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New Mexico Federal Court Reviews Continuing Violations Doctrine to Assess Timeliness of Plaintiffs’ Claims

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2021 | Litigation

A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims under the U.S. Constitution and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act as untimely.  In arriving at its conclusion that the claims were untimely, the court considered and rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments under the continuing violations doctrine.

The plaintiffs had sued the City of Espanola and employees after trying – for years – to get water and sewer services to their trailer that had been turned off turned back on.  Allegedly the prior owners of the trailer, who had been the plaintiffs’ landlords before the plaintiffs purchased the trailer, had not been forwarding money that the plaintiffs gave them for water and sewer services to the city.  The city’s records showed $1,760 owing on the account around December 2016.  A few weeks later, in February 2017, the plaintiffs discovered that the services had been discontinued.  Upon going to City Hall to investigate further, the plaintiffs were told the city had switched off municipal services due to the $1,760 unpaid account balance.

The plaintiffs tried to remedy the situation by explaining to city employees on multiple occasions that the overdue balance belonged to a deceased person who was a prior owner of the property.  In March 2017 they informed city officials in the Water Department that the denial of water services violated their rights.  Allegedly it took until March 2020 – over three years – to get services switched back on, and even then the bills for water came in increasing amounts and were addressed to the deceased.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in June 2020 asserting due process violations and equal protection violations under the U.S. Constitution.  In addition to these federal law claims, the plaintiffs asserted state law claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act against the city.  At the point the plaintiffs sued, more than 3 years had passed since their first assertion that their rights were being violated.  The city moved for dismissal of the complaint as untimely.

The court concluded a three year statute of limitations applied to the federal law claims, and a two year statute of limitations applied to the state law claims.  The court also determined that the claims accrued in March 2017, when the plaintiffs first asserted to the city that their rights were being violated.  As such, the June 2020 complaint was at risk of being dismissed as untimely.  The plaintiffs argued in defense of the timeliness of their complaint that, each time they asked for their water services to be switched back on and the city did not switch the water on, the city was committing separate violations of their rights.  Their hope was to successfully invoke the continuing violations doctrine. As the court explained, there are cases supporting the proposition that “where a tort involves a continuing or repeated injury, the cause of action accrues at, and limitations begin to run from, the date of the last injury.”  The court viewed the last injury as having occurred in March 2017 and treated the defendants’ refusals to switch the water back on as not constituting new injuries but rather continued effects from the initial shut off.  Accordingly the court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint as untimely.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery.  In some cases multiple parties can be liable for the payment of money damages.  Receiving damages can help injured people and their families recover out-of-pocket costs including medical bills and lost wages.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance. At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or send us a message online.