statute of limitations – sets time limits for civil actions or criminal prosecutions to be filed

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statute of limitations:

1. A law that bars claims after a specified period; specifically , a statute establishing a time limit for suing in a civil case, based on the date when the claim accrued (as when the injury occurred or was discovered).  The purpose of such a statute is to require diligent prosecution of known claims, thereby providing finality & predictability in legal affairs and ensuring that claims will be resolved while evidence is reasonably available & fresh. aka nonclaim statute, limitations period. [1]

1. Federal and state statutes prescribing the maximum period of time during which various types of civil actions and criminal prosecutions can be brought after the occurrence of the injury or the offense. [2]

limitations of action:

1.The period of time during which a  civil action may be brought after the injury occurs or becomes known; the period of time during which a criminal prosecution may be initiated after the crime is committed.   Limitations periods (aka statutory periods) vary in length from jurisdiction to jurisdiction with the type of action being litigated or crime being prosecuted. [2]

1. The policy of the state as expressed in a statute of limitations prescribing the period of time within which an action or proceeding in law or in equity must be brought.  34 Am J1st Lim Ac § 3

The policy of the state as expressed in a statute of limitations prescribing the period of time within which a criminal prosecution must be commenced.  21 Am J2d Crim L § 154.

The policy of the parties to a contract as expressed by a provision of the contract limiting the period of time within which an action or proceeding may be brought upon the contract.  34 Am J1st Lim Ac § 67. [3]

     Excerpt from Order of r. R. Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency (1944):

     “Statutes of limitations, like the equitable doctrine of lachesin their conclusive effects are designed to promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, & witnesses have disappeared.” [4]

2. A statute establishing a time limit for prosecuting a crime, based on the date when the offense occurred. — Abbr. S/L; SOL.

      Excerpt from Toussie v. United States (1970):

     “The purpose of a statute of limitations is to limit exposure to criminal prosecution to a certain fixed period of time following the occurrence of those acts the legislature has decided to punish by criminal sanctions. Such a limitation is designed to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts have become obscured by the passage of time
& to minimize the danger of official punishment because of acts in the far distance past. Such a time limit may also have the salutary effect of encouraging law enforcement officials promptly to investigate suspected criminal activity. [5]


1. A statutory period after which a s lawsuit or prosecution cannot be brought in court. — aka limitations period; limitation period; limitation of action. [1]

Determining When the
Statute of Limitation Begins:

statute of limitations for federal cases – five years.

tolling the statute – circumstances that suspend or interrupt of the statute of limitations. — aka suspension of the statute of limitations; tolling statute.

  • equitable tolling – the statute of limitations will not bar a claim if the plaintiff did not discover the injury until after the limitations period ended, or extraordinary circumstances prevented earlier filing.
  • accrual rule – delays the limitations period to when the plaintiff discovers the facts which form the bases for a cause of action (often in fraud cases).
  • discovery rule – a limitations period does not begin to run until the plaintiff discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) the injury giving rise to the claim. 
  • occurrence rule – a limitations period that begins to run when the alleged wrongful act or omission occurs; applies in most breach-of-contract claims.

laches – unreasonable and/or negligent delay in pursuing a right or claim, thereby causing a court to deny relief that would otherwise have been granted. — aka sleeping on rights; doctrine of state demand.

statute of repose – unlike statute of limitations, statutes of repose establish a maximum, unalterable period of time for which an action can be brought (civil cases).

Supreme Court Rulings
re: Statute of Limitations:

Wallace v. Kato (2007) – for false arrest cases, the statute of limitations begins to run on the date of the arrest – not at the end of the criminal trial.

  • false arrest – unlawful restraint of one’s physical liberty under an asserted legal authority to enforce the processes of the law.


[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[4]: Order of r. R. Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency, 321 348-49, 64 S.Ct. 582, 586 (1944)

[5]: Toussle v. U.S. 397 U.S. 112, 90 S.Ct. 858 (1970)


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