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Amy v. Anderson

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

March 23, 2017

AMY, ” et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN LEE ANDERSON, III, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.

         Defendant John Lee Anderson, III has moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs' complaint; he contends the claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitation. Doc. 13. The motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs “Amy, ” “Vicky, ” and “Alice” were repeatedly sexually abused when they were minors. Doc. 10 at ¶¶ 19-37. Images of their abuse were distributed, and continue to be circulated, on the internet. Id. In April 2006, law enforcement agents found images depicting child sex abuse on Anderson's computer. Id. at ¶ 39. Analysts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children identified images of each of the Plaintiffs among the images on Anderson's computer. Id. at ¶¶ 41-46. On January 28, 2009, Anderson was charged with knowingly possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) and pled guilty on the same day. Id. at ¶¶ 47-48; United States v. Anderson, 5:09-cr-5, Doc. 4 (M.D. Ga.). Anderson was sentenced to 70 months in prison and 20 years supervised release. Doc. 10 at ¶ 50; Anderson, 5:09-cr-5, Doc. 16.

         On May 26, 2009, Amy and Alice received victim identification notices from the Department of Justice informing them that Anderson possessed their images. Doc. 10 at ¶¶ 15, 17. On August 4, 2009, Vicky received a victim identification notice. Id. at ¶ 16. Before that, the Plaintiffs had no knowledge of Anderson. Doc. 10 at ¶ 53. At the time of notification, Alice was still a minor, while Amy and Vicky were adults. Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.

         On June 7, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed this complaint alleging claims under 18 U.S.C. § 2255, 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, and the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), O.C.G.A. §§ 16-14-1, et seq. Doc. 1. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 26, 2016. Doc. 10.

         II. DISCUSSION

         To avoid dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks and citation omitted). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), dismissal is proper when, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Allen v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., 790 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. “Because [a] statute of limitations bar is an affirmative defense, . . . plaintiff[s] [are] not required to negate the affirmative defense in their complaint.” Alvarez v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enf't, 818 F.3d 1194, 1229 (11th Cir. 2016) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “A complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim when its allegations, on their face, show that an affirmative defense bars recovery on the claim.” Douglas v. Yates, 535 F.3d 1316, 1321 (11th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks and citation omitted).[1]

         A. Amy's and Vicky's § 2255 Claims

         Anderson argues Amy's and Vicky's § 2255 claims are barred by the ten year statute of limitations found in 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b).[2] Doc. 13 at 5, 10. That statute of limitations begins to run “after the right of action first accrues or in the case of a person under a legal disability, not later than three years after the disability.” 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b) (emphasis added).

         The question here is whether Amy's and Vicky's claims accrued when Anderson committed his crimes, which was in or before January 2006, or when Amy and Vicky received notice of Anderson's crimes in 2009. “Accrual, ” when used to define the starting point of a statute of limitations, is ambiguous. Foudy v. Miami-Dade Cty., 823 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 2016); White v. Mercury Marine, Div. of Brunswick, Inc., 129 F.3d 1428, 1431 (11th Cir. 1997). Accrual can mean the occurrence of an event or it can mean the plaintiff's discovery of that occurrence.[3] Because Anderson committed his crimes more than ten years before the Plaintiffs filed this action, Anderson contends that Amy's and Vicky's § 2255 claims accrued when the crimes occurred. Doc. 13 at 5, 10. Amy and Vicky argue their claims accrued when they learned of Anderson's criminal conduct in 2009. Doc. 14 at 4-8. In short, the issue is whether the discovery rule applies to § 2255 claims.[4] This is a question of first impression in this circuit.

         1. The Discovery Rule in the Eleventh Circuit

         Generally speaking, the federal discovery rule provides that a cause of action accrues when a plaintiff is aware of his injury and its cause. Although it has been said that the discovery rule “is bad wine of recent vintage, ” TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 37 (Scalia, J., concurring), it still has a place at the table. The Eleventh Circuit's decision in White v. Mercury Marine, Div. of Brunswick, 129 F.3d 1428 (1997), is a good starting point for figuring out where that place is. There, the Court interpreted the general maritime statute of limitations, 46 U.S.C. § 763a, which runs “from the date the cause of action accrued.” White, 129 F.3d at 1430-31. Noting the ambiguity of “accrue” and the absence of legislative history, the Eleventh Circuit turned to two Supreme Court cases interpreting similar statutory language. Id. at 1431.

         First, the Eleventh Circuit discussed Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163 (1949), in which the Supreme Court addressed when a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) silicosis claim accrued to determine if a railroad worker's claim was barred by the three year statute of limitations. White, 129 F.3d at 1432. The railroad argued the worker's claim accrued when he contracted silicosis, which, given his prolonged exposure to silica dust, must have occurred more than three years before he filed suit. 337 U.S. at 169. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding the claim accrued on the date the worker first knew or should have known of his injury and its cause. Id. at 170. As the Eleventh Circuit in White put it, the Supreme Court reasoned that “adopting an actual occurrence or onset theory of accrual would punish the worker's ‘blameless ignorance' in ways that the FELA's ‘humane legislative plan' never intended.” 129 F.3d at 1432. The plaintiff in White sought to distinguish Urie, arguing it stood not for the application of the injury discovery rule but rather for the most plaintiff-friendly accrual theory. Id. at 1433. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, noting that the discovery rule is neutral and thus should not be applied only when it works to a plaintiff's benefit. Id.

[The discovery rule] protects plaintiffs who are unaware of their injury, while requiring those plaintiffs who have “discovered” their injury to file suit within the prescribed period. It, like the statute of limitations in general, is a neutral balancing of interests, which must be neutrally applied regardless of the party it benefits in a particular case.

Id.

         The Eleventh Circuit then examined United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111 (1979), which addressed the Federal Tort Claims Act's requirement that a plaintiff present his claim within two years after his claim accrued. White, 129 F.3d at 1433. In Kubrick, the plaintiff knew of his injury and its cause but did not know the injury was negligently inflicted. 444 U.S. at 114-15. Thus, the plaintiff argued his claim did not accrue until he discovered his injury was the result of negligence. Id. at 115. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that the plaintiff's claim accrued when he discovered his injury and its cause rather than when the plaintiff realized he had a cause of action. Id. at 122-23.

         In White, the Eleventh Circuit found Urie and Kubrick persuasive:

So, twice the Supreme Court has been presented with federal statutes of limitations language materially identical to that in the general maritime statute of limitations, and twice the Supreme Court has held that courts should use the discovery rule to determine when a cause of action accrues. It is a familiar canon of statutory construction that courts should construe similar statutory language similarly. . . . We see no good reason to give the term “accrue” as Congress used it in the general maritime statute of limitations a different meaning from that the Supreme Court gave the identical term when Congress used it in the FELA and FTCA statutes.

129 F.3d at 1434. Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit observed that it seemed Congress had agreed with “the Supreme Court's construction of the word ‘accrue, '” given that the Supreme Court in Kubrick “practically invited Congress” to address its interpretation of accrue “if the Court had misjudged the legislative intent on the matter.” Id. at 1434-35. Yet, Congress enacted the general maritime statute of limitations well after Urie and Kubrick, “suggest[ing] that Congress tacitly accepted the [Supreme] Court's interpretation [of accrue], or at least was not noticeably upset with it.” Id. at 1434. Accordingly, the Eleventh ...


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