January 22, 2018

Supreme Court Decides Artis v. District of Columbia

On January 22, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Artis v. District of Columbia, holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d)’s instruction to “toll” a state limitations period means to hold it in abeyance—i.e., to stop the clock.

Petitioner Artis filed an action in federal district court alleging a federal employment-discrimination claim and three related state-law claims pursuant to the court’s authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such state-law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. At the time of filing, nearly two years remained on the applicable statute of limitations for the state-law violations. Two and a half years after the federal action was initiated, the federal district court ruled against Artis on her sole federal claim and dismissed the state-law claims under § 1367(c). Section 1367(d) provides that the “period of limitations for” refiling in state court a state claim dismissed from a federal action “shall be tolled while the claim is pending [in federal court] and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.” Fifty-nine days after her state-law claims were dismissed from the federal action, Artis refiled the claims in the D.C. Superior Court, but the court dismissed them as time barred. The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that § 1367(d) accorded Artis only a 30-day grace period to refile in state court.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the word “tolled” in § 1367(d) means that the limitations period is suspended during the pendency of the federal suit. Surveying federal statutes and prior judicial decisions, the Court explained that statutory time-bar shelters typically employ one of two means. First, the limitations period may be “tolled,” meaning that it is “suspended (stops running) while the claim is sub judice elsewhere, then starts running again when the tolling period ends, picking up where it left off.” Second, the statute may provide a “grace period,” whereby the limitations period “continues to run while the claim is pending in another forum. But the risk of a time bar is averted by according the plaintiff a fixed period in which to refile.” According to the Court, § 1367(d)’s use of “tolling” language signals the legislature’s intent that the limitations clock be stopped while the state-law claim is pending in federal court. In support of this holding, the Court looked to the plain meaning of the statute, reasoning that it is “phrased as a tolling provision. It suspends the statute of limitations for two adjacent time periods: while the claim is pending in federal court and for 30 days post dismissal.”

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined.

Download Opinion of the Court.

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