Cases & Deals

Jones Day persuades a federal judge to equitably toll the statute of limitations in a Federal Tort Claims Act case, prompting a settlement

Clients Black, Michael

Jones Day’s Boston office obtained a favorable ruling in federal court for pro bono client Michael Black. In October, Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts agreed to equitably toll the statute of limitations in Mr. Black's negligence case brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). After the ruling, Jones Day negotiated a settlement for Mr. Black.

Judge Wolf’s ruling, and the settlement that followed, brought to a close a five-year odyssey for Mr. Black. His 2007 complaint alleged that Mr. Black, a paraplegic, was injured when prison officials failed to adequately secure his wheelchair to the floor of a transport van. Despite repeated assurances to Mr. Black that his complaint would be timely, Mr. Black's former counsel filed the complaint two months after the limitations period had expired.  The late filing initially resulted in dismissal, but Mr. Black filed a pro se appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which vacated the dismissal order and remanded the case for factual development.

On remand, Judge Wolf appointed Jones Day to represent Mr. Black. After months of discovery and extensive briefing, Judge Wolf agreed with Jones Day that the FTCA’s statute of limitations should be equitably tolled in order to make the complaint timely. He reasoned that the misconduct of Mr. Black’s former counsel, who has since been disbarred, was so egregious that it created an extraordinary circumstance warranting equitable tolling. In so holding, Judge Wolf rejected the government’s argument that the doctrine of equitable tolling was not available because the FTCA’s statute of limitations was “jurisdictional.” He ruled, instead, that the doctrine did apply in appropriate cases brought under the FTCA.

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