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Statute of Limitations and Equitable Tolling

Post by: Courtney Oien

Statute of Limitations and Equitable Tolling

Nevada’s Civil Practice Manual states, “The purpose behind statutes of limitation and doctrines such as laches are to avoid legal claims from plaguing courts and parties after those claims have become stale.”[1]  

Both Nevada courts and society benefit from avoiding that pestilence.  American courts serve the people, so a court loaded with frivolous claims means people with justiciable claims are not being adequately served.  The presumption that a claim barred by its respective Statute of Limitation has become frivolous is shown through Nevada’s comparing it to the doctrine of laches (as in Contract Law).  When a plaintiff waits beyond a reasonable time to sue, not only is the plaintiff’s claim of injury suspect, but the defendant’s ability to gather evidence for his defense is impaired.   

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has asked the Center for Global Justice to investigate legal recourse for plaintiffs who are still pursuing justice after their initial claim was dismissed.  (The defendant is already on notice after the initial claim.)  For example, in Gallardo v. United States,[2] a plaintiff’s claim brought in 2010—for an alleged sexual assault that occurred in 2006—was dismissed under a two-year statute of limitations.[3]  The plaintiff said she was a middle-schooler at the time a marine assaulted her.  After learning the marine had been court martialed on charges of sexual abuse prior to being sent to her school, and was charged with sexual assault of a different minor after being discharged, the plaintiff brought suit against the Marine Corps and the Department of Justice.[4]  In 2013, during Gallardo’s appeals process in the Ninth Circuit, a new case handling the statute of limitations (against Gallardo’s claim) permitted “equitable tolling,” which principle the Court of Appeals instructed the District Court to apply to Gallardo’s case.[5] 

The Supreme Court of the United States first spoke of what is now the “equitable tolling” doctrine as applying “equitable principles” to tolling.[6]  When circumstances so change that it would be terribly unfair to deny a party’s claim, or when a party has faithfully pursued its claim despite adverse circumstances beyond its control, a court may toll a statute of limitations despite the statute having already run.  Equity is not a frivolous rule of our time.  It is a common law rule that has been applied throughout history.  Courts apply equitable tolling when they, looking at the relevant law, conclude it is the only just way to treat a dispute under the law. 

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.

[1] Nevada Civil Practice Manual § 2.09(1)(a) (2020). 

[2] 755 F.3d 860 (9th Cir. 2014).   

[3] Id. at 863. 

[4] Id.

[5] Gallardo, 755 F.3d at 862.

[6] Equitable Tolling of Limitation Period Under § 546(a) of Bankruptcy Code of 1978 (11 U.S.C.A. § 546(a)), Providing Limitation Period to Commence Action Asserting Avoidance Powers, 143 A.L.R. Fed. 311 [2b]; Cf. Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U.S. 392, 396 (1946) (“Equity is not like laches, a mere matter of time”).