In a major clarification of procedural law, the U.S. Supreme Court recently answered the question of whether or not, in a dual federal-state filing, federal law suspends the state statute of limitations at the time if filing the federal filing later proves unsuccessful.
It is typical in employment discrimination cases for the claimant to have a dual filing to protect their rights under both federal and state or local law. The relevant federal statute provides that the state “shall be tolled while the claim is pending [in Federal Court] and for a period of thirty (30) days after it is dismissed unless state law provides for a longer period”.
In Artis v. the District of Columbia, the claimant had instituted such a dual filing in federal court alleging employment discrimination arising from the same set of facts. The Claimant’s complaint was then dismissed and she attempted to refile her state claim 59 days later. The State court held that the claim was time-barred, finding that the Federal statute only provided a grace period of thirty (30) days after dismissal even though and despite the fact that two years still remained before the expiration of the state statute of limitations.
In reversing the lower court’s interpretation, the Supreme Court reasoned:
- The ordinary meaning of the word “toll” means to hold in abeyance;
- The fact that a 30 day provision had been added did not undercut the claimants case was typical of “stop the clock” statutes that gave Plaintiff breathing space to refile especially when the dual filing in Federal Court occurred just short of the expiration of the state statute of limitations;
- Congress has the discretion to choose such a filing method and as result, the statute serves a federal purpose and;
- Any other reading would yield absurd results permitting plaintiff to refile in state court even if the limitation period had expired before they filed in federal court.
In summing up its decision, the Court also noted that judicial efficiency would be advanced, as the lower court’s interpretation would compel prudent Plaintiffs to file duplicative and wasteful “protective” suits in Federal Court.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Employment Log (EPELog) is a publication of the KingSpry Employment Law Practice Group. Jeffrey T. Tucker, Esquire, is our editor-in-chief. EPELog is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.