The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently denied a dismissal motion filed on behalf of defendants including the Santa Fe Public Schools. The plaintiffs had brought a lawsuit in state court based on alleged sexual abuse by their fourth grade teacher. The motion had sought dismissal of a complaint on the basis that the plaintiffs’ claims under federal and state law were time barred.
By the time the court adjudicated the motion to dismiss their claims the plaintiffs were over 24 years old. The teacher and the school who has been sued removed the case to federal court, and sought dismissal of the claims based on alleged untimeliness.
The court first analyzed whether the applicable statute of limitations warranted dismissal of the plaintiffs’ federal claims. The court explained that, with respect to the causes of action based on federal law, federal courts apply the statute of limitations and tolling laws of the relevant state. In this case, New Mexico law provided a three year statute of limitations, and it was clear from the complaint that it was brought after the expiration of the three year period. Accordingly, the court analyzed whether there was a basis to toll the statute of limitations with respect to the federal claims. The court concluded that the plaintiffs’ alleged incapacity provided a basis for tolling the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs had alleged that they had suffered from problems including post-traumatic stress, dissociation and drug addiction. The court accepted that these allegations plausibly established incapacitation, for purposes of assessing the merits of the motion to dismiss. The court also explained that whether the plaintiffs’ condition, in fact, incapacitated them was an issue that should be deferred until the parties brought summary judgment motions or tried the case.
After analyzing the timeliness of the plaintiffs’ claims based on federal law, the court turned to the plaintiffs’ state law claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (NMTCA). The NMTCA includes a two year statute of limitations. However, claims can be preserved by equitable tolling. Equitable tolling of the statute of limitations can be achieved in cases in which plaintiffs have diligently pursued their rights and extraordinary circumstances were in their way. Similarly, tolling based on the equitable estoppel doctrine can be achieved where a party makes false representations or conceals facts with an intent to deceive, and the deceived party changes positions in reliance.
Ultimately the plaintiffs would need to prove their case to achieve a court-ordered recovery based on federal or state law for their damages. For the time being, the court declined to dismiss their claims based on alleged untimeliness and gave them a chance to proceed with the litigation.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a third party, there may be grounds for a recovery of monetary damages. In some situations, multiple parties are liable for compensating injured parties. Collecting damages can help people who have been injured and their families cover out-of-pocket costs, including medical bills. An award of damages can also help compensate people for lost wages. To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C. We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.