Many states, including the State of Maine, take the position that they have, essentially, an infinite time within which to bring a civil action. The basis for the State's claim of immunity from statutes of limitations is the old English common law doctrine, “nullum tempus occurrit regi”-- literally, no time runs against the King--which purports to exempt the State from statutes of limitations of general applicability unless statutes expressly provide otherwise. There has not been a Maine Supreme Judicial Court (Law Court) opinion mentioning the nullum tempusdoctrine since 1955, but the doctrine continues to be actively asserted by the State of Maine in civil actions filed in Superior Court. At least six Superior Court decisions since 1990 reference the nullum tempus doctrine. It is high time to consider whether the doctrine should remain good law in Maine. The Law Court abolished common law sovereign immunity from tort claims in 1976; over the last twelve years the high courts of the states of Colorado, New Jersey, and South Carolina have abrogated the nullum tempus doctrine, and the doctrine is ripe for policy reevaluation in light of the split in authority and changing concepts of justice. Given the not infrequent assertion of the doctrine by the State of Maine in civil actions, it is only a matter of time before the nullum tempus doctrine again comes before the Law Court. This Article analyzes current Maine law on the applicability of statutes of limitations to the State, specifically whether the nullum tempus doctrine should remain good law in Maine, and suggests that the doctrine is ripe for abrogation.
Sigmond D. Schutz,
Time to Reconsider Nullum Tempus Occurrit Regi - The Applicability of Statutes of Limitations Against the State of Maine in Civil Actions,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol55/iss2/5