Leap Year Law
We are fast approaching the 29th day of February, something that most of you know happens once every four years. What many of you may not know, even practicing attorneys, is how exactly does the leap year affect our everyday lives as a community and as lawyers. Such areas of law affected by leap day, among others, are criminal law with statutory "speedy trial" (CPL 30.30), the statute of limitations to commence civil actions, and interest payments on judgments and verdicts.
The History of the Leap Year
A leap year is a calendar year that contains an additional day added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year or seasonal year. Because astronomical events and seasons do not repeat in a whole number of days, calendars that have the same number of days in each year drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track. By inserting an additional day into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year is actually 365.24 days long. As a result, an extra day is needed every four years to adjust for that overage.
In the Gregorian calendar (adopted as New York's official calendar), each leap year has 366 days instead of 365, by extending February to 29 days. These extra days occur in each year which is can be multiplied by 4 (except for years evenly divisible by 100, which are not leap years unless evenly divisible by 400).
Statute of Limitations on Civil Actions
If a cause of action accrues on February 29th, and the applicable statute of limitations is measured by a number of years concluding when there is no leap year, would the statute of limitations deadline be February 28th or March 1st? Well, New York of course has a statute to deal with this situation. The answer can be found in New York General Construction Law Section 58 which states that February 29th and the day preceding it are treated as one single day for the purposes of the statute of limitations. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, and essentially means that for the purpose of time computation, the statute of limitations would expire on February 28th of the concluding year. If a cause of action arose on February 29, and the statute of limitations was 4 years (such as for the breach of warranty of sale of goods) or 20 years (such as the recovery of money judgments), the statute of limitations would expire on the 29th of that anniversary date.
When calculating a statute of limitations that is measured by days (such as 30 days to challenge a zoning board decision or 90 days to file a notice of claim against a municipality) one must take into account the extra day in February for precisely calculating deadlines.
In criminal prosecutions, the government is required to be ready for trial within six months for felonies, 90 days and 60 days for certain misdemeanors, and 30 days for non-criminal violations (CPL 30.30). The People are also entitled to certain excludable time (CPLR 30.30). The extra day must be counted not just in measuring the 90, 60, and 30 day readiness periods, but also in subtracting excludable time for the People.
The per diem computation of contractual interest, and statutory interest on verdicts and money judgments, must also take the extra February day into account for precision and accuracy (CPLR 5001-5003; 235 E. 83 Realty LLC v Fleming, 18 Misc 3d 1142[A]). While on smaller judgments and verdicts this can be a nominal amount of money, the extra interest may be significant in a contract valued at hundreds of millions of dollars or multi-million dollar verdicts and money judgments.
As attorneys, our profession is about precision. Attorneys must be mindful of the leap day to avoid the embarrassing situation of missing a deadline or calculation by a single day because of a leap year.