I have a saying about the law and it is this: â€œIt is not about justice, itâ€™s about the rules.â€Â Throughout my career I have had many conversations with people where because of the â€œRulesâ€: justice must be denied.Â There are many examples, that I have run across in my own practice or in conversations with other attorneys in which a rule was not followed and justice was denied. Â Two of the most dreaded rules that causes such denials of justice are the Statute of Limitations and Ante Litem Notice
There is a statute of limitation in all civil claims. For claims involving police and prosecutorial misconduct, Georgia generally has a two-year time frame in which to file the complaint. The exception is a claim for false arrest which has a one-year time limit. A complaint filed one day late will be dismissed, regardless of the evidence of misconduct.
Similarly, if you are filing a state claim against a state governmental entity, â€œAnte Litem Noticeâ€ must be first sent to that state governmental entity. (No such notice is necessary if the person is suing under federal law 42 U.S. Code Â§ 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rights)
Unsurprisingly, there is a time limitation in which the notice must be sent to the governmental entity and it is not two (2) years. Â What is the time limit in which a governmental entity must receive ante litem notice and what is ante litem notice?
Ante litem Notice is a letter sent to the appropriate governmental authority that details the facts of the claims and requests a settlement. One must be careful in making sure that the notice is sent to the appropriate department or governmental figure. If you donâ€™t know whom to address the letter, send one to everyone: mayor, city council, city/county attorney, department heads, police chief, etc.Â Itâ€™s only a stamp and it is best to be safe than sorry. Return receipt requested so that you have proof of service.Â In Georgia, the time limitation for sending ante litem notice is six months for cities and municipalities, and one year for county and state governments.
To see how this works in practice lets go through this example:Â You are falsely arrested on May 1st by Officer Friendly of the City of Brotherly Love Police Department and released five days later. You have until November 5th to give notice to the City if you are claiming false arrest under O.C.G.A Â§ 51-7-1.Â and you have until May 5th of the next year to file your complaint.Â The clock starts on the day you are released from jail.
These time limits apply even if the charges from the arrest have not been dismissed. In such a circumstance where you are still facing pending charges from the arrest, you will not be able to move forward on the law suit until the case has been dismissed. But you still must provide notice and file the complaint. If you wait until the criminal case has been dismissed, and fail to give ante litem notice within six (6) months and/or file the complaint within twelve (12) months and the charges are dropped afterwards, your lawsuit will be dismissed regardless of the evidence. â€œIt is not about justice, itâ€™s about the rules.â€ This is all because the clock for false arrest claims start from the day you are released from custody. The clock on malicious prosecution under Â§ 51-7-40Â start to run the day the case is dismissed.
I will discuss malicious prosecution in the next installment.