MA SJC Upholds Strict Timeliness Requirement for Presentment


Melina McTigue GarlandAttorney Melina McTigue Garland obtained a favorable decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of a municipal defendant. The SJC took the subject appeal, sua sponte, and upheld the strict timeliness requirement for making presentment in c. 258, §4 claims. The SJC ruled that in order make timely presentment, the presentment letter must be received in the office of the designated official within the 2-year period and that proper presentment is not made merely by putting the letter in the mail.

The underlying matter arose from a fall occurring on January 19, 2016 at a public school. The plaintiff alleged she was utilizing a walkway when she slipped and fell on an accumulation of snow and ice. The plaintiff sustained significant injuries and brought suit against the defendant municipal entity. The plaintiff mailed presentment via certified mail on January 19, 2018 and the defendant received the letter on or about January 22, 2018.

The SJC considered Plaintiff counsel’s arguments outlining the reasons he mailed the presentment letter on the deadline date and arguing that, absent a definition in the statute, presentment should be treated the same as the filing of a Complaint, or service of other papers, is treated in the Rules of Civil Procedure. However, the court ultimately interpreted the law to require strict adherence to the timeliness requirement. The court held that presentment is not made unless it has been received in the office of a public official who may accept it within two years of the date the claim arose. Had the court held otherwise, claims would have been permitted outside the 2-year window or mailed on last day creating an artificially extended deadline to the time the letter reaches its destination.

Attorney Garland argued, in part, that “filing” or “service” and “presentment” are separate and distinct and that Superior Court’s reliance on a dictionary definition of presentment had been proper. Further, Attorney Garland argued that the purpose of presentment pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act is to permit the public employer an opportunity to timely investigate a claim and, as such, accepting the Appellant’s proffered interpretation would create an “absurd and unreasonable” result. Lastly, Attorney Garland argued that Plaintiff failed to meet the time statute for claims under G. L. c. 258, §4 and that dismissal was proper.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision that the deadline for receipt of presentment is a strict deadline which the plaintiff failed to meet. The SJC decision is an excellent result for public employers and puts to rest the possibility that the deadlines set forth in Section 4 are in any way flexible or subject to the mailbox rule.

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