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Fifth Circuit: Prisoner Who was Raped May Proceed with Lawsuit against Lock Company

Fifth Circuit: Prisoner Who was Raped May Proceed with Lawsuit against Lock Company

by Matt Clarke

In a July 9, 2013 opinion, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations in a federal lawsuit against a manufacturer of cell door locks at a county jail, brought by a former prisoner who was allegedly raped at the facility when he was nineteen years old, did not start to run until he turned twenty-one.

On August 2, 2007, while incarcerated at Mississippi’s Harrison County Adult Detention Center, Aaron Wayne Page, then 19, claimed he was raped by another prisoner who was able to leave his own cell and enter Page’s cell due to faulty door locks. In February 2009, Page filed a lawsuit in federal court. Two years later he amended the complaint to include RR Brink Locking Systems, Inc., the manufacturer of the cell door locks, alleging that the faulty locks made Brink liable for negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty.

Brink filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Mississippi’s three-year statute of limitations period for personal injury and products liability claims, which controlled in this case, had run before the lawsuit was amended. Although state law provides that the statute of limitations for suits brought by persons under the age of twenty-one at the time of the allegedly tortuous incident does not begin to run until the plaintiff turns twenty-one, Brink argued that Page was an emancipated minor because he had been arrested and charged as an adult sixteen times before he turned twenty-one.

The district court denied the motion, holding that being emancipated was distinct and different from the statutory provision related to removing the disability of infancy (i.e., being underage). Brink then filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Fifth Circuit held that Miss.Code.Ann. § 15-1-59 provides that the statute of limitations shall not begin until the disability of infancy is removed. Emancipation, as set forth in Miss.Code.Ann § 93-1-65(8)(a), relieves parents of the obligations of parental support, but does not remove the disability of infancy. The disability of infancy may be removed by decree of a chancery court pursuant to Miss.Ann.Code § 93-19-09, but only with respect to specific transactions related to property, making contracts or entering into a profession or avocation. There is no indication in Mississippi common law that emancipation works as a general removal of the disability of infancy. As state law distinguishes between the two, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Page turned twenty-one; the judgment of the district court was therefore affirmed. See: Baker v. RR Brink Locking Systems, Inc.,721 F.3d 716 (5th Cir. 2013).

Following remand, the claims against Brink settled in March 2014. The trial court granted in part and denied in part Harrison County’s motion for summary judgment on August 11, 2014, and the county settled 10 days later. See: Baker v. Harrison County, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Miss.), Case No. 1:09-cv-00146-LG-JCG.

 

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