False imprisonment statute of limitations begins to run when imprisonment ends.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently held that “the statute of limitations for false imprisonment claims does not begin to run until the imprisonment ends.”

In Lovell v. Warren County, Tennessee, No. M2019-00582-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2019), plaintiff had been arrested and put in jail on August 16, 2012. Later, the charges against her were dismissed and she was released from jail on August 5, 2013. She filed this false imprisonment claim on June 6, 2014. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the one-year statute of limitations, which the trial court granted, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

There was no dispute that the statute of limitations for false imprisonment was one year, but the parties disagreed over when the one year time period began to run. Defendant argued that the cause of action accrued when plaintiff was first put in jail, but plaintiff asserted that the limitations period did not begin until her release.

Defendant cited a Tennessee case in support of its position (Gray v. 26th Judicial Drug Task Force, 1997 WL 379141 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 8, 1997)), but the Court of Appeals pointed out that the cited case dealt with a claim for false arrest and false imprisonment, with the court looking at the claims together. Here, plaintiff only asserted a claim for false imprisonment, so the Court of Appeals looked to the United States Supreme Court’s reasoning to determine that the statute of limitations “begin[s] to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends.” (quoting Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S.384 (2007)).

Defendant argued that plaintiff had access to the courts while she was imprisoned, but the Court rejected this as a reason to change the rule. The Court stated:

The County’s argument fails to account for an individual who is confined in a house or other location, where there is no access to the courts until the imprisonment ends. If we were to base the accrual date for false imprisonment claims on the date the imprisonment begins, the imprisoned person who is confined for more than a year with no access to the courts would be denied the right to assert a claim at all.

Accordingly, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was reversed.

While previous opinions may have seemed unclear on this point, this opinion unequivocally holds that the statute of limitations for a false imprisonment claim begins to run when the imprisonment ends. Attorneys litigating such a claim should take note of this case, but also be aware of the Tennessee case looking at the false imprisonment and false arrest claim “as one.”

NOTE:  to aid lawyers in giving clients guidance about how long it takes to receive an opinion after oral argument in the appellate courts, we are going to start sharing that information with readers.   Please understand that the length of time that elapses between oral argument and the date the opinion is released is dependent on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the complexity of the issues presented.  In this case, the opinion was released about thirteen days after oral argument.

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