Alcatraz Prison Cell

The Florida Supreme Court will review the First District’s decision in Green v. Cottrell, 172 So. 3d 1009 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015), which certified the following question of great public importance:

Which statute of limitations, whether one- or four-year, should be applied to actions brought by a prisoner relating to the conditions of his confinement?

See No. SC15-1805.

The Florida Statutes that are in dispute are sections 768.28(14) and 95.011(5)(g). Section 768.28(14) provides a four-year statute of limitations for “[e]very claim against the state or one of its agencies or subdivisions for damages for negligent or wrongful act.” On the other hand, section 95.011(5)(g) imposes a one-year limitation period to “an action brought by or on behalf of a prisoner . . . relating to the conditions of the prisoner’s confinement.”

This case arises from injuries suffered by Eric Green, an inmate at the Santa Rosa County Jail, on June 22, 2008. After being beaten by two inmates, Green sought immediate medical attention and filed a county grievance against four correctional officers, alleging their negligence enabled the attack. Eight days later, Green was transferred to a state prison. On June 22, 2012, he filed a complaint regarding the Santa Rosa incident.

Green argued that his transfer from the county jail to a state correctional institution terminated his county grievance, leaving him with no administrative remedy to rectify the correctional officers’ negligence. Green also alleged that his complaint filed four years later was not barred because it fell within the four-year statute of limitations period outlined in section 768.28(14). According to Green, section 95.11(5)(g) was not applicable to his case because it was “less specific as to suits based on negligent or wrongful acts or omissions.”

After a trial, the circuit court held that Green failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he never followed-up nor “appeal[ed] any lack of answer or negative decision” after filing the grievance. The circuit court also concluded that the one-year limitations period found in section 95.011(5)(g) controlled the state law claims stemming from the conditions of Green’s confinement.

Green appealed to the First District. The First District affirmed the circuit court’s decision and held that Green’s situation was governed by the one-year limitations period in section 95.11(5)(g). According to the court, section 768.28(14) was not applicable in Green’s case because any “claim against the state or one of its agencies or subdivisions for damages for negligent or wrongful act” was too broad. Further, it was undisputed that Green met “the statutory definition of a prisoner” and his state negligence claims against the correctional officers were related to the conditions of his confinement. Thus, the First District concluded that section 95.11(5)(g) was applied correctly since it was only intended for “actions brought by or on behalf of prisoners regarding their confinement.”

Oral Argument is scheduled for August 30, 2016. This article will be updated once the Florida Supreme Court decides the case.

Image courtesy of Flickr by pgbailey (no changes)