Minnesota Uniform Conflicts of Laws – Limitations Act and Personal Injury Defense

Minnesota Uniform Conflicts of Laws – Limitations Act
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When a plaintiff is time-barred from pursuing a personal injury action in a state with a connection to her claim because the statute of limitations has run, she may seek to bring her claim in a state such as Minnesota, with a six-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, to take advantage of the longer limitations period. Minn. Stat. § 541.05 (2016). Some states with longer limitations periods have seen an emerging trend of nonresident plaintiffs, opting to use the state’s court system to bring claims for injuries sustained in other states, where they would be time-barred.

The Minnesota Uniform Conflicts of Laws – Limitations Act (UCLLA) was promulgated in 1982 to discourage delay-prone plaintiffs or their attorneys from forum-shopping for jurisdictions with longer limitations periods. See Prefatory Note, Uniform Conflict of Laws – Limitations Act, 12 U.L.A. 156 (2008). Under the UCLLA, limitations laws are treated as substantive rather than procedural, and ordinarily, courts are to apply the statute of limitations of the state whose law governs the substantive issues in the case. Minnesota adopted the UCLLA, with some changes, and it applies to claims arising from incidents occurring on or after August 1, 2004. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.34.

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Under Minnesota’s UCLLA, (1) if a claim is substantively based upon the law of another state, the limitation period of that state applies, and (2) if a claim is substantively based upon the law of more than one state, the limitation period of one of those states is chosen by the conflict of law analysis of Minnesota. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.31 Subd. 1(a); See Unif. Conflict of Laws – Limitations Act § 2 (1982).

There is an “escape clause,” which allows a court to apply the limitations period of Minnesota instead of the state whose law the claim is substantively based upon. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.33; Unif. Conflict of Laws-Limitations Act § 4. The “escape clause” applies if: (1) the court determines that the limitation period of another state is substantially different from the limitation period of Minnesota; and (2) the limitation period in the other state has not afforded a fair opportunity to sue. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.33; Unif. Conflict of Laws-Limitations Act § 4 (Comment).

The party urging application of the “escape” clause has the burden to prove both substantial difference and denial of a fair opportunity to sue. It is not designed to afford an easy escape, and should rarely be used.

The party urging application of the “escape” clause has the burden to prove both substantial difference and denial of a fair opportunity to sue. It is not designed to afford an easy escape, and should rarely be used. Unif. Conflict of Laws-Limitations Act § 4 (Comment), 12 U.LA. 160. The “escape clause” should only be used in extreme cases when strong public policy warrants protection from the otherwise harsh results of applying the other state’s limitations period. Id.; Burks v. Abbott Labs., 917 F. Supp. 2d 902, 918 (D. Minn. 2013).

A substantial difference in prescriptive time periods cannot be the “sole grounds on which to argue substantial differences and fair opportunities to litigation.” Burks, 917 F. Supp. 2d at 919; See Conflict of Laws-Limitations Act § 4 (Comment)(1982). The “fair opportunity” provision constitutes a separate and additional requirement in Minnesota’s “escape clause.” The “escape clause” may apply where the plaintiff faces both a short limitations period and structural barriers to filing which are difficult to overcome in that period. See Burks 917 F. Supp. 2d at 919. For example, a one-year limitations period for derivative loss of consortium claims did provide a fair opportunity to sue in parents’ action against manufacturers of powdered infant formula where the parents provided no evidence that they were deprived of the opportunity to litigate. Id.

Minnesota defense counsel should be aware of the UCLLA’s potential applicability. The Minnesota Uniform Conflicts of Laws – Limitations Act might apply to cases in which: (1) an out-of-state plaintiff has no connection to Minnesota; and (2) the plaintiff’s claim would be barred by the limitations period in the other applicable jurisdiction(s). In such cases, defense counsel should assert affirmative defenses to preserve the issue including that the action is time-barred and a choice-of-law defense.

Upon identifying the above factors in a case, defense counsel should conduct discovery as to: (1) plaintiff’s connection to Minnesota; (2) why the action was not commenced in the other applicable jurisdiction(s); and (3) whether there are any reasons the plaintiff was not afforded a fair opportunity to sue.

Defense counsel should then be prepared to file a motion for summary judgment, requesting that the court apply the shorter statute of limitations of the other state, under The Minnesota Uniform Conflicts of Laws – Limitations Act. Jamae Pennings 

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