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Accrual of Civil Actions

August 31, 2017

Accrual of Civil Actions

CaseDavid R. Smith v. The Tennessee National Guard

Issue:  Did the case “accrue” upon discovery of injury, or upon creation of a legal remedy?

Facts:  In 2011, Smith separated from the Tennessee National Guard, alleging that he had suffered discriminated for taking an active duty position, in violation of federal law. He filed a lawsuit in state court, which was dismissed on the basis that the federal law allowed a state action only where allowed by state law, yet the State had not waived sovereign immunity for such a suit. In 2014, the legislature waived sovereign immunity in a law that provided: “This act shall take effect July 1, 2014, the public welfare requiring it, and shall apply to all claims against a governmental entity under [USERRA] accruing on or after such date.” Smith brought a new action pursuant to the new law, which was dismissed by the trial court on the basis that the claim had accrued in 2011, which was not “on or after” the enactment date in 2014.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court reversed, holding that supreme court precedent provides that a case does not fully “accrue” until a judicial remedy exists. Since the judicial remedy did not exist until the enactment date of the new law, the claim “accrued” only after the new law passed and was properly raised.

Judge McBrayer dissented, writing that the “on or after” language suggested the legislature attempted to limit the applicability of the statute to only new incidents. Under the majority’s reasoning, the “accruing on or after” language is circular and gives the limiting language no effect.

Review Granted:  August 17, 2017.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court will reverse for the reasons stated in the dissent.