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Prison inmate Thomas Moore will get his day in court after all. On Wednesday, Sacramento’s Third District Court of Appeal reinstated his $53 million suit against the county of Sacramento, even though he missed the statutory filing deadline by three days. Following a federal precedent, the court said Moore’s 2001 suit should have been deemed filed once he handed it over to prison authorities for mailing, rather than when it arrived at the superior court 13 days later. “Adopting this rule will place plaintiff and other pro se prisoner litigants like him on equal footing with litigants who are not impeded by the practical difficulties encountered by incarcerated litigants in meeting filing requirements,” Justice Vance Raye wrote. Justices Arthur Scotland and Ronald Robie concurred. The ruling in Moore v. Twomey, 04 C.D.O.S. 6476, is the first in California to apply the so-called prison delivery rule to civil suits filed pro se by inmates. The rule has applied to criminal defendants in the state since 1947. The 50-year-old Moore, serving 40 years at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad for attempted robbery, had the backing of the state attorney general’s office and San Quentin’s Prison Law Office, both of which had been asked by the court to weigh in as amici curiae. The AG’s office had argued that a rigid definition of “filing” would deprive inmates of equal access to the courts. Moore had claimed that corrections officers had confiscated and lost three boxes of legal documents while he was being held in 2000 at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove. After the county rejected his claim on May 31, 2001, Moore had six months under state statutes to file a suit in superior court. He contends he gave his suit to prison authorities on Nov. 20 but that it didn’t arrive until Dec. 3. The superior court tossed the suit for missing the deadline, but the appeal court ruling reinstates it and sends it back to the trial court for further proceedings. The AG’s office had asked that the court limit its ruling by forcing prisoners to demonstrate that prison officials had unreasonably delayed mailing their suits. But the court said that would “create unnecessary complexity and impose an additional burden on the courts that could be easily avoided by application of a more clearly defined standard.” The justices followed the reasoning of Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that applied the prison delivery rule to filings by federal prisoners. Neither Solicitor General Manuel Medeiros nor Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, could be reached for comment Wednesday. But Jeri Pappone, an associate at Sacramento’s Longyear, O’Dea & Lavra who represented the county, said she believes the ruling should have minimal impact. “Most prisoners get their complaints filed on time anyway,” she said.

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