SCOTUS vindicates 2008 Judge Wilner opinion on tolling of limitations

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

On Monday, in Artis v. District of Columbia, the Supreme Court of the United States resolved a division of authority on the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d). Under § 1367(d), when a federal court exercises supplemental jurisdiction over a state-law claim, the limitations period on that claim “shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.”

Justice Ginsburg, writing for the five-justice majority, noted a division of authority on the application of the statute:

The high courts of Maryland and Minnesota, along with the Sixth Circuit, have held that §1367(d)’s tolling rule pauses the clock on the statute of limitations until 30 days after the state-law claim is dismissed. See In re Vertrue Inc. Marketing & Sales Practices Litigation, 719 F. 3d 474, 481 (CA6 2013); Goodman v. Best Buy, Inc., 777 N. W. 2d 755, 759–760 (Minn. 2010); Turner v. Kight, 406 Md. 167, 180–182, 957 A. 2d 984, 992–993 (2008). In addition to the D. C. Court of Appeals, the high courts of California and the Northern Mariana Islands have held that §1367(d) provides only a 30-day grace period for the refiling of otherwise time-barred claims. See Los Angeles v. County of Kern, 59 Cal. 4th 618, 622, 328 P. 3d 56, 58 (2014); Juan v. Commonwealth, 2001 MP 18, 6 N. Mar. I. 322, 327 (2001).

Maryland found itself on the winning side of that division of authority, with the Court holding that § 1367(d) pauses the clock on limitations and does not simply create a 30-day grace period.

Senior Judge Alan Wilner authored the now-vindicated opinion for the Maryland Court of Appeals in Turner. Section 1367 emerged from a recommendation by the Federal Court Study Committee, and Judge Wilner noted “with pride that one of the members of that Committee was Diana Gribbon Motz, later to serve with distinction on of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and who now graces the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.” Yay, Maryland!

Artis featured an unusual voting alignment, with Chief Justice Roberts (and not Justice Kennedy) joining Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. As the most senior member of the majority, the Chief Justice assigned the majority opinion to Justice Ginsburg. She addressed federalism concerns by focusing on the practical effects on civil litigants:

The concern that a stop-the-clock prescription entails a greater imposition on the States than a grace-period prescription, moreover, may be more theoretical than real. Consider the alternative suggested by the D. C. Superior Court. Plaintiffs situated as Artis was could simply file two actions and ask the state court to hold the suit filed there in abeyance pending disposition of the federal suit. See supra, at 6. Were the dissent’s position to prevail, cautious plaintiffs would surely take up the D. C. Superior Court’s suggestion. How it genuinely advances federalism concerns to drive plaintiffs to resort to wasteful, inefficient duplication to preserve their state-law claims is far from apparent …

We do not gainsay that statutes of limitations are “fundamental to a well-ordered judicial system.” Board of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y. v. Tomanio, 446 U. S. 478, 487 (1980). We note in this regard, however, that a stop-the-clock rule is suited to the primary purposes of limitations statutes: “preventing surprises” to defendants and “barring a plaintiff who has slept on his rights.” American Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U. S. 538, 554 (1974) (internal quotation marks omitted). Whenever §1367(d) applies, the defendant will have notice of the plaintiff ’s claims within the state-prescribed limitations period. Likewise, the plaintiff will not have slept on her rights. She will have timely asserted those rights, endeavoring to pursue them in one litigation.

I’ve called Chief Justice Roberts a civil litigator at heart, and Artis provides a useful perspective on how to persuade him on nuts-and-bolts procedural issues.

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