In Gausney-Cruz v. City of New York, No. 151766/2020, 2020 WL 5900906 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Sep. 30, 2020), the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s discrimination claims on statute of limitations grounds.
Specifically, plaintiff filed their complaint alleging unlawful termination approximately seven years after they were terminated. It was undisputed that the statue of limitations for each of plaintiff’s claims (asserted under, e.g., the New York City Human Rights Law) was three years.
Plaintiff argued that defendant was “estopped from pleading the statute of limitations as a defense where the Department falsely induced [plaintiff] to believe that the Department legitimately terminated [plaintiff] as a result of violating the Department’s rules, regulations, and directives as to absences and sick leave…”.
The court was unpersuaded. It cited precedent from New York’s highest court stating that:
Although sometimes imposing hardship on a plaintiff with a meritorious claim, statutes of limitations reflect the legislative judgment that individuals should be protected from stale claims. They cannot be deemed arbitrary or unreasonable solely on the basis of a harsh effect.
The doctrine of equitable estoppel applies where it would be unjust to allow a defendant to assert a statute of limitations defense. Our courts have long had the power, both at law and equity, to bar the assertion of the affirmative defense of the Statute of Limitations where it is the defendant’s affirmative wrongdoing … which produced the long delay between the accrual of the cause of action and the institution of the legal proceeding.
Thus, this Court has held that equitable estoppel will apply where plaintiff was induced by fraud, misrepresentations or deception to refrain from filing a timely action. Moreover, the plaintiff must demonstrate reasonable reliance on the defendant’s misrepresentations.
It is therefore fundamental to the application of equitable estoppel for plaintiffs to establish that subsequent and specific actions by defendants somehow kept them from timely bringing suit[.] [Internal quotation marks and bracketing omitted.]
Applying the law, the court granted defendant’s motion, noting that “Plaintiff fails to allege any subsequent actions on the part of the Defendant that prevented Plaintiff from bringing a timely suit and further fails to proffer any explanation as to why he failed to make inquiry and ascertain all the relevant facts before the statute of limitations expired.” [Internal quotation marks omitted.]