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Covington v. Lancaster

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 31, 2013

LAWRENCE T. COVINGTON, JR. #364601, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY POLICE THOMAS K. LANCASTER #1863 DETECTIVE RHONE #1670, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.

On July 31, 2013, plaintiff, presently incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institution, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action seeking reimbursement of $10, 000.00 for the seizure and destruction of an automobile and its contents in April 2009, by members of the Prince George's County 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 statutes for the loss of property allegedly seized from him by local authorities approximately over three years ago, his claim is timebarred.[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 Ann., 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 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. Here, plaintiff at the latest should have known of his injuries in April of 2009, when the automobile and its contents were allegedly taken from him and destroyed. Because the instant complaint was filed more than three years later, the statute of limitations now 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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