Motion Practice • Statute of Limitations

Paluch v. Palakovich, PICS Case No. 14-0209 (Pa. Commw. Jan. 29, 2014) Leavitt, J. (9 pages).

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the order of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, which denied plaintiff’s petition for leave to proceed in forma pauperis because his tort action was barred by the statute of limitations.

Plaintiff was incarcerated on a life sentence for murder since 1991. He filed a complaint against several corrections employees, claiming that some of his personal property was damaged or lost. The complaint contained 20 counts, alleging various torts.

The trial court sua sponte raised the issue of the timeliness of plaintiff’s tort action and held that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff asserted the trial court erred in doing so, and alternatively, plaintiff asserted the statute of limitations was tolled by his pursuit of prison grievance remedies.

The Commonwealth Court held that the trial court was authorized to dismiss plaintiff’s lawsuit and did not err in raising the issue sua sponte. 42 Pa.C.S. §6602(e)(2) required the trial court to consider any valid affirmative defenses, including the statute of limitations.

Plaintiff argued the statute of limitations should have been tolled while he was exhausting his administrative grievance remedies. The court disagreed. Pennsylvania’s Prison Litigation Reform Act does not contain an exhaustion requirement comparable to federal law. Even assuming the complaint included claims to which federal law applied, the court found plaintiff’s evidence indicated he had not actually exhausted his administrative remedies. Proper exhaustion of remedies means that the prisoner must comply with all the administrative requirements and not merely wait until there are no administrative remedies available. The court held the statute of limitations for pursuing a tort claim had not been tolled. Plaintiff did not timely submit his grievance, so the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint.