13. Statute of Limitations
13.1 Statute of Limitations
Department staff conducting inspections or working on enforcement cases should be aware of the statutes of limitation for individual violations. Generally, in cases where a civil penalty action may be considered, a two-year clock starts on the day that the department discovers a violation or, with due diligence, should have known of a violation. Commonly, the department knows of a violation on the day of an inspection or investigation. The dates of issuance of a Letter of Warning or Notice of Violation are not a factor; it is the date of discovery of the violation. In cases where there is a question whether the department “should have known,” it is best to confer with department counsel or the Attorney General’s Office.
The general provisions for the different statute of limitations can be found in Chapter 516, RSMo. Specifically, penalties that will be directed to the state or a local government are addressed in 516.390 RSMo.
Various environmental statutes also cover limitations based on time passed in reference to application of administrative penalties. The Clean Water, Solid Waste Management, Hazardous Waste Management, Air Conservation and Safe Drinking Water laws all have administrative penalty provisions. However, the department generally pursues negotiated civil penalties rather than administrative penalties.
Take action - Once a case is referred to a Program’s enforcement section, department staff must act in time to avoid exceeding the time constraints of statutes of limitation. The department can continue negotiation with the responsible party and enter into a tolling agreement that would stay the statute of limitations. Tolling agreements allow both sides to continue meaningful negotiation and preserve the department’s right to pursue violations in the event settlement cannot be achieved. An alternative would be for the department to refer the case to the AGO so that they can take further action on the violations. Referrals to the AGO should be made well before the time that the statute of limitation becomes a critical issue.
On-going violations - In cases where a violation is continuing (i.e., has not been corrected), the statute of limitations essentially begins on every additional day that the same violation occurs. Any two year ‘clock’ could potentially begin on the date of the last on-going violation. The department would pursue penalties for all violations in settlement, but if litigation ensues, it may not be possible to collect penalties for any violations that are beyond the time limits of the statute of limitations.Fees - Actions must be taken within 5 years on liabilities. This includes fees and any accrued interest, but not penalties. These provisions are specified in Section 516.120(2) RSMo.
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