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Man Representing Himself Fails to File Case Against Sheriff’s Office Properly

The following is a case in which the plaintiff, Nolan J. Benson, Sr., is representing himself. In legalese, he would be referred to as a plaintiff ‘in proper person’, or more commonly, as a pro se plaintiff.

Sometimes, plaintiffs cannot obtain attorneys to represent them, either because the plaintiff cannot afford an attorney, chooses not to hire an attorney, or the attorney chooses not to take on the plaintiff’s case. If the plaintiff still wishes to continue litigating his case, he may do so without the aid of an attorney. Usually, plaintiffs do not win these cases either because they do not follow proper protocol/ procedure or they do not conduct themselves ethically.

In this case, Nolan J. Benson was allegedly involved in some sort of quarrel with the deputies of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office who had just arrested, or were in the process of arresting, Mr. Benson’s son. Exactly one year after that alleged incident, Mr. Benson, Sr., filed a petition in proper person, complaining that he had been wrongfully arrested, detained, and tased during the quarrel with the deputies of the Sheriff’s Office.

Most cases must be filed within a predetermined statute of limitations period. In other words, cases need to be filed before the allocated time period runs out. After the time period for filing the petition has run out, the plaintiff can no longer litigate the case. In this particular situation, Mr. Benson filed the petition on the last day he could have filed it, within the statute of limitations period. The statute of limitations period for Mr. Benson’s case, also known as the ‘prescriptive period’ was exactly one year.

If Mr. Benson had filed the petition even a day later than the one year period, he would not have been able to bring the case before a court. The reason for prescriptive periods is to make the process of litigation more effective and smoother. The longer the plaintiff takes to file his petition, the less evidence that can be dug up and the more memory fades regarding factual details. Therefore, courts consistently follow the hard deadline set by the prescriptive periods.

Although it seems like Mr. Benson had timely filed his petition, he named a fictitious entity as the defendant. Filing a petition with a non-existent defendant invalidates the entire petition. It is as if no petition was filed. Without a valid defendant, there can be no case. If he had been represented by an attorney, such an erroneous petition would probably never have been filed. Unfortunately, Mr. Benson decided to go forth with his case on his own, which ultimately resulted in such a faulty filing.

Roughly eighty-two days after the filing of his original petition, Mr. Benson attempted to amend his petition by adding a defendant, a Sheriff, to the petition. The Sheriff rightfully argued that the prescriptive period for filing the petition had ended eighty-two days ago. Mr. Benson attempted to argue that he had filed the original petition timely, and was now simply amending the petition by naming the correct defendant.

The Court of Appeal found Mr. Benson’s argument to be without merit. The Court found that the original petition had not been filed within the prescriptive period because it had named a fake defendant. Amending a fake petition well after the prescriptive period has expired does not by any means make the petition valid. Since Mr. Benson did not file a legitimate petition until after the prescriptive period for filing a petition was over, Mr. Benson could not bring his case before the court.

Realizing that he could not continue to litigate his case, Mr. Benson attempted another tactic. This tactic also failed him. He filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that he should be granted leave to amend his petition to assert claims that the damages he sustained were the result of a crime of violence such that the prescriptive period would be two years, rather than one. Mr. Benson figured that having a longer prescriptive period to file his petition would allow him to bring his petition to court.

The Court did not find any merit to this approach either. Mr. Benson’s original petition, which was filed a year after the alleged altercation with the deputies of the Sheriff’s office did not make any allegations of a crime of violence. Therefore, the Court concluded that Mr. Benson should not be allowed to amend his petition to add claims alleging a crime of violence just so he could obtain a longer prescriptive period.

Using a prior opinion for guidance, the court determined that allowing Mr. Benson to amend his petition to allege facts concerning aggravated battery or aggravated assault would be for the court to condone speculation on alleged facts that may or may not have occurred well over a year ago. The court does not condone such behavior.

The importance of having competent representation is highlighted in Mr. Benson’s situation.

Contact the Berniard Firm for attorneys who don’t miss their deadlines and provide superior representation for their clients.