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J.M. v. Oregon Youth Authority

Court of Appeals of Oregon

November 1, 2017

J. M., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
OREGON YOUTH AUTHORITY, a state agency; and Gary Lawhead, individually, Defendants-Respondents, and Richard HILL, individually; and Frank James Milligan, individually, Defendants.

          Argued and Submitted August 15, 2017

         Marion County Circuit Court 14C15773; Claudia M. Burton, Judge.

          Dennis Steinman argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Scott J. Aldworth.

          Peenesh Shah, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Garrett, Judge, and Powers, Judge.

         Case Summary:

         Plaintiff appeals the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment, arguing that the trial court erred by declining to follow the Oregon Supreme Court's rule from T. R. v. Boy Scouts of America, 344 Or. 282, 181 P.3d 758, cert den, 555 U.S. 825 (2008) that the statute of limitations begins to run on a claim under 42 USC section 1983 when the claim is discovered. The trial court instead followed cases from lower federal courts that applied a different accrual rule. Defendant argues that, although lower federal court decisions do not bind state courts, the trial court's decision was nonetheless correct in light [288 Or. 643] of Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007), a United States Supreme Court decision that purportedly controls over T. R . Held: The trial court erred in declining to apply T. R . Wallace does not control over T. R . because Wallace did not foreclose a discovery accrual rule for plaintiff's section 1983 claim.

         Reversed and remanded.

         [288 Or. 644] GARRETT, J.

         The sole issue in this appeal is whether the trial court erred by declining to follow the Oregon Supreme Court's rule that the two-year statute of limitations begins to run on a claim under 42 USC section 1983 when the claim is discovered. In reliance on cases from the lower federal courts, the trial court concluded that the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of injury. The court consequently granted defendant Lawhead's motion for summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's claims alleging a sexual assault that occurred 16 years before the complaint was filed. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the court erred by relying on case law from the lower federal courts rather than controlling authority from the Oregon Supreme Court. We agree with plaintiff, and reverse.

         We review the trial court's grant of summary judgment for legal error, viewing all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party to determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ORCP 47 C; Jones v. General Motors Corp., 325 Or. 404, 408, 939 P.2d 608 (1997). We state the facts in accordance with that standard.

         Plaintiff was a juvenile residing at an Oregon Youth Authority facility when he was sexually abused by a facility employee. It was not until 14 years later, in June 2012, that plaintiff learned that defendant Lawhead may have played a role in causing his abuse. Within two years of that discovery, plaintiff brought this action against Lawhead under 42 USC section 1983.[1]

         Lawhead moved for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff's section 1983 claims were untimely under the two-year statute of limitations set out in ORS 12.110(1). Lawhead relied on lower federal court decisions applying the "injury accrual rule, " under which the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of injury. See, e.g., V.T. v. City of Medford, Or., No l:09-CV-03007-PA, WL 300270 [288 Or. 645] at *2-3 (D Or Jan 22, 2015); Matheny v. Clackamas Cty., No 3:10-CV-1574-BR, WL 171015 at *n 3-4 (D Or Jan 20, 2012). Plaintiff responded by directing the court to T. R. v. Boy Scouts of America. 344 Or. 282, 181 P.3d 758, cert den, 555 U.S. 825 (2008), in which the Oregon Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations for section 1983 claims does not begin to run until the plaintiff discovers the claim (the "discovery accrual rule").

         The trial court, concluding that it was bound by federal court precedent in the interpretation of a federal statute, ruled that plaintiffs ...


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