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Amesbury v. City of Pawtucket

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 11, 2019

MARK E. AMESBURY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PAWTUCKET; WILLIAM D. VIEIRA, SR.; DONALD R. GREBIEN; DONNA M. PINTO; MICHAEL POLACECK; and MELISSA C, Defendants.

          ORDER

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge

         Mark E. Amesbury operates Polytechnic, Inc. in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He files this lawsuit against the City of Pawtucket and certain of its officials and employees (collectively "the City").[1] He alleges a seventeen-claim complaint based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of his Fifth Amendment rights (through the Fourteenth Amendment) to property and due process.[2] He complains about the City "wrongfully ordering [him] to install a Radio Master Box for the existing fire alarm system" at his place of business. ECF No. 1 at 8. He makes various other factual allegations against the City and its Zoning and Enforcement Department (the "Zoning and Enforcement Department") about interactions between the City and his business. See generally, ECF No. 1 at 8-53. The factual allegations against the City that Mr. Amesbury included in his complaint started in 1991.

         As detailed further below, the City moves to dismiss each claim in the complaint based on the statute of limitations, absolute immunity, and/or a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ECF No. 6.

         ANALYSIS

         Statute of Limitations

         Mr. Amesbury asserts several Fifth Amendment due process and takings claims, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The United States Supreme Court "directs federal courts adjudicating civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to borrow the statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions under the law of the forum state." Rivera-Muriente v. Agosto-Alicea, 959 F.2d 349, 352 (1st Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276-80 (1985) (§ 1983 claims subject to state statute of limitations for personal injury actions). Under Rhode Island law, the applicable statute of limitations for claims alleging a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is Rhode Island's three-year personal injury statute of limitations. Richer v. Parmelee, 189 F.Supp.3d 334, 343 (D.R.I. 2016); R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-14(b); see also Walden, III, Inc. v. Rhode Island, 576 F.2d 945, 946-47 (1st Cir. 1978) (affirming that Rhode Island's three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions applies to civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

         Because Mr. Amesbury filed his complaint on June 20, 2019, any claim for conduct that happened before June 20, 2016 is barred by the statute of limitations (absent an applicable exception to the statute).

         The first ten claims describe conduct before June 20, 2016. Claims 1 through 4 describe conduct on April 26, 2016. ECF No. 1 at 8-11. Claims 5 through 8 involve a zoning violation that the Zoning and Enforcement Department assessed against Mr. Amesbury in 1993. ECF No. 1 at 11-14. And Claims 9 and 10 allege actions between 1991 and 2007 with the Zoning and Enforcement Department. ECF No. 1 at 15-18.

         Mr. Amesbury, in response to the City's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6), invokes equitable tolling (i.e., the discovery rule), as well as the continuing violation doctrine by asserting that the alleged conduct of the City represents a "systematic pattern of harassment" that "spans almost 30 years." ECF No. 7 at 1.

         There are no plausible facts alleged that support equitable tolling or the continuing violation doctrine.

         Discovery Doctrine / Equitable Tolling

         A claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 normally accrues at the time of the injury. Jardin De Las Catalhws Ltd. P'ship v. Joynei; 76G F.3d 127, 133 (1st Cir. 2014); see also Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007) . But if the facts necessary to bring a claim are unknown, the discovery rule may delay accrual until such facts "are or should be apparent to a reasonably prudent person similarly situated." Jardin, 766 F.3d at 133 (quoting Nieves-Marquez v. Puerto Rico, 353 F.3d 108, 119- 20 (1st Cir.2003). Accordingly, for the discovery rule to toll the statute of limitations, the facts supporting the cause of action must have been "inherently unknowable" at the time of the injury. Latson v. Plaza Home Mortg. Inc., 708 F.3d 324, 327 (1st Cir. 2013) (holding that the discovery rule stops the limitations clock "only when the injuries are inherently unknowable at the moment of their occurrence."). The discovery rule applies "either when the [alleged] injury has lain dormant without manifestation or when the facts about causation [are] in the control of the putative defendant, unavailable to the plaintiff or at least very difficult to obtain." Jardin, 766 F.3d at 133 (quoting United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. Ill. 122 (1979)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The alleged conduct of the City that leads to Mr. Amesbury's cause of action in Claims 1 through 10 is not conduct "inherently unknowable" at the time of injury. Mr. Amesbury alleges (i) that he discovered that the Radio Master Box was not required by the fire code until late 2017, (ii) that he learned that he did not need to pave the parking lot at his property until May 2019, and (iii) that he did not notice the "triggering warnings" that alerted him to the alleged wrongful violations that resulted in his tenant vacating the property until 2019. ECF No. 7 at 13. Although Mr. Amesbury alleges that his discovery and notice of the alleged improper conduct occurred within the limitation period, he does not allege that he took any reasonable steps to investigate or challenge such alleged conduct at the time of its occurrence (when the effect of such alleged conduct should have reasonably been apparent). Thus, because Mr. Amesbury did not exercise reasonable diligence, he cannot take advantage of the discovery rule to toll the statute of limitations for Claims 1 through 10. See Jardin, 766 F.3d at 133.

         Continuing ...


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