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Mercado v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 29, 2016

ESTHER MERCADO, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO; SUPREME COURT OF PUERTO RICO; OFICINA DE ADMINISTRACIÓN DE TRIBUNALES; and ADMINISTRACIÓN DE SERVICIOS DE SALUD MENTAL Y CONTRA LA ADDICIÓN, Defendants, Appellees.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, U.S. District Judge]

Juan H. Saavedra Castro for appellant.

Rosa Elena Pérez-Agosto, Assistant Solicitor General, with whom Margarita Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General, was on brief, for appellees Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, and Oficina de Administración de Tribunales.

Michael Craig McCall, with whom Luis Pabón Roca and Clarisa Sola Gómez were on brief, for appellee Administración de Servicios de Salud Mental y Contra La Addición.

Before Lipez, Hawkins, [*] and Barron, Circuit Judges.

BARRON, Circuit Judge.

Esther Mercado sued the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and three other Puerto Rico governmental entities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). She alleged that they had denied her access to public services and discriminated against her because she was "regarded as" having a physical or mental impairment within the meaning of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102, 12132. The only question that we must decide is whether Mercado brought her suit too late. And the answer to that question turns on whether the limitations period set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1658 applies to her case.

That provision establishes a four-year, "catch-all" limitations period for statutes that, like the ADA, do not set forth their own limitations period. But the catch-all period applies only to actions "arising under" a federal statute enacted after December 1, 1990, the date on which § 1658 became law. The parties agree that if that four-year, catch-all limitations period does apply here, then Mercado's suit was timely filed. Otherwise, Mercado concedes that Puerto Rico law would supply the limitations period, that the applicable period under Puerto Rico law would only be one year, and that her suit would have been filed too late.

The District Court concluded that Mercado's "regarded as" claims did not "aris[e] under" a federal statute enacted after December 1, 1990, because the ADA was passed prior to that date. Thus, the District Court applied the one-year Puerto Rico statute of limitations and dismissed her suit as time-barred. We conclude, however, that § 1658's limitations period does apply here because Mercado's legal claims were made possible by the 2008 amendments to the ADA codified in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("the ADAAA"). We thus reverse the District Court's order of dismissal.

I.

Mercado initially filed her complaint in federal court on August 14, 2013, before filing an amended complaint on March 1, 2014. [Dkt Nos. 1, 18]. The amended complaint (which we will refer to as "the complaint" from here on out) names the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, the "Oficina de Administración de Tribunales, " and the "Administración de Servicios de Salud Mental y Contra la Addición" as defendants. [Dkt. No. 18].

The complaint alleges that the defendants subjected Mercado to involuntary institutional confinement by ordering her committed to a psychiatric hospital without giving her an opportunity to be heard. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.1-4.4, 5.7]. The complaint further alleges the defendants violated Title II of the ADA because, in so confining her, they discriminated against her and denied public services to her "by reason of her disability." [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5.5, 5.7, 5.9, 6.3].

The complaint sets out what it identifies as three separate causes of action. The first two are for damages based on discrimination or denial of public services under Title II of the ADA. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5.1-5.11, 6.1-6.3].[1] The last is for an injunction ordering Puerto Rico to devise a system guaranteeing counsel, as well as notice and the right to be heard, to any disabled person who faces involuntary confinement in a psychiatric hospital. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7.1-7.6].

The complaint does not allege that Mercado had a "disability" in the sense that she had what the ADA refers to as an "impairment." See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)(A). Nor does the complaint allege that she was discriminated against because she had such an impairment. Instead, the complaint alleges that the defendants discriminated against Mercado "by reason of" the fact that she was "regarded as" having a physical or mental impairment within the meaning of the ADA. See id. §§ 12102(1)(C), 12132.[2]

In pleading "regarded as" discrimination claims under the ADA, the complaint alleges that Mercado had a "disability" within the meaning of the ADA "[b]y virtue of the [ADA] Amendments Act of 2008, and changes in definition of the term 'disability' . . . because defendants regarded [her] as having a major 'mental impairment.'" [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.19, 5.6]. The 2008 amendments altered the ADA by, among other things, stating that

[a]n individual meets the requirement of 'being regarded as having such an impairment' if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-325, sec. 4(a), § 3(3)(A), 122 Stat. 3553, 3555 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A)).

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. They argued that a one-year statute of limitations applied to Mercado's claims under Puerto Rico law and that she had not filed within that period. [Dkts. No. 29, 30]. Mercado opposed the motion. She did so solely on the ground that her claims' dependence on the 2008 amendments to the ADA made the four-year, "catch-all" period in § 1658, rather than the one-year limitations period under Puerto Rico law, applicable to her suit. [Dkt. No. 40 (citing Jones, 541 U.S. at 382)].

The District Court rejected Mercado's argument. The District Court concluded that her claims "would have been actionable under the original provisions of the ADA, " Mercadov.Puerto Rico, 86 F.Supp.3d 46, 49 (D.P.R. 2015), and thus that ยง 1658's limitations period did not apply. Because the District Court agreed with the defendants that, under Puerto Rico law, a one-year statute of limitations applied to Mercado's claims ...


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