Federalism cases raise legal issues big and small, pedestrian and esoteric.
The very simple question in Artis v. District of Columbia is what does it mean for a statute of limitations to “toll” under 28 U.S.C 1367(d)? The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed a Supreme Court amicus brief agreeing with the District of Columbia’s interpretation of “toll.”
A year after the fact, Stephanie Artis sued the District of Columbia in federal court bringing a number of federal and state law claims related to her termination as a code inspector. It took the federal district court over two and a half years to rule on her claims. It dismissed her sole federal claim as “facially deficient” and no longer had jurisdiction to decide the state law claims.
28 U.S.C 1367(d) states that statutes of limitations for state law claims pending in federal court shall be “tolled” for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed (unless state law provides a longer tolling period).
While Artis was waiting for the federal district court to rule, the three-year statutes of limitations on all her state law claims passed. She waited 59 days to re-file her claims in state court after the federal district court dismissed her case.
Was her claim timely? The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held no.
Under the suspension theory the state statute of limitations freeze on the day the federal suit is filed and unfreeze with the addition of 30 days when the federal lawsuit is dismissed. Under this theory Artis would have about two years to re-file her lawsuit in state court.
Under the grace-period theory if the state statute of limitations would have expired while the federal case was pending, a litigant has 30 days from federal court dismissal to re-file in state court. Under this theory Artis’s lawsuit in state court is time barred because she waited longer than 30 days to re-file in state court.
The SLLC amicus brief argues in favor of the grace-period theory. As this case illustrates, local governments are regularly sued in cases involving federal and state law claims. The longer the tolling period the greater the costs and burden are on resource-constrained local governments. The brief also points out that many states have state law tolling provisions longer than 30 days which would be preempted under Artis’s interpretation, “despite the fact that state statutes of limitations schemes reflect careful balancing of competing policy concerns that are the province of state legislatures.”
Katharine Mapes, William Huang, and Jeffrey Bayne, Spiegel & McDiarmid wrote the SLLC’s brief which the following organizations joined: the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
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