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Berry v. Director of Finance for Baltimore City

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 3, 2013

ALRIC C. BERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE FOR BALTIMORE CITY SGT. THOMAS ENGEL JOHN DOE ROBERT DOE, ETC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

On June 27, 2013, plaintiff, presently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the "failure to return unlawfully seized money $5, 243.00 dollars that was taken on or about January 17, 2003, in the City of Baltimore, Maryland by the City Police Department." ECF No. 1. The complaint is accompanied by plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, which shall be granted. The complaint shall, however, be summarily dismissed.

Insofar as plaintiff seeks review under the civil rights statute for the return of monies allegedly seized from him by local authorities approximately ten years ago, his claim is time-barred.[1] Gaps in federal civil rights acts should be filled by state law, as long as that law is not inconsistent with federal law. See Burnett v. Grattan, 468 U.S. 42, 47-48 (1984). Because no federal statute of limitations governs, federal courts routinely measure the timeliness of federal civil rights suits by state law. Id. at 49; see also Chardon v. Fumero Soto, 462 U.S. 650, 655-656 (1983); Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 464 (1975). The tradition of borrowing analogous limitations statutes is premised on a congressional decision to defer to "the State's judgment on the proper balance between the policies of repose and the substantive polices of enforcement embodied in the state cause of action." Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 271 (1985). Consequently, upon review of Maryland's limitations provisions, it appears that Maryland's general three-year statute of limitations for civil actions is most applicable to the case at bar. See Md. Code (2013 Repl. Vol.), Cts. & Jud. Proc., § 5-101; see also Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007) (state statute of limitations for personal injury torts applies in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action).

Although the state statute of limitations applies, the time of accrual of the cause of action is a federal question. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388; Cox v. Stanton, 529 F.2d 47, 50 (4th Cir. 1975). The running of the statute of limitations begins when plaintiff knows or has reason to know of his injury. Id. At the latest, plaintiff should have known of his injuries in January 2003, when the monies were allegedly taken from him. Because the instant complaint was filed more than ten years later, the statute of limitations bars consideration of plaintiff's civil rights claims.[2]

Because Plaintiff's prisoner civil rights case fails to state a claim and is premised on an "indisputably meritless legal theory, " his case shall be dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).[3] He is hereby notified that he may be barred from filing future suits in forma pauperis if he continues to file federal civil rights actions that are subject to dismissal under § 1915(e) or Rule 12(b)(6).[4] This constitutes the first § 1915(e) strike to be assessed against plaintiff. A separate Order follows.


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