It’s about time: The Supreme Court clarifies § 1367(d)’s tolling provision in Artis v. District of Columbia

February 6 2018 | Committees

Written by: Anders F. Holmgren, Flanagan Partners, LLP
for NOBA's Complex Litigation Committee

Overview of Artis

28 U.S.C. § 1367 allows a federal court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state claims that are related to federal claims properly before it. If the federal court dismisses the federal claims, it may decline jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. To ensure the plaintiff a chance to refile those claims in state court, § 1367(d) establishes a safe harbor. The applicable limitations period is “tolled” while the state claims are pending in federal court and for 30 days after dismissal (unless state law provides a longer period). But does this federal “tolling” suspend the limitations period, only to restart 30 days after dismissal? Or does the limitations period continue to run during the federal proceedings, with § 1367(d) merely “tolling” the effect of its expiration until 30 days post-dismissal? Resolving a split among state courts, the Supreme Court in Artis v. District of Columbia, No. 16-460, 2018 WL 491524 (U.S. Jan. 22, 2018) recently chose the former construction: § 1367(d) assures not just a 30-day grace period to refile, but instead preserves the balance of the limitations period remaining when the federal suit was filed.

 

Procedural History and the Court’s Decision

The Artis decision arose from a wrongful termination suit. After dismissing Artis’s Title VII claims, a federal district court declined supplemental jurisdiction over her related common-law claims. Artis refiled those claims in the D.C. Superior Court 59 days later. The Superior Court held that § 1367(d) provided only a 30-day grace period and dismissed her suit as untimely. The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed.

With Justice Ginsburg writing for the majority, the Supreme Court reversed. Focusing its analysis on the plain text of the statute, the Court found that “tolling,” for limitations purposes, means stopping temporarily before later resuming. Section 1367(d), therefore, suspends a state limitations period until 30 days after dismissal of the federal suit, leaving the plaintiff any remaining time in the period to refile. Under this construction, Artis had nearly two years left to assert her claims, making her refiled suit timely.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, dissented. The dissent maintained that the alternative, grace-period construction of § 1367(d) was mandated by textual and contextual clues. The dissent reasoned that its construction also avoided significant constitutional concerns. Since a grace-period interpretation achieved all federal purposes with less displacement of state limitation periods, the majority’s more expansive construction was neither necessary nor proper.

 

Louisiana Implications

Though interesting for its statutory-construction analysis, the Artis decision should affect Louisiana litigants in only limited circumstances. The Civil Code provides that filing suit in a court of competent jurisdiction interrupts the running of prescription (but not peremption), which thereafter runs anew following dismissal. Since § 1367(d) gives plaintiffs the benefit of any “longer tolling period” available under state law, most often the plaintiff will enjoy a full, restarted limitations period. Artis, however, will help plaintiffs with claims subject to an expired peremptive period; those plaintiffs should now be assured of a federally mandated suspension period that is otherwise foreclosed by Louisiana law.



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