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Ninth Circuit: Discovery Rule Applies to Judicial Deception Claims

by Mark Wilson

Applying the Discovery Rule in determining when the applicable two-year statute of limitations (“SOL”) begins to run on “judicial deception” claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a claim brought three-and-a-half years after a search warrant was executed was not time-barred because the limitations period commences “when the underlying affidavit is reasonably available,” not at the time of the alleged illegal act, i.e., the search.

After Gary Klein’s 41-year-old wife died unexpectedly, Beverly Hills Police Department investigators suspected Klein may have poisoned her. A search warrant was executed on August 3, 2009, but police refused to show Klein the warrant or supporting affidavit because the documents were sealed. Criminal charges were never filed against him.

Klein spent years after the search making numerous unsuccessful attempts to obtain the search warrant and supporting affidavit. He repeatedly requested that the police department disclose those documents. When they refused, Klein hired a criminal defense attorney to petition the Los Angeles Superior Court to unseal the warrant. The court denied the petition on January 12, 2012, ruling that unsealing the warrant would “interfere” with the ongoing investigation.

Nearly three-and-a-half years after the search warrant was executed, Klein brought a federal lawsuit against the police department, police chief, and assigned detectives (collectively, “Defendants”) on January 7, 2013.

Defendants were granted numerous stays of discovery before eventually producing the search warrant and supporting 10-page affidavit of Detective Daniel Chilson in March 2015. Soon after their disclosure, Defendants moved for summary judgment based upon the running of the two-year SOL. The district court agreed, finding that Klein’s judicial deception claim was time-barred by the SOL because it was brought more than two years after the August 3, 2009 search.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that “the discovery rule requires that judicial deception claims begin accruing when the underlying affidavit is reasonably available,” which in this case was in March 2015.

The Discovery Rule operates to toll the applicable SOL until the potential plaintiff discovers, or through the exercise of due diligence could have reasonably discovered, the injury, cause of action, or other triggering event that starts the running of the limitations period. The appellate court explained that judicial deception claims, by their very nature, accrue differently than do traditional illegal search claims. With the latter, “the plaintiff is put on constructive notice of the illegal conduct when the search” occurs, so claims accrue at the time of the search. In contrast, the former involve “false or misleading misrepresentations that may not be readily apparent at the time of the search.” Accordingly, “to discover the underlying illegality in a judicial deception case, the plaintiff must have access to the underlying affidavit….” As a result, the two-year SOL began to run when Klein had access to the affidavit in March 2015, meaning he had until March 2017 to file his lawsuit.

The Ninth Circuit announced, “We therefore hold that the discovery rule applies to a judicial deception claim. Here, Klein’s judicial deception claim as to the first search warrant in August of 2009 began accruing when the underlying affidavit became reasonably available.” See: Klein v. City of Beverly Hills, 865 F.3d 1276 (9th Cir. 2017). 

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Related legal case

Klein v. City of Beverly Hills



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