[ Stevens ]
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, 337.
JONES et al. on behalf of herself and a
class of others similarly situated v. R. R.
& SONS CO.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
After this Court held that federal courts should apply the most appropriate state statute of limitations to claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 which contains no statute of limitations, see Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 U.S. 656, 660, Congress enacted a 4-year statute of limitations for causes of action arising under an Act of Congress enacted after [December 1, 1990], 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a). Petitioners, African-American former employees of respondent, filed a class action alleging violations of §1981, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Respondent sought summary judgment, claiming that the applicable state 2-year statute of limitations barred their claims, but the District Court held that petitioners wrongful discharge, refusal to transfer, and hostile work environment claims arose under the 1991 Act and therefore are governed by §1658. The Seventh Circuit reversed, concluding that §1658 does not apply to a cause of action based on a post-1990 amendment to a pre-existing statute.
Held: Petitioners causes of action are governed by §1658. Pp. 515.
(a) Because the meaning of arising under in §1658 is ambiguous, Congress intent must be ascertained by looking beyond the sections bare text to the context in which it was enacted and the purposes it was designed to accomplish. Pp. 57.
(b) Before §1658s enactment, Congress failure to pass a uniform limitations statute for federal causes of action had created a void that spawned a vast amount of litigation. The settled practice of borrowing state statutes of limitations generated a host of issues, such as which of the forum States statutes was the most appropriate, whether the forum States law or that of the situs of the injury controlled, and when a statute of limitations could be tolled. Congress was keenly aware of these problems, and a central purpose of §1658 was to minimize the need for borrowing. That purpose would not be served if §1658 were interpreted to reach only entirely new sections of the United States Code. An amendment to an existing statute is no less an Act of Congress than a new, stand-alone statute. What matters is the new rights of action and corresponding liabilities created by the enactment. Thus, a cause of action aris[es] under an Act of Congress enacted after December 1, 1990and therefore is governed by §1658s 4-year statute of limitationsif the plaintiffs claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment. This construction best serves Congress interest in alleviating the uncertainty inherent in the practice of borrowing state statutes of limitations, while protecting litigants settled expectations by applying only to causes of actions not available until after December 1, 1990. It also is consistent with the common usage of arise and with this Courts interpretations of arising under as it is used in statutes governing the scope of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Pp. 713.
(c) Petitioners hostile work environment, wrongful termination, and failure-to-transfer claims all ar[rose] under the 1991 Act in the sense that they were made possible by that Act. The 1991 Act overturned this Courts decision in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 171, which held that racial harassment relating to employment conditions was not actionable under §1981. The Act redefined §1981s key make and enforce contracts language to include the termination of contracts and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship, §1981(b). In Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U.S. 298, this Court held that the amendment enlarged the category of conduct subject to §1981 liability, id., at 303, and thus did not apply to a case that arose before it was enacted, id., at 300. Rivers reasoning supports the conclusion that the 1991 Act qualifies as an Act of Congress enacted after [December 1, 1990]. Petitioners causes of action clearly arose under the 1991 Act, and the hypothetical problems posited by respondent and the Seventh Circuit pale in comparison with the difficulties that federal courts faced for decades in trying to answer questions raised by borrowing state limitations rules. Pp. 1315.
305 F.3d 717, reversed and remanded.
Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.