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Fields v. Fairbanks School District (10/11/91), 818 P 2d 658
Notice: This is subject to formal
correction before publication in the Pacific
Reporter. Readers are requested to bring
typographical or other formal errors to the
attention of the Clerk of the Appellate
Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska
99501, in order that corrections may be made
prior to permanent publication.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
ANGELA LEA FIELDS, )
a/k/a ANGELA LEA McFETRIDGE, ) Supreme Court File No. S-4270
) Superior Court File No.
Appellant, ) 4FA-90-179 Civil
v. ) O P I N I O N
FAIRBANKS NORTH STAR BOROUGH, )
FAIRBANKS NORTH STAR BOROUGH )
SCHOOL DISTRICT, )
Appellees. ) [No. 3762 - October 11, 1991]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the
State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District,
Fairbanks, Jay Hodges, Judge.
Appearances: Richard W. Wright,
Fairbanks, for Appellant. Constance Cates
Ringstad, Call, Barrett & Burbank, Fairbanks,
Before: Rabinowitz, Chief Justice,
Burke, Matthews, Compton and Moore, Justices.
We are presented with the narrow question of when a
minor reaches the age of majority for the purpose of computing
the applicable limitations period. Angela Lea McFetridge claims
that she was injured while a minor; she filed an action seeking
damages against Fairbanks North Star Borough on the first
business day following her twentieth birthday. The superior
court granted summary judgment in favor of FNSB on the ground
that the incapacity of a minor ceases one day prior to his or her
eighteenth birthday and thus, the two year statute of limitations
on McFetridge's action was tolled one day prior to her twentieth
birthday. We reverse and remand for proceedings on the merits of
Angela Lea McFetridge, then Angela Lea Fields, was
allegedly injured at the North Pole High School on October 25,
1985. She was born on February 3, 1970, thus she was a minor at
the time of her alleged injury. McFetridge filed a tort action
against Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) on Monday, February
5, 1990, the first business day following her twentieth birthday.
FNSB subsequently moved for summary judgment on the
ground that McFetridge's action was barred by the statute of
limitations. The superior court granted FNSB's motion and
dismissed McFetridge's claim stating that McFetridge "reached the
age of eighteen on February 2, 1988, the day before the
eighteenth anniversary of her birth . . . [T]his action was thus
filed more, by one day, than two years after the termination of
her disability of minority." McFetridge appeals.
The statute of limitations for tort actions is two
years. AS 09.10.070.1 However, the disability of minority tolls
this time limitation. AS 09.10.140.2 Thus, the two year period
during which McFetridge's action could be commenced did not begin
to run until she reached eighteen, the age of majority. AS
25.20.010. As there is no dispute as to the applicable statute
of limitations, the only issue before us is when the statute
began to run.3
The common law method for counting time periods
excludes the first day of the prescribed period and includes the
last. In Alaska, this method has been employed consistently in
diverse contexts and was codified prior to statehood. See Lowe
v. Hess, 10 Alaska 174, 177 (D. Alaska 1941); see also Reed v.
Municipality of Anchorage, 741 P.2d 1181 (Alaska 1987); Wade v.
Dworkin, 407 P.2d 587 (Alaska 1965). Thus, the day on which an
event occurs is not counted within the time period allotted for
legal actions arising from that event. Alaska Christian Bible
Inst. v. State, 772 P.2d 1079, 1080-81 (Alaska 1989) (first day
of legislative session not counted in calculating constitutional
120-day session limit); Nickels v. State, 545 P.2d 163 (Alaska
1976) (the day of defendant's arrest is not to be counted in
determining whether defendant was brought to trial within the 120-
day limitation of Alaska Criminal Rule 45).
The common law rule for computation of time periods has
been codified. AS 01.10.080; see also Alaska Civil Rule 6. Both
statutory and case law are clear that if the last day of the
period is a holiday, it is excluded in the computation of time.
AS 01.10.080; David v. Sturm, Ruger & Co., 557 P.2d 1133, 1134-35
(Alaska 1976). For the purposes of AS 01.10.080, a "holiday" is
a "day upon which the usual operations of business are suspended
and the courts are closed." Id. at 1135. Therefore, both
Saturdays and Sundays are holidays under the act.
However, there is an archaic exception to the general
common law method for time computation under which a person is
deemed to have reached a given age on the earliest moment of the
day preceding an anniversary of birth.4 This legal fiction
results in an exception to traditional rules for computation of
time in that, when the time period is commenced by a birthdate,
the date of the event (the actual birthday) is counted. See
United States v. Tucker, 407 A.2d 1067, 1070 (D.C. 1979). In the
present case, the superior court apparently concluded that the
birthday exception to the common law rule applied for the purpose
of ceasing the disability of minority.5 Thus, it ruled that the
statute of limitations on McFetridge's claim began to run on
February 3, 1988 and expired on February 2, 1990, one business
day before her claim was filed.
FNSB contends summary judgment was proper because this
ancient exception has been incorporated into the common law rule
for time computation and, having acquired common law status, it
must be maintained in the absence of a clear legislative
determination to the contrary. However, we have stated that the
common law applicable in Alaska is not the old English common
law, but rather an evolving common law. Howarth v. Pfeifer, 443
P.2d 39, 44 (Alaska 1968). As Justice Holmes stated:
It is revolting to have no better reason
for a rule of law than that so it was laid
down in the time of Henry IV. It is still
more revolting if the grounds upon which it
was laid down have vanished long since, and
the rule simply persists from blind imitation
of the past.
The Path of the Law, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 457, 469 (1897).
Therefore, when a discrete common law rule cannot be supported by
persuasive reasoning, we will not perpetuate it merely on the
basis of judicial precedent. See Young v. State, 455 P.2d 889,
893 (Alaska 1969).
Commentators have criticized the anomalous common law
rule for computing age as contrary to reason and common sense,
and courts in many jurisdictions have rejected it. See, e.g.,
United States v. Tucker, 407 A.2d 1067 (D.C. 1979); Patterson v.
Monmouth Regional High School Bd. of Educ., 537 A.2d 696 (N.J.
Super. Ct. App. Div. 1987); State v. Alley, 594 S.W.2d 381 (Tenn.
1980). Even courts which have adopted the rule have "candidly
admitted that rather than being persuaded by the soundness of its
application, they have adopted it on the basis that it was so
well established over a long period of time that the rule
attained an independent status of its own." Tucker, 407 A.2d at
The old practice of deeming a person to have achieved a
given age on the day prior to his or her birthday is contrary to
the popular understanding of birthdate. Moreover, it is
inconsistent with the common application of other legal concepts
which are dependent on the computation of an individual's age,
such as the determination of juvenile status in criminal matters
and the attainment of age for certain legal privileges and
responsibilities like voting, consuming alcohol and driving an
automobile. We decline to follow a rule which defies logical
explanation and which is utterly inconsistent with popular and
legal conceptions of time and birthdate.
Therefore, we hold that attainment of the age of
majority is analogous to other events that trigger running of
time periods; the limitation period excludes the day of the event
(attainment of majority), and includes the last day in the
period, unless that day is a holiday. Under this rule,
McFetridge's action was timely. Her disability of minority
ceased as of her eighteenth birthday. Thus, the two-year statute
of limitations began to run on February 4, 1988 and ended on
February 3, 1990. Since February 3, 1990 fell on a Saturday, a
claim filed on the following Monday, February 5, 1990, was not
barred by the statute of limitations.
REVERSED and REMANDED for proceedings on the merits.
1. AS 09.10.070 provides in pertinent part:
No person may bring an action (1) for
libel, slander, assault, battery, seduction,
false imprisonment, or for any injury to the
person or rights of another not arising on
contract and not specifically provided
otherwise . . . unless commenced within two
2. Alaska Statute 09.10.140 provides:
Disabilities of minority, incompetency
and imprisonment. If a person entitled to
bring an action mentioned in this chapter is
at the time the cause of action accrues
either (1) under the age of majority, or (2)
incompetent by reason of mental illness, or
(3) imprisoned on a criminal charge, or in
execution under sentence of a court for a
term less than the person's natural life, the
time of the disability is not a part of the
time limited for the commencement of the
action. But the period within which the
action may be brought is not extended in any
case longer than two years after the
3. This is an appeal from a grant of summary judgment.
Accordingly, we will review the issue de novo. Kollodge v.
State, 757 P.2d 1028 (Alaska 1988).
4. The exception apparently stems from the legal fiction
that a day has no fractions. When this fiction is applied, a
person achieves a given age on the first instant of the
anniversary of his or her date of birth. During the seventeenth
century, judges noted that the first moment of the birthday and
the last moment of the preceding day are indistinguishable. They
took the fiction that a day has no fractions one step further,
reasoning that since the birth anniversary and the day preceding
it are inseparable, the date of birth must be deemed to occur at
the first moment of the preceding day. The attainment of legal
age was thus advanced by twenty-four hours. Annotation, Age-
Computation, 5 A.L.R.2d 1143, 1145 (1949). Of course, this
reasoning requires an arbitrary line to be drawn, or the birth
anniversary will be accelerated day-by-day indefinitely. See id.
5. The superior court may have relied on Turnbull v.
Bonkowski, 419 F.2d 104 (9th Cir. 1969), in which the United
States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the
birthday exception applied to computation of time under Alaska
common law and under AS 01.10.080. However, we are not bound by
that court's interpretation of state law. Notably, at the time
of the Bonkowski action, the Ninth Circuit expressed concern that
it was offering an opinion of first impression on Alaska law and
sought the opinion of the Alaska Supreme Court on the issue.
However, at that time this court believed it was precluded from
answering questions of state law certified to it by the federal
courts. Such questions may now be certified to the supreme court
under Alaska Appellate Rule 407(a).