United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
WAYNE WARREN, by and through his Mother, next friend and legal guardian, Polly Robinson, Plaintiff,
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, et al., Defendants.
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 6)
filed by Defendants Alabama Department of Mental Health
("ADMH") and Estate of Perry Walker ("the
Estate"). The parties have fully briefed the motion.
(Docs. #9, 11, 16-17). This motion presents the issue of
whether the court may be compelled to apply a state statute
of limitations but disregard a directly relevant tolling
provision for that statute of limitations, based on the
court's finding that the tolling provision is
inconsistent with the purposes of federal law. Surprisingly,
ADMH, an Alabama state agency, is asking the court to
selectively apply state law. The court concludes that it
cannot. Accordingly, for the reasons explained below,
Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. # 6) is due to be
Procedural Background and Relevant Facts
October 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants
ADMH and the Estate. (Doc. # 1). The complaint charges that
ADMH violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). (See
Id. at ¶¶ 34-49, 71-74). Moreover, ADMH
allegedly committed negligence or wanton conduct by failing
to protect Plaintiff from harm. (See Id. at
¶¶ 75-78). Plaintiff alleges that Perry Walker, a
mental health worker at Partlow Developmental Center
("Partlow"), deprived Plaintiff of his
constitutional liberty interest in personal safety and bodily
integrity, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
(Id. at ¶¶ 26-33). Plaintiff also presents
state law claims of outrage, assault, negligence, and
wantonness against the Estate, along with an ADA claim.
(See Id. at ¶¶ 66-78).
to the complaint, Plaintiff "suffers from mild to
moderate retardation" and has an IQ score in the 50s.
(Id. at ¶ 4). Plaintiff resided at Partlow
before it was closed. (Id. at ¶ 6). While
living at Partlow, Plaintiff shared an apartment with another
patient, referred to as R.G. (Id. at ¶¶
12, 17). On April 2, 2005, R.G. threw feces at Walker.
(Id. at ¶ 20). In response, Walker instructed
Plaintiff to assault R.G., and Plaintiff punched R.G. in the
face. (Id. at ¶ 21). Walker's instruction
to Plaintiff allegedly violated Partlow Policy 19-10 and
constituted abuse, exploitation, and mistreatment.
(Id. at ¶ 22). ADMH is alleged to have violated
its own policies by failing to report Walker's assault
instruction to the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
(Id. at ¶¶ 24-25).
have filed a motion to dismiss all claims in this action as
time barred. (Doc. # 6 at 2-3). Defendants note that neither
the Rehabilitation Act nor the ADA has an independent statute
of limitations. (Id. at 2). As such, those claims
are subject to the most analogous statute of limitations
under Alabama law: the two-year statute of limitations for
personal injury actions. (Id.). That statute of
limitations also applies to Plaintiffs negligence,
wantonness, and outrage claims. (Id.). A six year
statute of limitations applies to Plaintiff s assault claim.
(Id.). As Defendants note, the incident at issue
occurred over eleven years before this action was filed, well
outside of the ordinary limitations periods. (Id. at
responds that this case falls under the tolling provisions of
Alabama Code § 6-2-8(a) because of his mental
incompetence. (Doc. # 9 at 1). ADMH petitioned the Probate
Court of Tuscaloosa County to appoint a legal guardian for
Plaintiff in February 2005. (Id. at 2). In April
2005, the probate court found that Plaintiff was
incapacitated because of his intellectual disability and
appointed Plaintiffs mother as his guardian. (Id. at
3). Plaintiff argues that Section 6-2-8 tolls the statute of
limitations for all claims brought by him for twenty years
because he has been mentally incapacitated for his entire
life. (Id. at 5). He notes that the court's
application of the tolling provision is not affected by the
appointment of a guardian for him. (Id. at 4-5)
(discussing Emerson v. S. Ry. Co., 404 So.2d 576
(Ala. 1981)). As this case was filed eleven years after the
incident in question, Plaintiff requests that the motion to
dismiss be denied. (Id. at 7).
reply brief does not contest Plaintiffs claim that his
disability qualifies him for tolling under Section 6-2-8(a).
(See Doc. # 11 at 3-4 n. 2). Defendants' reply
also withdraws their earlier request to dismiss all claims in
this action as untimely. (See id.). Rather,
Defendants now argue that the state tolling provision in
Section 6-2-8 does not apply to the federal law claims in
Plaintiffs case (i.e., the claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA).
(Id. at 5). In support, Defendants cite a case from
the former Fifth Circuit, Miller v. Smith, 615 F.2d
1037 (5th Cir.) (Miller F), amended on rehearing,
625 F.2d 43 (5th Cir. 1980) (Miller IF). (Id. at
3-4). Relying on Miller I, Defendants insist that
the court should not apply the tolling provision in Section
6-2-8 because it is inconsistent with the purposes of Section
1983, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA. (Id. at
5). This is so because "the filing of this action so
long after the alleged event in question . . . accomplishes
very little, if anything, with respect to addressing or
vindicating the Plaintiffs civil rights."
(Id.). Moreover, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs
guardian could have brought this suit earlier.
Standard of Review
statute of limitations defense is an affirmative defense, and
a plaintiff is not obligated to negate a timeliness defense
in his or her complaint. La Grasta v. First Union
Securities, Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004).
"A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on statute of limitations
grounds is appropriate only if it is facially apparent that
the claim is time-barred." Baker v. Sanford,
484 F.App'x 291, 292 (11th Cir. 2012).
argue that the federal claims in this suit are time-barred,
notwithstanding the complaint's allegations of Plaintiff
s intellectual disability. The court disagrees.
federal statutes pursuant to which Plaintiff is asserting
claims (42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Rehabilitation Act, and
the ADA) do not contain independent statutes of limitations;
therefore, those claims are governed by the most analogous
state statute of limitations. In this case, the most
analogous limitations period is Alabama's two-year
statute of limitations for personal injury actions.
See Ala. Code § 6-2-38(1) ("All actions
for any injury to the person or rights of another not arising
from contract and not specifically enumerated in this section
must be brought within two years."). Thus, the statute
of limitations in Alabama for Section 1983 claims is two
years. Owens v. Okure,488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989)
(holding that Section 1983 actions are governed by the
residual or general personal injury statute of limitations in
states with more than one statute of limitations). And, the
statute of limitations in Alabama for ...