Strict time limits, or statutes of limitation, apply to the filing of lawsuits. These limitations periods are generally set by the legislature and can vary by the type of claim being pursued. Lawsuits filed after the statutory period expires, no matter how meritorious, will be summarily dismissed.
Frank Rembisz learned this the hard way when his employment discrimination claim was dismissed for being filed one day after the statutory deadline. Rembisz v. Lew, __ F.3d __ (6th Cir. 2016). A former criminal investigator for the IRS, Rembisz filed an administrative charge of discrimination with the Department of the Treasury after he was denied several promotions. The DOT rejected his claim, and mailed his right-to-sue letter to him and his attorney on March 15, 2013. Rembisz received the letter on March 22; his attorney received the letter on March 25. Under Title VII, the statute governing his employment discrimination claims, Rembisz had 90 days to file his lawsuit. He filed on June 21 -- 91 days after he received the right-to-sue letter.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal district courts in Kentucky, noted in affirming the dismissal of Rembisz's claims that it must strictly construe the limitations period and declined to extend the deadline even by a single day. Rembisz and his attorney knew about the deadline, the Court continued, so it was not unfair to dismiss the lawsuit. Further, as a policy matter, the legislature, not the judiciary, prescribes the rules by which each citizen's rights are regulated, the courts may only enforce those rules.
A harsh result to be sure, but one that serves as a reminder about the importance of filing deadlines and the consequences of missing them. Individuals who suspect they may have a legal claim are encouraged to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the claim and preserve any deadlines that may apply. Because like most things in life, legal claims and lawsuits have expiration dates, too.