Walker v. Armco Steel Corp.
446 U.S. 740 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980)

Walker v. Armco Steel Corp.

No. 78-1862

Argued January 8, 1980

Decided June 2, 1980

446 U.S. 740

Syllabus

An Oklahoma statute provides that an action shall not be deemed to be "commenced" for purposes of the statute of limitations until service of summons on the defendant, but further provides (§ 97) that, if the complaint is filed within the limitations period, the action is deemed to have commenced from the date of that filing if the plaintiff serves the defendant within 60 days, even though such service occurs outside the limitations period. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 3 provides that a civil action is commenced by filing a complaint. In this case, petitioner's personal injury action, based on diversity of citizenship, was brought against respondent m Federal District Court in Oklahoma, and, although the complaint was filed within Oklahoma's 2-year statute of limitations, service on respondent was not effectuated until after the 2-year limitation period and the 60-day service period specified in § 97 had expired. The District Court dismissed the complaint as barred by the Oklahoma statute of limitations, holding that § 97 was an integral part of such statute and that, therefore, under Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co.,337 U. S. 530, state law, not Rule 3, applied. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The action is barred by the Oklahoma statute of limitations. Ragan, supra. Pp. 446 U. S. 744-753.

(a) The scope of Rule 3 is not sufficiently broad to control the issue before the District Court. Hanna v. Plumer,380 U. S. 460, distinguished. There is no indication that the Rule was intended to toll a state statute of limitations, much less that it purported to displace state tolling rules for purposes of state statutes of limitations. In diversity actions, Rule 3 governs the date from which various timing requirements of the Federal Rules begin to run, but does not affect state statutes of limitations. Pp. 446 U. S. 748-751.

(b) In contrast to Rule 3, the Oklahoma statute is a statement of a substantive decision by that State that actual service on, and accordingly actual notice to, the defendant is an integral part of the policies (establishment of a deadline after which the defendant may legitimately have peace of mind, and recognition that, after a certain period of time, it is unfair to require the defendant to attempt to piece together his defense to an old claim) served by the statute of limitations. Rule 3

Page 446 U. S. 741

does not replace such policy determinations found in state law, and that Rule and § 97 can exist side by side, each controlling its own intended sphere of coverage without conflict. Pp. 446 U. S. 751-752.

(c) Although, in this case, failure to apply the state service law might not create any problem of forum shopping, the result would be an inequitable administration of the law. There is no reason why, in the absence of a controlling federal rule, an action based on state law which concededly would be barred in the state courts by the state statute of limitations should proceed to judgment in federal court solely because of the fortuity that there is diversity of citizenship between the litigants. Pp. 446 U. S. 752-753.

592 F.2d 1133, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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