Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court clarifies scope of the 2020 COVID-19 statute of limitations tolling order


By: R. Victoria Fuller & Diandra Franks

In Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. v. Margarita Melendez, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the “SJC”) recently held that its 2020 COVID-19 statute of limitations tolling order tolled the statute of limitations for all civil actions, not just those actions for which the limitations period would have expired during the tolling period. 

In Shaws, the plaintiff was allegedly injured on September 3, 2017.  She filed a personal injury action against the defendant supermarket on September 24, 2020.  The applicable statute of limitations for her claim was three years.  Therefore, the plaintiff’s case fell outside of the limitations period. 

In the interim, on June 24, 2020, the SJC issued its Third Updated Order Regarding Court Operations Under the Exigent Circumstances Created by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic, No. OE-144 COVID-19 (the “Tolling Order”), under which “[a]ll civil statutes of limitations were tolled … from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020.” 

The supermarket sought to dismiss the plaintiff’s case on the ground that the tolling order only applied to claims under which the civil statutes of limitations would have expired between March 17 and June 30, 2020.   

The SJC rejected that argument and held that the limitations period was tolled for every civil statute of limitations, “not just those where the statutory period of limitations expired between March 17, 2020 and June 30, 2020.” 

The Shaws decision clarifies that for civil cases in which the statute of limitations accrued prior to March 17, 2020, litigants must add 106 days to the limitations period when determining whether it has expired.  Although not directly addressed in the decision, the SJC’s decision implies that for all civil claims that accrued during the March 17 to June 30, 2020 tolling period, the parties would need to add the number of days remaining in the tolling period to the statutory limitations period to determine whether it has expired. 

For more information, please contact R. Victoria Fuller at or Diandra Franks at