Delivery of Complaint to Court Tolls Statute of Limitations: Ninth Circuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, in Escobedo v. Applebee’s, that under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 3, a complaint is deemed timely filed when it is delivered to the court’s clerk.

In a June 4, 2015 decision, Escobedo v. Applebee’s, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that under FRCP 3, a complaint is deemed filed when it is delivered to the court’s clerk (No. 12-16244, 2015 WL 3499902 (9th Cir. June 4, 2015)).

Plaintiff Maria Escobedo reported a harassment complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After reviewing her claims the EEOC sent the plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue on March 25, 2011. Under the statute of limitations set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), a plaintiff has 90 days to file a claim in court after receiving this letter.

On June 2, 2011, the plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a timely complaint and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) in federal district court. On July 6, 2011, a magistrate judge denied the application to proceed IFP and ordered plaintiff to pay the $350 filing fee within 30 days. On August 5, 2011, within the time allotted by the magistrate judge, the plaintiff paid the fee.

The district court then dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint for violating the 90-day limitations period. The court found that the statute of limitations was tolled only while the court decided the IFP application and that the complaint could not be considered “filed” until the filing fee had been paid or IFP application approved. By this calculation, the statute of limitations began to run again on July 6, when court rejected the IFP application. Because the plaintiff’s August 5 payment occurred 9 days after the limitation period expired, the court dismissed the complaint as untimely. The plaintiff, now represented by counsel, appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court held that under FRCP 3, the effective filing date of a document for statute of limitation purposes is the date that a complaint is originally delivered to the clerk, which tolls the statute of limitations. The court also found that where a plaintiff submits an IFP application along with a complaint and the IFP application is later denied, the plaintiff is entitled to a reasonable time to pay the fee after the denial.

Practitioners should note that the Ninth Circuit will consider the date when a complaint is delivered with the court as the date when it is filed under FRCP 3, and that such filing with toll the statute of limitation.

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