds of legal action.
In general, the time allowed under a Statute of Limitations varies depending upon the nature of the offense. Statutes of Limitations are used in all civil cases. For example, in some states, the Statute of Limitations on medical malpractice claims is two years; this means a party has two years to institute a legal action for medical malpractice. If the plaintiff waits any period over the two-year deadline, her or she can no longer sue for medical malpractice. In comparison, some criminal offenses, particularly those involving minors, or violent crimes like kidnapping or arson, may have no Statute of Limitations.
In a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Rotkiske v. Klemm, 140 S. Ct. 355, 205 L. Ed. 2d 291, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 7521, 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 8, 2019 WL 6703563, the Court held ruled that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) authorizes private civil actions against debt collectors “within one year from the date on which the violation occurs,” 15 U.S.C. 1692k(d). In that case, Klemm sued Rotkiske to collect an unpaid debt and attempted service at an address where Rotkiske no longer lived. Rotkiske claimed he first learned of this judgment in 2014, when his mortgage application was denied. He filed suit, alleging that Klemm violated the FDCPA by contacting him without lawful ability to collect. Rotkiske argued for the application of a “discovery rule” to delay the beginning of the applicable Statute of Limitations period until the date that he knew or should have known of the alleged FDCPA violation. The Third Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the suit.
Illustrative of common Statute of Limitations issues that arise in these circumstances is the dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She wrote that she agrees with the majority’s determination that the “discovery rule” does not apply to the one-year Statute of Limitations in the FDCPA; however, she disagreed with the majority that Rotkiske failed to preserve a fraud-based discovery argument in the court below Justice Ginsburg would hold that, if the conduct giving rise to the claim is fraudulent, or if fraud infects the manner in which the claim is presented, then the fraud-based discovery rule governs. Because, in her view, Rotkiske did preserve this argument on appeal, she would allow adjudication of his claim on the merits.
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