United States District Court, D. Columbia
Linwood Gray, Plaintiff, Pro se, Loretto, PA USA.
Harry L. Staley, Annis Alston Staley, Joann Hartley Staley,
Defendants: Brent M. Ahalt, LEAD ATTORNEY, MCNAMEE HOSEA,
Greenbelt, MD USA.
Mehta, United States District Judge.
August 10, 2015, the court dismissed Plaintiff Linwood
Gray's Complaint with prejudice on the ground that his
claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
See Gray v. Staley, F.R.D., No.
1:14-cv-00937 (APM), 310 F.R.D. 32, 2015 WL 4735526, at *5-6
(D.D.C. Aug. 10, 2015); Order, ECF No. 33 (hereinafter
Dismissal Order). Plaintiff has filed a motion to alter or
amend the court's judgment under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 59(e), asking the court to vacate its Dismissal
Order. Mot. to Alter or to Amend, ECF No. 35[hereinafter
Mot. to Alter]. Plaintiff's motion advances two
arguments. First, he contends that the court clearly erred
when it failed to apply the " mailbox rule" in
fixing the date on which he filed his Complaint. See
id. at 2-9. Under that rule, Plaintiff's
Complaint would have been deemed filed as of the date he
delivered it for mailing to prison authorities. Second, he
argues that the court clearly erred in not finding that his
claim under the District of Columbia Uniform Partnership Act
was a " continuing tort." If viewed as a continuing
tort, Plaintiff contends, the claim would fall within the
relevant statute of limitations and remain viable.
See id. at 9-15. Neither argument warrants
altering, amending, or vacating the Dismissal Order.
A Rule 59(e) motion is discretionary and need not be granted
unless the district court finds that there is an intervening
change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence,
or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest
injustice." Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 671,
359 U.S.App.D.C. 366 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).
Such motions are " disfavored and relief from judgment
is granted only when the moving party establishes
extraordinary circumstances." Niedermeier v. Office
of Max S. Baucus, 153 F.Supp.2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001)
Rule. Although Plaintiff asserts that the court's
failure to apply the mailbox rule was " clear
error," Mot. to Alter at 2, 9, that asserted error, at
least in this jurisdiction, is far from " clear"
--if it even constitutes error. The Supreme Court held in
Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270, 108 S.Ct. 2379,
101 L.Ed.2d 245 (1988), that a pro se inmate's
notice of appeal was deemed filed at the moment he delivered
it to prison authorities for mailing to the district court.
In announcing what is colloquially referred to as the "
mailbox rule," the Court emphasized that, unlike other
litigants, pro se prisoners cannot personally travel
to the courthouse to timely file a document, but instead must
entrust filings to prison officials " whom [they] cannot
control or supervise and who may have every incentive to
delay." Id. at 271.
Court of Appeals, however, has not expressly applied the
mailbox rule to the filing of complaints. The closest it has
come to addressing the question was in Anyanwutaku v.
Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1057, 331 U.S.App.D.C. 379 (D.C.
Cir. 1998), in which the court considered the timeliness of a
pro se prisoner's Rule 59(e) motion and
commented that the date " when [the plaintiff] gave his
motion to prison officials for delivery to the district
court" was " the key date under the 'mailbox
rule' for pro se prisoner pleadings." The
district courts in this jurisdiction have taken different
approaches to applying the mailbox rule to complaints.
Compare Earle v. Holder, 815 F.Supp.2d 176,
179 n. 3 (D.D.C. 2011) (applying mailbox rule to fix date of
filing of complaint), and Rush v. FBI, No.
09-cv-0955, 2009 WL 1438241, at *1 (D.D.C. May 21, 2009)
(same), with Kareem v. FDIC, 811 F.Supp.2d
279, 283 (D.D.C. 2011) (rejecting application of mailbox rule
to a complaint and stating that " [i]t is well settled
that 'the date on which the complaint was received by the
clerk of court filing is the critical date for statute of
limitations purposes" ) (citation omitted). By contrast,
courts in other jurisdictions typically have applied the
mailbox rule to pro se prisoner complaints.
See Sierra v. Ramirez, No. CV 07-75-CL,
2007 WL 4150965, at *2 & n. 2 (D. Or. Nov. 19, 2007)
(observing that " [a]lmost every other circuit has
applied the mail box rule to the filing of civil rights
complaints under § 1983 by pro se inmates" and
court need not resolve whether the " mailbox rule"
was applicable in this case, because even if it did apply,
the court still would have dismissed the Complaint with
prejudice. Plaintiff signed his Complaint on May 21, 2014.
Compl., ECF No. 1, at 18. Assuming May 21, 2014, to be the
formal filing date--instead of May 28, 2014, the
Complaint's filed-stamped date cited in the court's
Memorandum Opinion, see Gray, 2015 WL
4735526, at *5--for Plaintiff's claims to have been
timely, he would have had to have been on inquiry notice
about his claims no earlier than May 21, 2011. But as the
court's opinion makes clear, Plaintiff was on inquiry
notice of his claims well before May 21, 2011, and thus all
of his claims are time-barred. See id. (concluding
that " the Staleys' ownership of McDonald's
franchises was not difficult to discover before May
2011" and that " Gray would have been on inquiry
notice of the property's foreclosure sale in 1985,"
during the pendency of Gray's and Defendant Harry
Staley's criminal case). Accordingly, even if the court
had applied the mailbox rule and deemed the Complaint
formally filed as of May 21, 2011, the court still would have
dismissed it with prejudice.
of the D.C. Uniform Partnership Act as a Continuing
second ground for vacating the Dismissal Order--that his
claim under the D.C. Uniform Partnership Act was a continuing
tort--fares no better. As a threshold matter, Plaintiff
cannot satisfy the Rule 59(e) standard because he could have
made that argument in opposing Defendants' motion to
dismiss, but failed to do so. A " Rule 59(e) motion is
not . . . a means to bring before the Court theories or
arguments that could have been advanced earlier."
Niedermeier, 153 F.Supp.2d at 28 (citation omitted)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate clear error by the court.
Plaintiff contends that his Complaint sufficiently
establishes that he and Harry Staley had an " ongoing
legal business relationship" and that his accusations
against Harry Staley " constitute[ ] continuing torts
and the statute of limitations should be tolled due to the
overwhelming facts." Mot. to Alter at 15. Even if
violation of the D.C. Uniform Partnership Act could be
considered a continuing tort, however, " the statute of
limitations period for continuing torts begins to run once a
plaintiff has inquiry notice of a potential cause of
action." Jung v. Mundy, Holt & Mance, P.C., 372
F.3d 429, 433, 362 U.S.App.D.C. 62 (D.C. Cir. 2004)
(citations omitted). Thus, when a plaintiff is or should be
aware of an injury caused by a continuing tort, the statute
of limitations begins to run. See id. This
inquiry-notice rule applicable to continuing torts is the
very rule that the court applied to all of Plaintiff's
claims. See Gray, 2015 WL 4735526, at
*4-*5. And the court held that Plaintiff was on inquiry
notice of his claimed injuries more than three years before
Plaintiff filed suit. Id. at *5. Therefore, even if
Plaintiff's claim under the D.C. Uniform Partnership Act
qualified as a continuing tort, it would not have saved
Plaintiff's claim from being time-barred.
extent Plaintiff is advancing the more nuanced argument that,
because the alleged partnership never dissolved, his
equitable claim for an accounting of the partnership's
assets did not start to accrue, see Mot. to Alter at
15 (" There has been [NO] dissolution of the partnership
and Harry['s] fiduciary breaches are clear and Plaintiff
is entitled to equitable relief." ), the court rejects
it, as well. First, Plaintiff did not raise that argument in
opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss. See
Niedermeier, 153 F.Supp.2d at 28. And, second, on
the merits, in Warren v. Chapman, 535 A.2d 856,
859-60 (D.C. 1987), the Court of Appeals held that, "
where a demand for an accounting has been made in connection
with the dissolution of a partnership, the limitations period
commences to run for an action between partners for an
accounting and settlement only after a sufficient time has
elapsed after such demand to enable those on whom it has been
made to comply." That rule is inapplicable here, as
Plaintiff does not argue that his demand for an accounting
was " made in connection with the dissolution of a
partnership." To the contrary, he contends that the
partnership continues today. Mot. to Alter at 13-14. Thus, in
the circumstances as alleged, Plaintiff has offered no reason
why the court clearly erred in applying the rule that accrual
commenced, at the latest, when he was put on inquiry notice
of Defendants' alleged misdeeds.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiff Gray's Motion to Alter is
denied. A separate Order ...