Public Defendants and Statute of Limitations

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In Ramey v. Demaio, decided August 25 by the Appellate Division, the plaintiff appealed a dismissal of her complaint against Mr. Demaio, acting director of the Newark Police Dept. Ramey’s daughter was murdered in 2011, and Ramey filed a complaint almost two year later in 2013 alleging that the police department and prosecutor had provided false information about the homicide to the newspaper, the Star Ledger. She also filed a complaint against the newspaper. The complaint included police negligence and libel. The details of why Ramey felt she had a claim are not relevant to this blog. What matters is the lesson that can be learned as to how important it is to pay attention to the statute of limitations when suing a public defendant as in this case, or any defendant.

N.J.S.A. 59:8-8 tells us that a complaint against a public defendant may be filed no later than the 90th day after accrual of the cause of action, meaning 90 days after the event that is the cause of the complaint. According to N.J.S.A. 59:8-9 this can be extended to one year at the discretion of a judge of the superior court if it would not substantially prejudice the public entity, and the applicant can provide affidavits showing extraordinary circumstances. The opinion cited Mendez v. South Jersey Transport Authority (2010) as an example of an extraordinary circumstance because a surveillance video surfaced after some time that revealed a city ambulance may have caused a car accident. This information could not have been known without the video because there were no eyewitnesses. Nevertheless it is important that this still occur within a year.

In this case Ramey failed to provide affidavits within a year, and even taking her presentation of the facts as true she would not have an actionable claim.

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