By: Thomas S. Tripodianos Published: August 2006

Statutory Limitations for Challenging Local Laws

Question. What statutory limitations period applies to an action challenging the validity of a local law?

Generally speaking, statutes of limitations are statutes of repose representing a legislative judgment that occasional hardship is outweighed by the advantage of barring stale claims. In order to determine what limitations period governs a particular declaratory judgment action, the court is required to look to the substance of the action to identify the relationship out of which the claim arises and the relief sought. If the dispute can be, or could have been, resolved through a form of action or proceeding for which a specific statute of limitations is furnished by statute, then that limitations period will govern the action, regardless of the form in which it is presented Otherwise, the six-year "catch-all" provision of CPLR 213(1) will apply.

Specifically with regards to an action challenging the validity of a local law there is a dichotomy between issues addressed to the substance of the law or its constitutionality, as to which a declaratory judgment action is appropriate, and issues that arise from the procedures by which the law was enacted, which may be raised in a CPLR article 78 proceeding. The distinction drawn is between defects that are substantive, and those that are procedural. This distinction proceeds from the axiom that an article 78 proceeding is unavailable to challenge the validity of a legislative act.

The limitation, however, applies only to the review of the "wisdom or merit" of the determination in i.e., its substance, not to the procedures by which the law was enacted. Where the issue is not the "wisdom or merit" of the legislative act, relief may be had in an article 78 proceeding and the four-month statute of limitations is, therefore, controlling.

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