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Supreme Court Interprets Tolling Provision of Federal Supplemental Jurisdictional Statute

On January 22, 2018, in Artis v. District of Columbia, 538 U.S. ___ (2018), the United States Supreme Court held that the tolling provision set forth in the federal Supplemental Jurisdiction statute was a “stop-the-clock” provision – resolving a split among state supreme courts.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), federal district courts shall have “supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that form “part of the same case or controversy.”  This provision is designed to introduce judicial economy where possible, to deal with related matters in a single litigation.  If, however, a federal court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction under 1367(a), the plaintiff is required to re-file the claim in state court.  28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) is designed to prevent state law claims under these circumstances from otherwise being time-barred:  it provides that the statute of limitations for claims under 1367(a), along with any other claim voluntarily discontinued at the same time, “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.”

The Supreme Court held that, under the ordinary meaning of the statute, the term “tolled” in Section 1367(d) means to “hold it in abeyance, i.e., to stop the clock.”  Further, the Supreme Court found this statute was constitutional, and did not exceed Congress’ authority under Article I, section 8, clause 18 (the “Necessary and Proper” clause). 

As applied to this case, the Supreme Court found that plaintiff’s claims were timely.  Plaintiff had filed suit in December 2011 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging one federal and three state law claims based upon her termination in November 2010.  The state law claims had a three-year statute of limitations.  On June 24, 2014, the District Court dismissed her sole federal claim and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims, on the grounds that she would have 30 days to re-file her state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d).  Plaintiff did not re-file her state law claims in state court until 59 days after the dismissal.  But because the statute of limitations was held in abeyance from the point that she filed her complaint in federal court, the Supreme Court held her new action was timely.

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