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Artis v. District of Columbia

United States Supreme Court

January 22, 2018

ARTIS
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

          Argued November 1, 2017

         CERTIORARI TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS No. 16-460.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

         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 re file. 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, 554. Pp. 16-19.

135 A. 3d 334');">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.

          OPINION

          GINSBURG, JUSTICE

         The Supplemental Jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. §1367, enables federal district courts to entertain claims not otherwise within their adjudicatory authority when those claims "are so related to claims . . . within [federal-court competence] that they form part of the same case or controversy." §1367(a). Included within this supplemental jurisdiction are state claims brought along with federal claims arising from the same episode. When district courts dismiss all claims independently qualifying for the exercise of federal jurisdiction, they ordinarily dismiss as well all related state claims. See § 1367(c)(3). A district court may also dismiss the related state claims if there is a good reason to decline jurisdiction. See § 1367(c)(1), (2), and (4). This case concerns the time within which state claims so dismissed may be refiled in state court.

         Section 1367(d), addressing that issue, provides:

"The period of limitations for any [state] claim [joined with a claim within federal-court competence] 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 question presented: Does the word "tolled, " as used in § 1367(d), mean the state limitations period is suspended during the pendency of the federal suit; or does "tolled" mean that, although the state limitations period continues to run, a plaintiff is accorded a grace period of 30 days to refile in state court post dismissal of the federal case? Petitioner urges the first, or stop-the-clock, reading. Respondent urges, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals adopted, the second, or grace-period, reading.

         In the case before us, plaintiff-petitioner Stephanie C. Artis refiled her state-law claims in state court 59 days after dismissal of her federal suit.[1] Reading §1367(d) as a grace-period prescription, her complaint would be time barred. Reading §1367(d) as stopping the limitations clock during the pendency of the federal-court suit, her complaint would be timely. We hold that §1367(d)'s instruction to "toll" a state limitations period means to hold it in abeyance, i.e., to stop the clock. Because the D. C. Court of Appeals held that § 1367(d) did not stop the D. C. Code's limitations clock, but merely provided a 30-day grace period for refiling in D. C. Superior Court, we reverse the D. C. Court of Appeals' judgment.

         I

         A

         Section 1367, which Congress added to Title 28 as part of the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990, 104 Stat. 5089, codifies the court-developed pendent and ancillary jurisdiction doctrines under the label "supplemental jurisdiction." See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552-558 (2005) (describing the development of pendent and ancillary jurisdiction doctrines and subsequent enactment of §1367); id., at 579-584 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting) (same). The House Report accompanying the Act explains that Congress sought to clarify the scope of federal courts' authority to hear claims within their supplemental jurisdiction, appreciating that "[supplemental jurisdiction has enabled federal courts and litigants to . . . deal economically-in single rather than multiple litigation-with related matters." H. R. Rep. No. 101-734, p. 28 (1990) (H. R. Rep.). Section 1367(a) provides, in relevant part, that a district court with original jurisdiction over a claim "shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims . . . form[ing] part of the same case or controversy."

         "[N]ot every claim within the same 'case or controversy' as the claim within the federal courts' original jurisdiction will be decided by the federal court." Jinks v. Richland County, 538 U.S. 456, 459 (2003). Section 1367(c) states:

"The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if-
"(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law,
"(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction,
"(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or
"(4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction."

         If a district court declines to exercise jurisdiction over a claim asserted under § 1367(a) and the plaintiff wishes to continue pursuing it, she must refile the claim in state court. If the state court would hold the claim time barred, however, then, absent a curative provision, the district court's dismissal of the state-law claim without prejudice would be tantamount to a dismissal with prejudice. See, e.g., Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 352 (1988) (under the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction, if the statute of limitations on state-law claims expires before the federal court "relinquish[es] jurisdiction[, ] ... a dismissal will foreclose the plaintiff from litigating his claims"). To prevent that result, §1367(d) supplies "a tolling rule that must be applied by state courts." Jinks, 538 U.S., at 459. Section 1367(d) provides:

"The period of limitations for any claim asserted under subsection (a), and for any other claim in the same action that is voluntarily dismissed at the same time as or after the dismissal of the claim under subsection (a), shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period."

         This case requires us to determine how §1367(d)'s tolling rule operates.

         B

         Petitioner Artis worked as a health inspector for respondent, the District of Columbia (the "District"). In November 2010, Artis was told she would lose her job. Thirteen months later, Artis sued the District in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that she had suffered employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq. She also asserted three allied claims under D. C. law: retaliation in violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Act, D. C. Code §1-615.54 (2001); termination in violation of the District of Columbia False Claims Act, §2-381.04; and wrongful termination against public policy, a common-law claim. Artis alleged that she had been subjected to gender discrimination by her supervisor, and thereafter encountered retaliation for reporting the supervisor's unlawful activities. See Artis v. District of Columbia, 51 F.Supp.3d 135, 137 (2014).

         On June 27, 2014, the District Court granted the District's motion for summary judgment on the Title VII claim. Having dismissed Artis' sole federal claim, the District Court, pursuant to § 1367(c)(3), declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her remaining state-law claims. "Artis will not be prejudiced, " the court noted, "because 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) provides for a tolling of the statute of limitations during the period the case was here and for at least 30 days thereafter." Id., at 142.

         Fifty-nine days after the dismissal of her federal action, Artis refiled her state-law claims in the D. C. Superior Court, the appropriate local court. The Superior Court granted the District's motion to dismiss, holding that Artis' claims were time barred, because they were filed 29 days too late. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 14a. When Artis first asserted her state-law claims in the District Court, nearly two years remained on the applicable three-year statute of limitations.[2] But two and a half years passed before the federal court relinquished jurisdiction. Unless § 1367(d) paused the limitations clock during that time, Artis would have had only 30 days to re file. The Superior Court rejected Artis' stop-the-clock reading of § 1367(d), reasoning that Artis could have protected her state-law claims by "pursuing [them] in a state court while the federal court proceeding [was] pending." Ibid. In tension with that explanation, the court noted that duplicative filings in federal and state court are "generally disfavored ... as 'wasteful' and . . . 'against [the interests of] judicial efficiency.'" Id., at 14a, n. 1 (quoting Stevens v. Arco Management of Wash. B.C., Inc., 751 A.2d 995, 1002 (D. C. 2000); alteration in original).

         The D. C. Court of Appeals affirmed. That court began by observing that two "competing approaches [to § 1367(d)] have evolved nationally": the stop-the-clock reading and the grace-period reading. 135 A. 3d 334');">135 A. 3d 334, 337 (2016).[3]Without further comment on §1367(d)'s text, the D. C. Court of Appeals turned to the legislative history. Section 1367(d)'s purpose, the court noted, was "to prevent the loss of claims to statutes of limitations where state law might fail to toll the running of the period of limitations while a supplemental claim was pending in federal court." Id., at 338 (quoting H. R. Rep., at 30; internal quotation marks omitted). Following the lead of the California Supreme Court, the D. C. Court of Appeals determined that Congress had intended to implement a 1969 recommendation by the American Law Institute (ALI) to allow refiling in state court "within 30 days after dismissal." 135 A. 3d, at 338 (quoting Los Angeles v. County of Kern, 59 Cal.4th 618, 629, 328 P.3d 56, 63 (2014)).

         The D. C. Court of Appeals also concluded that the grace-period approach "better accommodates federalism concerns, " by trenching significantly less on state statutes of limitations than the stop-the-clock approach. 135 A. 3d, at 338-339. Construing § 1367(d) as affording only a 30-day grace period, the court commented, was "consistent with [its] presumption favoring narrow interpretations of federal preemption of state law." Id., at 339.

         To resolve the division of opinion among State Supreme Courts on the proper construction of § 1367(d), see supra, at 6, n. 3, ...


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