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Lucas v. Woody

Supreme Court of Virginia

April 17, 2014

SUNDAY LUCAS
v.
C. T. WOODY, JR., ET AL

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND. Michael C. Allen, Judge Designate.

Gary R. Hershner for appellant.

Mark R. Colombell (Thompson McMullan, on brief), for appellees C.T. Woody, Jr., Menyon Graham, Laura Terry, Anneika Brown, Carolyn Quigley, Robert Cushionberry and Yuvonka Lewis.

(Brewster S. Rawls; Alexandra D. Essig; Rawls, McNelis & Mitchell, on brief), for appellee Stanley N. Furman, M.D.

(Lynne Jones Blain; Lisa H. Leiner; Harman, Claytor, Corrigan & Wellman, on brief) for appellees Robert Ford and Darryl Hack.

OPINION

[287 Va. 357] PRESENT: All the Justices

S. BERNARD GOODWYN, JUSTICE.

In this appeal, we consider whether a plaintiff who brings a personal injury action relating to the conditions of her confinement in a state or local correctional facility must be incarcerated at the time her cause of

Page 448

action is filed in order for the statute of limitations in Code § 8.01-243.2 to be applicable to that action.

Background

Sunday Lucas (Lucas) filed suits against C.T. Woody, Jr., Stanley Furman, Menyon Graham, Laura Terry, Robert Ford, Anneika Brown, Carolyn Quigley, Robert Cushionberry, Yuvonka Lewis and Darryl Hack (the Defendants). She alleged that she was injured by the Defendants' course of conduct that began on January 16, 2008, while she was incarcerated in the Richmond City Jail, and concluded on March 11, 2008, when she was released from the jail.

Lucas filed her initial complaint against defendants Woody, Graham, Terry, Ford, Brown, Quigley, Cushionberry and Lewis on August 13, 2009, in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond (Circuit Court). Another lawsuit concerning the same events was filed [287 Va. 358] against defendants Furman and Hack in the same court on January 13, 2010. The two suits were consolidated on March 18, 2011. The actions against all of the Defendants were nonsuited by order dated October 5, 2011.

On February 1, 2012, Lucas refiled her causes of action against the Defendants in the Circuit Court. In that complaint, as in the previous complaints, Lucas asserted only state law causes of action. Lucas was not incarcerated when she filed any of her lawsuits.

In response to the complaint filed on February 1, 2012, the Defendants filed a plea of the statute of limitations and asserted the running of the statute of limitations in Code § 8.01-243.2 as an affirmative defense. At a hearing on September 20, 2012, the Circuit Court sustained the plea in bar regarding the statute of limitations in Code § 8.01-243.2 as to all of Lucas's state claims, but granted Lucas leave to file an amended complaint asserting federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On October 11, 2012, Lucas filed an amended complaint against the Defendants asserting claims pursuant to § 1983 only (amended complaint). Shortly thereafter, Lucas filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. The proposed second amended complaint contained the state law claims previously dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations, as well as the § 1983 claims. A motion to reconsider the statute of limitations ruling regarding the state law claims was filed with the motion for leave to amend and the proposed second amended complaint.

In response to the amended complaint, the Defendants each filed a special plea of the statute of limitations alleging that the § 1983 claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations or asserted the statute of limitations as a defense. At a hearing on March 1, 2013, the Circuit Court considered and denied Lucas's motion to reconsider its statute of limitations ruling on the state law claims. It also denied her motion to file a second amended complaint.

The Circuit Court thereafter considered the Defendants' special pleas and affirmative defense of the statute of limitations to the amended complaint. The Defendants conceded that a two-year statute of limitations applied to Lucas's § 1983 claims. The Defendants also conceded that the conduct or injury claimed in support of the § 1983 action was the same as the conduct or injury alleged in the state law claims. The primary issue considered by the Circuit Court in determining whether such claims were barred by the statute of limitations [287 Va. 359] related to whether the claims alleged in the amended complaint were allowed, by Code § 8.01-6.1, to relate back to the filing of the initial complaints.

The Circuit Court ruled that the due diligence and absence of prejudice requirements of Code § 8.01-6.1 had not been satisfied and that the § 1983 claims filed in 2012 did not relate back to the original filings of the state law claims. It sustained the special plea and affirmative defense of the statute of limitations on the § 1983 claims.

Lucas appeals. This Court has granted the following assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred in sustaining the defendants' pleas in bar to Lucas' state law causes of action based on the statute of limitations.

Page 449

2. The trial court erred in refusing to grant Lucas leave to file a second amended complaint which would have allowed her to pursue the state law causes of action and a § 1983 cause of action.

Analysis

Code § 8.01-243.2 states:

No person confined in a state or local correctional facility shall bring or have brought on his behalf any personal action relating to the conditions of his confinement until all available administrative remedies are exhausted. Such action shall be brought by or on behalf of such person within one year after cause of action accrues or within six months after all administrative remedies are exhausted, whichever occurs later.

The facts surrounding the dates the causes of action accrued and the filing dates of the complaints are not in dispute. Lucas's complaints alleged that she was injured between January 16, 2008, and March 11, 2008, while incarcerated in the Richmond City Jail. She was released from incarceration on March 11, 2008.

Lucas filed her initial complaints against the Defendants on August 13, 2009, and January 13, 2010, and the actions were refiled within six months of being nonsuited. The issue of whether the actions filed by Lucas related to the conditions of her confinement is settled for purposes of this appeal in that no party disputes the Circuit [287 Va. 360] Court's ruling in that regard. Thus, the only issue is whether the statute of limitations contained in Code § 8.01-243.2 is applicable in this instance.

Where the facts are undisputed, as in the present case, " the applicability of the statute of limitations is a purely legal question of statutory construction which we review de novo." Conger v. Barrett,280 Va. 627, 630, 702 S.E.2d 117, 118 (2010). In Conyers v. Martial Arts World of Richmond, ...


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