Procedural Hurdles: The Prison Mailbox Rule and Its Limitations

prison_fence_razor_ribbon_1-1024x768If you are considering filing a lawsuit, there are numerous procedural requirements with which you must comply. One of these requirements is that you file your lawsuit within the required period of time after the at-issue incident occurred. While the date you file your lawsuit is typically determined by the day the court receives your petition, the following case involves a special exception that applies to prisoners in certain situations. 

On January 5, 2014, Dale Brown was arrested by the police in Gretna, Louisiana, because they believed Brown was driving a vehicle involved in an armed robbery at a convenience store. While attempting to flee while being arrested, he was shot in the leg and bitten by one of the police dogs. Brown was subsequently convicted of armed robbery and aggravated flight from the police. 

While in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Brown filed a lawsuit accusing the police of assault, battery, and civil rights violations, including use of excessive force. He claimed he filed his lawsuit within the one-year requirement of La. C.C. art. 3492. He claimed he provided his petition to the prison officials to mail on December 30, 2014. However, the Court of Orleans Parish Civil District Court clerk stamped Brown’s petition as having been filed on January 13, 2015. 

The defendants filed a peremptory exception of prescription, arguing Brown could not bring his lawsuit against them because he had filed his petition over a year after the at-issue incident on January 5, 2014. Brown argued the prison mailbox rule applied to his situation. The prison mailbox rule deems a prison inmate who is representing himself to have filed his pleading on the day when he delivers it to prison personnel to mail. See Ray v. Clements. The trial court denied the Defendants’ peremptory exception of prescription.  

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal considered whether the prison mailbox rule applies to an inmate representing himself in a tort lawsuit in Louisiana state court. The Defendants had the burden of providing evidence to support their claim Brown could not bring his claim because he had waited over a year from the incident to file his lawsuit. Because the trial court clerk had marked Brown’s suit as having been filed on January 13, 2015, over a year from when the events occurred, the lawsuit was prescribed on its face. 

Although Brown claimed the prison mailbox rule should have applied, Defendants argued it did not apply here because Brown’s claims did not involve a request for judicial review of an administrative procedure. Instead, Brown’s claims involved a personal injury claim unrelated to his incarceration. The appellate court determined Louisiana law requires petitions for civil suits to be delivered to the court clerk to commence the civil suit. Therefore, the prison mailbox rule did not apply to Brown’s situation, and the appellate court dismissed Brown’s lawsuit. 

This case illustrates the intricacies of procedural requirements and the potential impact of special exceptions, such as the prison mailbox rule, on filing lawsuits. While the rule can benefit inmates representing themselves, it’s crucial to recognize that its applicability hinges on the nature of the claims and the relief sought. 

When considering filing a lawsuit, understanding the specific timeframes and procedural intricacies becomes paramount to avoid dismissals on technicalities. Enlisting the support of a skilled attorney can prove invaluable in ensuring all procedural requirements are met, providing the best possible chance for a fair and just resolution of your claims.

Additional Sources: Dale Brown v. David Heintz, Steven Verrett, and Arthur Lawson, In His Official Capacity As The Chief For Police For The City of Gretna

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Prescription: Personal Injury Claim in Streetcar Accident Barred by Prescription Office of Workers’ Compensation Exceeded Authority By Shortening Prescription Period

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