Utah Supreme Court
The Utah Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of claims for inverse condemnation as barred by the statute of limitations.
Over 20 years ago, Duchesne County law enforcement seized property–including vehicles, guns, family photographs, and ammunition–belonging to Pinders, the appellants, as part of a murder investigation of their son. Most of the evidence was never used in criminal proceedings, but after the trial concluded in 2000, the seized property was not returned until 2017. The Pinders first sued to recover the seized property in 2009. That lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2010. The Pinders later sued again in 2017 and asserted a claim for inverse condemnation. The district court found that the cause of action had accrued at the time of the first lawsuit, and dismissed the inverse condemnation claims as barred by the statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations prescribes the time in which the plaintiff must bring a cause of action. The statute of limitations for a cause of action begins to run when “the cause of action has accrued,” and if a plaintiff does not bring the cause of action within the limitations period, the action is barred. The statute of limitations for both an inverse condemnation and a declaratory relief action is four years. See Utah Code § 78B-2-307(3) (“An action may be brought within four years . . . for relief not otherwise provided for by law.”); Quick Safe-T Hitch, Inc. v. RSB Sys. L.C., 2000 UT 84, ¶¶ 15, 16, 12 P.3d 577 (applying a four-year statute of limitations to an action for declaratory judgment); Johnson v. Utah-Idaho Cent. Ry. Co., 68 Utah 309, 249 P. 1036, 1041 (Utah 1926) (applying a four-year statute of limitations to a takings claim).
The Pinders argued that the statute of limitations should not bar their claims under several theories, all rejected by the Court, including the continuing tort doctrine, which is an exception that tolls “the statute of limitations while tortious conduct continues unabated.” The Court distinguished between whether a tortious act is continuous, and the “harm resulting from the act.” The Court held that the Pinders’ claim was not that the defendants have effected several takings, but rather, a single taking where the ongoing deprivation of the property was just a harm resulting from the alleged single taking. The Court reasoned that if it were to accept the theory that a taking is continuous until it is reversed, then all takings would constitute ‘continuing violations,’ tolling the statute of limitations. There would effectively be no statute of limitations. The Court concluded that this is not the law, upholding the dismissal of the claims.