Artis v. District of Columbia

Issues 

In a case involving both federal- and state-law claims, if a federal court dismisses a plaintiff’s federal claim and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, does the tolling provision in § 1367(d) suspend the limitations period for the plaintiff’s state-law claim while the claim is pending and for an additional thirty days after the claim is dismissed, or does the tolling provision simply provide an additional thirty days beyond the dismissal for the plaintiff to re-file without suspending the limitations period?

Oral argument: 
November 1, 2017

The court will decide whether the tolling provision in 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d)—which addresses cases involving both federal- and state-law claims suspends the limitations period for a state-law claim while the federal claim is pending and provides an additional thirty days after the federal claim is dismissed, or whether it simply provides thirty days beyond the dismissal of the claim to re-file in state court. Stephanie Artis argues that § 1367(d) suspends the limitations period for state-law claims while the federal claims are pending and provides an additional thirty days in which to re-file after claims are dismissed. On the other hand, the District of Columbia argues that the approach taken by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which only provides an additional thirty days after a state-claim is dismissed, is the appropriate standard. This issue arises in every case in which a district court ultimately declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Accordingly, the case will impact the way in which plaintiffs bring state-law claims in federal courts. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Section 1367 of Title 28 authorizes federal district courts in certain circumstances to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over claims arising under State law. Section 1367 further provides that “[t]he period of limitations for any [such] claim … shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of thirty days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d). The question presented is whether the tolling provision in § 1367(d) suspends the limitations period for the state-law claim while the federal suit is pending and for thirty days after the claim is dismissed, or whether the tolling provision does not suspend the limitations period but merely provides thirty days beyond the dismissal for the plaintiff to refile.

Facts 

Beginning in August 2007, Petitioner Stephanie C. Artis was employed, under temporary status, as a Department of Health inspector. Artis v. District of Columbia, 135 A.3d 334, 335 (D.C. 2016). During her employment, Artis had a combative relationship with her supervisor, Gerard Brown. Id. Artis contends that Brown constantly treated her unfairly in the workplace. Id. On April 17, 2009, Artis filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a series of grievances internally. Id. Artis’s claim and grievances challenged the proposed infractions against her and alleged that Brown violated her employee rights. Id.

On November 15, 2010, the Department of Health terminated Artis’s employment. Id. Subsequently, in January 2011, Artis filed a grievance, arguing that the Department of Health retaliated against her for her problematic relationship with the agency and Brown. Id. On December 16, 2011, Artis initiated an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and arguing that the District Court had supplemental jurisdiction to hear her claims that were based on the District of Columbia’s Whistleblower Act, False Claims Act, and her common law claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Id. at 335–36.

On June 27, 2014, the court granted the District of Columbia’s motion for judgment on the pleadings with regards to the Title VII claim. Id. at 336. Because the court found no merit on the federal claim, the court decided it had no basis to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining claims that arose under District of Columbia law. Id.

On August 25, 2014, fifty-nine days after the federal court’s dismissal, Artis re-filed her remaining claims in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Id. The District of Columbia alleged that the claims were time barred based on the statute of limitations and 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d). Id. The trial judge agreed, holding that § 1367(d) only creates a thirty-day period for a claimant to file actions over which the district court lacked jurisdiction. Id. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. Id. at 335.

Analysis 

Artis argues that the Court should interpret § 1367(d) as a “stop-clock” provision, which pauses the statute of limitations clock for supplemental claims while the claims are pending in federal court and for thirty days after dismissal. See Brief of Petitioner, Stephanie C. Artis at 22.

The District of Columbia disagrees, arguing that the “grace period” interpretation, which allows the statute of limitations to continue to run while the federal claim is pending and provides a litigant thirty days after dismissal to re-file in state court, is proper. Brief for Respondent, District of Columbia at 18.

THE PLAIN MEANING OF THE STATUTE’S TEXT

Artis claims that § 1367(d) is clear on its face and that to “toll” means to “suspend.” Brief of Petitioner at 17. Artis supports this interpretation of “toll” meaning “suspend” in the statute of limitations context by pointing to the usual definition of “tolled” in both legal and general dictionaries, the Court’s definition of “tolled previous cases, and the interpretation of “tolled” throughout the U.S. Code. Id. at 17–22. Artis also asserts that this interpretation addresses both of the two tolling periods described in the statute—the period while pending, and the period for thirty days after dismissal. Id. at 23. Artis contends that the District of Columbia’s interpretation would require a re-writing of the statute and makes the first tolling period superfluous. Id. at 24; Reply Brief of Petitioner, at 2–3. In fact, Artis adds, the District of Columbia’s interpretation of § 1367(d) would allow plaintiffs to bring untimely state-law claims to state court after a federal court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Reply Brief of Petitioner, at 3–4. Further, Artis asserts that the language used in statutes that provide for a fixed refiling period do not match that of § 1367(d). Brief of Petitioner at 24–25.

On the other hand, the District of Columbia also maintains that the statute can be interpreted according to its ordinary meaning, but argues that “tolled” means “removes” or “take away.” Brief for Respondent at 12–13. The District of Columbia asserts that the ordinary meaning and origin of the word “toll” supports this definition, and “to suspend” is the secondary definition, which means to remove or take away the effect of the limitations period. Id. at 13–14. Accordingly, under the District of Columbia’s interpretation, § 1367(d) removes the limitations bar while the claim is pending and for thirty days after the claim is dismissed in federal court. Id. at 18–19. Additionally, the District of Columbia contends that equitable tolling cannot support a “stop-clock” interpretation because there is a competing interpretation that it simply provides a litigant a “reasonable” time to proceed. Id. at 32–33. Finally, the District of Columbia argues that its interpretation does not make the effect of the first tolling period of the statute superfluous because any limitation bar that goes into effect “while the claim is pending” in federal court is removed or “suspended.” Id. at 21.

STATUTORY CONTEXT AND LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Artis argues that the “stop-clock” interpretation comports with the House Report that accompanied § 1367(d) because it ensures supplemental claims are not lost if state law fails to toll the statute of limitations “while a supplemental claim is pending in federal court.” Brief of Petitioner at 26–27. Additionally, Artis contends that a “stop-clock” interpretation gives the diligent litigant more time to re-file the state-law claim, as Congress intended. Id. at 28. Artis maintains that the District of Columbia’s interpretation does not comport with the House Report because the District’s interpretation does not impact this tolling period in the statute. Id. Artis also disputes that Congress intended to implement the ALI’s recommendation of a thirty-day grace period for refiling the same claim brought in another court. Id. at 29–32. Artis argues that Congress did not intend to follow ALI’s thirty-day grace period because Congress included the “tolling while pending” language in § 1367(d), which was not included in ALI’s recommendation nor the ALI Reporter’s note’s proposed language. Id. at 29–30. Finally, Artis asserts that Congress did not cite the ALI in the legislative history, which it has done when it follows the ALI’s recommendations for other statutes. Id. at 30.

The District of Columbia claims that a “stop-clock” interpretation would render the thirty-day period useless because it would only impact suits that are filed close to the expiration of the original statute of limitations, and if that was Congress’s intention, the statute’s construction is ambiguous. Brief for Respondent at 20–22. The District of Columbia also asserts that because no other federal statute simultaneously stops the clock and adds time to the clock, special attention should be given to the thirty-day provision. Id. at 19. The District of Columbia maintains that because most states provide tolling periods that remove the limitations bar for longer than thirty days, a “stop-clock” interpretation would cause § 1367(d) to supplant the majority of state statute of limitations schemes. Id. at 19, 24. Thus, the District of Columbia argues that Congress intended to set a “federal floor,” which respects states’ interests in having their own statute of limitations and tolling provisions. Id. at 24. Additionally, the District of Columbia contends that a “grace period” interpretation allows the litigant enough time to satisfy the statute’s purpose of ensuring the litigant can re-file in state court, whereas a “stop-clock” interpretation serves no federal purpose by extending the limitations period beyond thirty days. Id. at 26–27, 33. Finally, the District of Columbia disagrees that Congress did not intend to implement ALI’s recommendation for a thirty-day grace period. Id. at 29–32. The District of Columbia maintains that the textual similarities between the ALI proposal, the ALI Reporter’s note, and § 1367(d) indicate that Congress modeled the statute on ALI’s language. Id. The District of Columbia asserts that the scholars that drafted the provision recognized that § 1367(d) implemented the ALI recommendation. Id. at 31.

STATE SOVEREIGNTY

Artis claims that the Court already determined that § 1367 does not invade state sovereignty and that Congress has constitutional authority to adopt tolling rules for supplemental claims in federal court in Jinks v. Richland County. Brief of Petitioner at 34. Artis further contends that the statute is clear on its face and that both interpretations require that § 1367(d) preempt state law. Id. Thus, Artis notes, preemption of state law is both acceptable and inevitable in this context. Id.

The District of Columbia disagrees and argues that a “stop-clock” interpretation raises federalism concerns because it lengthens and displaces state-law governing the statute of limitations. Brief for Respondent at 43–48. The District of Columbia explains that the “stop-clock” interpretation would regulate when state-law claims may be litigated in state courts, which the Court did not address in Jinks. Id. Thus, according to the District of Columbia, Artis’s interpretation would require a clear statement from Congress that it intended to alter the balance between states and the federal government, which the statute lacks. Id. at 38–42.

Discussion 

FEDERALISM

Artis asserts that the Constitution gives Congress the power to oversee the administration of the lower courts, and therefore, federalism concerns arising from the interpretation of § 1367(d) are minimal. Brief of Petitioner, Stephanie C. Artis at 25. Artis argues that Congress had the constitutional authority to adopt a tolling rule for supplemental jurisdiction claims, and thus the text of that rule should be enforced. Id at 33–34. Further, Artis contends that federalism alone is an insufficient reason to deviate from the statute’s plain text. Id. at 33. She notes that there is a long-standing history of federal impositions on state statutes of limitations. Id. at 33–34. This history, Artis maintains, indicates that there is not a presumption against preemption of state law in the tolling of statutes of limitations context. Id.

The State of Wisconsin and 23 other states, arguing on behalf of the District of Columbia, note that many of § 1367(d)’s applications involve state-law causes of action, and thus, states have an interest in determining when claims under their own law should be adjudicated or are “too stale” to be adjudicated. See Brief of Amici Curiae State of Wisconsin and 23 Other States, in Support of Respondent at 3, 22–23. The State of Wisconsin, et al., notes that Artis’s theory directly impedes on states’ rights because it enables Congress to rewrite state statutes of limitations and displace state-law tolling periods for dismissed claims, allowing Congress to extend or even eliminate state statutes of limitations without any meaningful federal interest. Id. at 30. The National Conference of State Legislatures adds that states have a very high interest in implementing specific provisions that reflect state policy preferences and local contexts, particularly because state statutes of limitations vary for different causes of action. Brief of Amici Curiae National Conference of State Legislatures et al., in Support of Respondent at 30. The National Conference of State Legislatures contends that Artis’s theory would, instead, result in federal law superseding state tolling statutes. Id. at 23.  

LITIGATION EFFICIENCY

Artis asserts that a longer tolling limitation encourages efficiency because a plaintiff need only bring the action in one forum. Brief of Petitioner at 27. She explains that a longer tolling limitation encourages litigants to bring all their related claims, both state and federal, in a single action, rather than presenting only the federal claims in federal court and bringing a separate action for the state claims in state court. See id. at 26–27. Moreover, Artis argues that this practice is similar to tolling provisions in the U.S. Code that encourage litigants to bring claims in a preferred forum first. See id.

On the other hand, the National Conference of State Legislatures, on behalf of the District of Columbia, argues that the longer approach could result in prolonged delays between when a federal court declines supplemental jurisdiction and the time that the plaintiff must re-file in state court. Brief of National Conference of State Legislatures et al. at 6–7. The National Conference of State Legislatures states that such delays are particularly troubling because local governments are often defendants, and they lack the resources to withstand such lengthy litigations. Id. at 8–9.

FAIRNESS TO LITIGANTS

Artis argues that a longer tolling time provides litigants with the opportunity to balance the limitations period to make decisions, such as obtaining new counsel. Brief of Petitioner at 28. Artis also highlights that tolling under § 1367(d) does not prejudice the defendant, noting that when a plaintiff initially files her claims in a timely manner, the defendant is on notice of those claims. Id.

On the other hand, the District of Columbia argues that a longer tolling time rewards dilatory plaintiffs and is, thus, unfair. Brief for Respondent at 37. According to the District of Columbia, under Artis’s theory, the statute would discriminate against litigants based on when in the state limitations period the litigant chose to file the suit. Id. at 36.

Edited by 

Acknowledgments 

Additional Resources