Artis v. District of Columbia,
583 U.S. ___ (2018)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Artis filed a federal-court suit against the District of Columbia, alleging a federal employment discrimination claim and three allied claims under D.C. law; nearly two years remained on the statute of limitations for the D.C. claims. More than two years later, the district court rejected the federal claim and dismissed the D.C.-law claims under 28 U.S.C. 1367(c). Artis refiled those claims in the D.C. Superior Court 59 days later. That court dismissed them as time-barred. The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1367(d) provides that the “period of limitations for” refiling in state court a state claim “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.” The Court rejected an argument that the section merely provides a grace period, permitting the statute of limitations to run while the claim is pending in another forum and averting the risk of a time bar by according the plaintiff a fixed period in which to refile. Considering the ordinary meaning of the statutory language, the section is a tolling provision. It suspends the statute of limitations both while the claim is pending in federal court and for 30 days post-dismissal. The stop-the-clock interpretation of section1367(d) does not present a serious constitutional problem.

  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)  | 
  • Dissent (Neil M. Gorsuch)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

ARTIS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

certiorari to the district of columbia court of appeals

No. 16–460. Argued November 1, 2017—Decided January 22, 2018

Federal district courts may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state claims not otherwise within their adjudicatory authority if those claims are “part of the same case or controversy” as the federal claims the plaintiff asserts. 28 U. S. C. §1367(a). When a district court dismisses all claims independently qualifying for the exercise of federal jurisdiction, it ordinarily also dismisses all related state claims. See §1367(c)(3). Section 1367(d) provides that the “period of limitations for” refiling in state court a state claim so dismissed “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.”

When petitioner Artis filed a federal-court suit against respondent District of Columbia (District), alleging a federal employment-discrimination claim and three allied claims under D. C. law, nearly two years remained on the applicable statute of limitations for the D. C.-law violations. Two and a half years later, the Federal District Court ruled against Artis on her sole federal claim and dismissed the D. C.-law claims under §1367(c). Fifty-nine days after the dismissal, Artis refiled her state-law claims in the D. C. Superior Court, but that 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 and rejecting her argument that the word “tolled” in §1367(d) means that the limitations period is suspended during the pendency of the federal suit.

Held:

1. Section 1367(d)’s instruction to “toll” a state limitations period means to hold it in abeyance, i.e., to stop the clock. Pp. 7–16.

(a) Statutes that shelter from time bars claims earlier commenced in another forum generally employ one of two means. First, the period of limitations may be “tolled,” i.e., suspended, while the claim is pending elsewhere; the time clock starts running again when the tolling period ends, picking up where it left off. A legislature may instead elect simply to provide a grace period, permitting the statute of limitations to run while the claim is pending in another forum and averting the risk of a time bar by according the plaintiff a fixed period in which to refile. The District has identified no federal statute in which a grace-period meaning has been ascribed to the word “tolled” or any word similarly rooted. And the one case in which this Court used tolling language to describe a grace period, see Hardin v. Straub, 490 U. S. 536 , is a feather on the scale against the weight of decisions in which “tolling” a statute of limitations signals stopping the clock. Pp. 7–11.

(b) Considering first the ordinary meaning of the statutory language, §1367(d) is phrased as a tolling provision. It suspends the statute of limitations both while the claim is pending in federal court and for 30 days postdismissal. Artis’ interpretation is a natural fit with this language. The District, in contrast, reads “tolled” to mean to remove, temporarily, the bar that would ordinarily accompany the expiration of the limitations period. But the District offers no reason to home in only on the word “tolled” itself and ignore information about the verb’s ordinary meaning gained from its grammatical object, “period of limitations.” That object sheds light on what it means to “be tolled.” The District’s reading also tenders a strained interpretation of the phrase “period of limitations”; makes the first portion of the tolling period, the duration of the claim’s pendency in federal court, superfluous; and could yield an absurdity, permitting a plaintiff to refile in state court even if the limitations period on her claim had expired before she filed in federal court. Pp. 11–13.

(c) The D. C. Court of Appeals erred in concluding that Congress adopted an American Law Institute (ALI) recommendation to allow refiling in state court only for 30 days after a dismissal. The ALI provision, like §1367(d), established a 30-day federal floor on the time allowed for refiling, but it did not provide for tolling “while the [state] claim is pending” in federal court. Pp. 13–14.

(d) The 30-day provision casts no large shadow on Artis’ stop-the-clock interpretation. The provision accounts for cases in which a plaintiff commenced a federal action close to the expiration date of the relevant state statute of limitations, by giving such a plaintiff breathing space to refile in state court. Adding a brief span of days to the tolling period is not unusual in stop-the-clock statutes. See, e.g., 46 U. S. C. §53911. Section 1367(d)’s proviso “unless State law provides for a longer tolling period” could similarly aid a plaintiff who filed in federal court just short of the expiration of the state limitations period. Pp. 14–16.

2. The stop-the-clock interpretation of §1367(d) does not present a serious constitutional problem. In Jinks v. Richland County, 538 U. S. 456 , the Court rejected an argument that §1367(d) impermissibly exceeds Congress’ authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Id., at 464–465. The District contends that a stop-the-clock prescription serves “no federal purpose” that could not be served by a grace-period prescription. But both devices are standard, off-the-shelf means of accounting for the fact that a claim was timely pressed in another forum. Requiring Congress to choose one over the other would impose a tighter constraint on Congress’ discretion than this Court has countenanced. A concern that a stop-the-clock prescription entails a greater imposition on the States than a grace-period prescription may also be more theoretical than real. Finally, a stop-the-clock rule like §1367(d) 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 . Pp. 16–19.

135 A. 3d 334, reversed and remanded.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Gorsuch, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, JJ., joined.

Primary Holding

Under 28 U.S.C. 1367(d), the limitations period for state claims filed in federal court is suspended while such claims are pending in federal court and for 30 days after dismissal by the federal court.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.