The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that a judge improperly dismissed an inmate's disciplinary appeal because she decided the statute of limitations started when an official denied the inmate's appeal, not when the inmate received notice of that, several days later.
Richard Brooks, an inmate at the Gardner state prison, filed his appeal of disciplinary action exactly 60 days after he received notice on Feb. 4, 2019 from the prison superintendent his denial of punishment for unsanctioned participation in a "Fruits of Islam" program - 60 days being the most an inmate can wait to appeal a disciplinary ruling in court.
A Superior Court judge agreed with the Department of Corrections to dismiss his complaint because the superintendent signed his letter on Feb. 1, which meant the Brooks had missed the appeals deadline by three days.
Not so fast there, the appeals court said. The statute-of-limitations clock should start ticking when the inmate receives a notice, not when it was signed.
The department cites no controlling authority, and we are aware of none, supporting the proposition that a statute of limitations governing judicial review of an agency decision begins to run before the agency has issued notice of the decision, by some means, to the affected parties. The department's position is untethered from "the traditional purpose of statutes of limitations," which is to "require the assertion of claims within a specified period of time after notice of the invasion of legal rights." Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 170 (1949). It would also allow agencies to unilaterally shorten the limitations period by withholding notice of their decisions. Indeed, under the department's rationale, agencies could deprive parties of all opportunity to seek [judicial] review through the expedient of waiting for the sixty days to expire before issuing notice. This is illogical, and we decline to construe the statute in such a manner.
The ruling means that Brooks can now present his case before a judge.