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University of Baltimore Law Review

Abstract

Forty-two U.S.C. section 1983 provides individuals with a federal cause of action for violations of their constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law. The statute itself contains no limitations period for the filing of suits and, in keeping with settled federal practice, the lower federal courts have looked to state law to determine the proper limitations period. Because the lower courts adopted various inconsistent approaches to determining the appropriate state limitations period, the Supreme Court, in Wilson v. Garcia, held in 1985 that the federal courts should adopt the state limitations period for personal injury actions. In approximately half of the states, however, there are two limitations periods for personal injury actions: a shorter period for certain named intentional torts and a longer period for the residue of personal injury actions. The lower federal courts have split on the question of which of the two limitations periods should be applied. This article examines the rationale employed by the courts in selecting either the shorter or longer limitations period. The article then presents a theory that supports adoption of the longer, general personal injury limitations period rather than the shorter limitations period applicable to intentional torts. The article concludes with the application of this theory to Maryland statutory law.

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