NEW ORLEANS —The ACLU of Louisiana has filed petitions for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court in the cases Brown v. Pouncy and Monroe v. Connor. The petitions ask the Supreme Court to clarify the statute of limitations applicable to Section 1983 lawsuits, or civil right lawsuits against government actors, such as police. 

As it stands now, there is no national standard that governs how long a person has to file a federal civil rights suit. Instead, a patchwork of state laws set the standard–resulting in extreme variance across the country. Some states like Maine give litigants six years to file suit, while others like Kentucky, Tennessee, and – until this legislative session – Louisiana give only one year. 

Two of the ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab clients, Mr. Jarius Brown and Mr. Anthony Monroe, were blocked from filing federal lawsuits because of Louisiana’s one year statute of limitations. For Mr. Monroe, he was driving home from work when he was pulled over by the Louisiana State Police for unfounded traffic charges that were later dropped. The state police officers nonetheless detained, beat, and arrested Mr. Monroe. For Mr. Jarius Brown, he as well was blocked from suing despite the fact that he was beaten by two correctional officers who were later found guilty of federal charges that amounted to crimes of violence.

Mr. Brown appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which ultimately agreed with the lower court, but not before indicating that the issue requires resolution by the Supreme Court. In its decision, the Fifth Circuit stated that only the Supreme Court “can clarify how lower courts should evaluate practical frustration” of a victim’s Section 1983 claim in states with excessively short time periods that govern the filing of general tort claims. The Fifth Circuit reached the same decision in Mr. Monroe’s case, citing its previously published decision in Brown

The petitions for writ of certiorari ask the Supreme Court to resolve this issue, either by setting a floor for the minimum amount of time a plaintiff should have to file a federal civil rights lawsuit or by setting a national standard of four years. The standard of four years is based on a law passed by Congress in 1990, which sought to clarify how much time plaintiffs should have to file lawsuits when Congress has not spoken to a timeframe in the specific statute itself. That law – 28 U.S.C. § 1658 – was passed after the Supreme Court established the current state-by-state patchwork approach, meaning the Court did not have the opportunity to consider it as a viable federal solution for Section 1983 claims.

The petition for writ of certiorari on behalf of Mr. Monroe was filed by the ACLU of Louisiana, the ACLU, and Latham & Watkins. The petition for writ of certiorari on the behalf of Mr. Brown was filed by the ACLU of Louisiana, the ACLU, and Covington & Burling.

“Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Monroe were brutally beaten by officers, two of whom were criminally charged and sentenced to serve time in prison,” said Alanah Odoms, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “Yet, they cannot sue due to an archaic statutory rule that even the Fifth Circuit called into question at oral argument. The Supreme Court must dismantle this barrier that has denied countless survivors of law enforcement violence their rightful justice simply because they were out of time.”

“If your constitutional rights have been violated, the state you live in shouldn’t dictate your ability to sue the police. The Supreme Court needs to decide this matter once and for all,” said Nora Ahmed, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “We can’t rely on fickle legislatures for federal civil rights claims. Victims of civil rights abuses at the hands of police, regardless of where they live, should have sufficient time to seek redress in federal court.”

View an op-ed about this issue by the ACLU of Louisiana’s legal director, Nora Ahmed: