Chardon v. Fumero Soto - 462 U.S. 650 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
Chardon v. Fumero Soto, 462 U.S. 650 (1983)
Chardon v. Fumero Soto
Argued March 23, 1983
Decided June 20, 1983
462 U.S. 650
After petitioner Puerto Rican educational officials had demoted respondent school employees and shortly before Puerto Rico's l-year statute of limitations would have expired, a class action was filed in Federal District Court against petitioners on behalf of respondents, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of the demotions. Subsequently, the District Court denied class certification on the ground that the class was insufficiently numerous. Respondents then filed individual actions under § 1983 asserting the same claims that had been asserted on their behalf in the class action. Each of the individual actions was filed more than one year after the claims accrued, even excluding the period during which the class action was pending, but less than one year after the denial of class certification. The individual actions were consolidated, and the District Court entered judgment on the merits for respondents. The Court of Appeals, while modifying the remedy in some respects, rejected petitioners' argument that respondents' claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Because there was no federal statute of limitations applicable to § 1983 claims, the court looked to Puerto Rican law to determine what the limitations period was, whether that period was tolled, and the effect of the tolling. The court concluded that, as a matter of Puerto Rican law, the statute of limitations was tolled as to the unnamed plaintiffs during the pendency of the class action, and that the statute of limitations began to run anew when the tolling ceased upon the denial of class certification.
Held: Respondents' individual actions were timely. The parties agree that the limitations period was tolled during the pendency of the class action. The Court of Appeals correctly held that the limitations period began to run anew after the denial of class certification, as provided by Puerto Rican law. American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U. S. 538 -- which held that certain federal antitrust treble damages claims were not time-barred under the statute of limitations prescribed in the Clayton Act because the statute had been suspended during the pendency of a related class action -- did not establish a uniform federal rule of decision that mandates suspension, rather than renewal, whenever a federal class action tolls a statute of limitations. In that case, a particular federal statute provided the basis for deciding that the tolling had
the effect of suspending the limitations period. No question of state law was presented. In a § 1983 action, however, Congress in 42 U.S.C. § 1988 has specifically directed the courts, in the absence of controlling federal law, to apply state statutes of limitations and state tolling rules unless they are "inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States." Here, the Court of Appeals turned to Puerto Rican law to determine the tolling effect of the class action. Its decision on this issue is consistent with the rationale of both American Pipe and Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U. S. 478, where it was held that a § 1983 claim was barred by New York's statute of limitations, because New York law did not provide for tolling of the statute during the pendency of a related, but independent, cause of action. Since the application of the Puerto Rican rule gave unnamed class members the same protection as if they had filed actions in their own names which were subsequently dismissed, the federal interest, set forth in American Pipe, in assuring the efficiency and economy of the class action procedure is fully protected. Until Congress enacts a federal statute of limitations to govern § 1983 litigation, federal courts must continue the practice of "limitations borrowing" outlined in Tomanio. Pp. 462 U. S. 655-662.
681 F.2d 42, affirmed.
STEVENS,J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN,MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 663.