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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Lethal-Injection Lawsuit Filed Too Late, Court Says

(CN) - A federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld Mississippi's three-drug method of lethal injection on the ground that the inmates challenging it had filed their complaint too late.

Death-row inmates Alan Walker, Paul Woodward, Earl Berry, Dale Bishop and Gerald Holland sued the state in October 2007, claiming that the lethal-injection procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Berry and Bishop have been executed since the filing.

The 5th Circuit said their complaint is time-barred, because the procedure could be challenged as early as 1997, and the state never hid its lethal-injection procedure. The limitation period for the inmates' actions accrues from the date of their convictions and sentencing, the court ruled, or when the state changes its execution procedure. The plaintiffs' actions accrued between 1998 and 1999.

When the state moved for summary judgment based on the three-year statute of limitations, the inmates argued that it did not apply because their lawsuit sought an injunction, not damages. The plaintiffs also argued that even if the statute of limitations applied, the action did not accrue before the Supreme Court's rulings in Hill v. McDonough (2006) and Baze v. Rees (2008).

But the circuit characterized the complaint as a personal injury action, despite the injunction request, and said the action is subject to a time bar.

Affirming the district court's order to dismiss, the appeals court also ruled that Mississippi took no action to conceal its lethal injection procedure. "(I)t has been no secret that Mississippi uses a three-drug combination used in other states."

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