D.C. Superior Court Rules SOL Extended
August 18, 2022
The District of Columbia Superior Court has ruled that the statute of limitations is extended even for cases in which the statute of limitations was set to expire after the court reopened from the COVID lockdown.
Like many other jurisdictions, the Chief Judge of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia issued an Emergency Order that suspended, or tolled, the statute of limitations during the COVID Emergency. The original order tolled “all time limits in statutes . . . that would otherwise expire before May 15, 2020, including statutes of limitations.” The order was extended numerous times, and ultimately the suspension of the statute of limitations for civil cases was lifted on March 30, 2021.
In Crown Captive Insurance v. Van Gronigen, No. 2022 CA 000121 B (D.C. Super. Ct., June 2, 2022), the Court was asked to decide whether a Complaint alleging negligence arising from an accident on September 13, 2018, was barred by the statute of limitations, when the Complaint was filed on January 11, 2022. The Court found that the Complaint was not barred by the statute of limitations. The Court recognized that the statute of limitations for a negligence claim is three years. Moreover, the date that the statute of limitations would have expired was after the court lifted the suspension of the statute of limitations for civil cases. However, the Court found that the Chief Judge’s Order tolled the operation of all statutes of limitations, not only deadlines that expired during the period covered in the Emergency Orders. Thus, the Chief Judge’s Orders “must be read to pause all statutes of limitations for the 388 days between March 18, 2020 and March 30, 2021, regardless of whether the limitations period expired during the tolling period.” Therefore, the Court found that “the operative statute of limitations can be calculated by adding 388 days to the original deadline,” and the statute of limitations did not expire until October 6, 2022.
The Court has not addressed how much time should be added to calculate the statute of limitations for cases that accrue during the period between March 18, 2020, and March 30, 2021. This author cautions the reader not to assume that 388 days should be added to the period of limitations for such cases. The Court specifically stated that the statute of limitations is paused “for the 388 days between March 18, 2020 and March 30, 2021.” Thus, for cases that accrue during the period of tolling, the Court may find that the statute is only extended by the number of days that remained in the tolling period. For example, for a case that accrued on March 29, 2021, the Court may find that the statute of limitations is tolled for the 1 day that remained in the tolling period. Thus, the Statute of Limitations would be calculated by adding 1 day to the three-year statute. While the Court has not ruled on this issue, the statute of limitations going forward may not be a clear, easily-calculated deadline, and prudent practitioners and parties should use extra care when calculating the statute of limitations for cases pending in the District of Columbia.