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Dickens v. Coupe

Superior Court of Delaware

January 10, 2018

Lawrence B. Dickens, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner Robert Coupe, Bureau Chief Janet Durkee, Support Service Manager Tonya Smith, and Payroll Supervisor Tera Bench, Defendants.

          Submitted: October 18, 2017

         JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

         Upon Plaintiffs Motion to Amend Pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. Rule 15(aa)

          Lawrence Dickens, Pro Se Plaintiff

          Ophelia M. Waters, Esq., State of Delaware Department of Justice, Attorneys for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. MARY M. JOHNSTON, J.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

         Plaintiff Lawrence B. Dickens is an inmate at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("DOC") and brings this action pro se. Defendants are various employees of DOC. Dickens' cause of action arises out of a longstanding dispute with DOC regarding Dickens' rate of pay as a barber. After requesting a payroll review, Dickens received a letter from DOC's business office on January 29, 2013, detailing the changes in his rate of pay and explaining the time periods for which he was not entitled to additional compensation. Dickens did not institute this action until May 23, 2016. Without stating the statute or common law cause of action on which he based his claim, Dickens alleged he suffered emotional pain and financial loss as a consequence of the Defendants' actions.

         Dickens now brings a motion to amend his complaint to include additional correctional center employees as defendants.[1] In response, Defendants argue Dickens does not meet Rule 15(c)'s requirements for amendment, and that the case should be dismissed because it is barred under the statute of limitations and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         ANALYSIS

         Generally, "[a] statute of limitations is calculated from the time of the wrongful act 'even if the plaintiff is ignorant of the cause of action.'"[2]Notwithstanding that principle, under "the time of discovery rule, " the statute of limitations is tolled when the plaintiff has suffered an inherently unknowable injury of which the plaintiff is blamelessly ignorant.[3]

         Assuming, without deciding, that Dickens' cause of action satisfies the "time of discovery rule, " at the very latest, Dickens' claim accrued when he received the letter explaining his reduction in pay on January 29, 2013. Dickens filed his complaint on May 23, 2016. This action is therefore time-barred if Dickens' cause of action is subject to a statute of limitations of three years or less.

         Because Dickens does not state the cause of action on which he bases his claim, the appropriate statute of limitations is not immediately apparent. Defendants contend the claim is properly characterized as one for "wages, labor or personal services performed, or for damages . . . resulting from the failure to pay any such claim . . . ."[4] The statute of limitations for such claims is one year.[5] In his reply, Dickens does not directly dispute this, but asserts that he brings his action under Delaware's Tort Claims Act. The most generous interpretation of his claim would categorize it as an "action to recover damages caused by an injury unaccompanied with force or resulting indirectly from the act of the defendant."[6] Such a cause of action would be subject to a three-year limitation[7] and would therefore still be barred.

         The Court finds Dickens' claim has been brought beyond any potentially applicable statute of limitations.[8] ...


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