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It’s official: Snow days tolled statute

Last winter, it snowed in Alexandria. I mean, it really snowed. When snow plows were finally able to clear the streets, they piled snow 10 feet high on the sidewalks, even higher in area parking lots. “Snowmageddon,” they called it.

Courts closed, too. But an Alexandria federal court has just ruled that a slip-and-fall plaintiff who sued Whole Foods in Alexandria got a few extra days to file her suit.

Plaintiff Mildred Allie filed her original complaint six days after expiration of the two-year statute of limitations “because of unprecedented snow storms that resulted in the closure of the Alexandria Circuit Court’s Clerk’s Office,” wrote Alexandria U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. The city closed the circuit court on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2010, until Friday, Feb. 12, 2010, because of the snow. The courthouse was closed Feb. 15 for President’s Day. Allie filed her complaint on Feb. 16.

Lee rejected Whole Foods’ motion to dismiss, filed after the case was removed from state to federal court, saying “the closure of the clerk’s office constitutes an act of the General Assembly that allowed Plaintiff to file her complaint six days after expiration of the statute of limitations.”

Lee said the clerk’s office closure was proper under Virginia Code § 17.1-207 even though a presiding judge did not authorize the closure. Reading the statutory language too narrowly would lead to “absurdity and injustice,” he said. It would be unjust to deny the plaintiff the right to file her complaint simply because the city government closed the court and not a presiding judge, said Lee in his Oct. 5 decision.
By Deborah Elkins

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