American Pipe & Construction Company v. Utah

PETITIONER: American Pipe and Construction Company, et al
RESPONDENT: State of Utah, et al
LOCATION: U.S. District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-1195
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 414 US 538 (1974)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1973
DECIDED: Jan 16, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Gerard R. Miller -
Gerald R. Miller - for respondents
Jesse R. O'Malley - for petitioner in No. 72—481 and for respondent in No. 72—746

Facts of the case

In 1964, the federal government sued several corporations for rigging prices of concrete and steel pipes in violation of the Sherman Act. That case reached a final judgment in May 1968, when all parties agreed to terms that prevented the companies from engaging in future violations of anti-trust laws. Eleven days short of one year after this agreement, the State of Utah, on behalf of several agencies and local governments, filed a class action lawsuit against the same corporations. The lawsuit claimed that the corporations’ previous price fixing schemes had directly injured the State and other plaintiffs. Six months later, the corporations successfully argued that, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the lawsuit could not be maintained as a class action because it was not impractical for the plaintiffs to each have individual representation. Eight days following this ruling, over 60 towns, municipalities, and water districts within the State of Utah immediately filed motions to intervene in the lawsuit. The court denied their motions because they had failed to argue them within the one-year time statute of limitations required under federal law. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. First, that court held that, by filing lawsuit as a class action, all of the claims were adequately before the trial court before the statute of limitations was reached. However, because the judge dismissed the class action after the statute of limitations ran, the parties were unable to re-file their claims against the corporations. That court held that the trial judge could not leave the plaintiff’s without recourse after the time to file the lawsuit had passed. Instead, the plaintiffs should have the eleven days that remained under the statute of limitations when the initial lawsuit was filed in order to intervene or otherwise file individual claims. The corporations appealed. 

Question

Does dismissal of a class action lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired prevents previous class members from either filing individual lawsuits against the defendant or otherwise joining an existing claim?

Media for American Pipe & Construction Company v. Utah

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1973 in American Pipe & Construction Company v. Utah

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 16, 1974 in American Pipe & Construction Company v. Utah

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in number 72-1195, American Pipe & Construction Company against Utah will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case involves an aspect of the relationship between a statute of limitations and the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, regulating class actions in the Federal Courts.

The question presented is a rather technical one and the history of the litigation in which the question arises is quite complex.

So, that this case is not the one in which a lengthy oral announcement is appropriate.

Suffice it to say that the State of Utah brought an antitrust action against the petitioners 11 days before the action would have been barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

The suit was brought as a class action.

Several weeks later the petitioners filed a motion for an order that the suit could not be maintained as the class action.

The District Court subsequently granted this motion upon the ground that the class was not so numerous that joinder of all of members, as named plaintiffs, would be impractical.

Eight days after entry of this order, several members of the punitive class sought to intervene as plaintiffs in Utah’s suit.

The District Court denied the motion to intervene upon the ground that they would be, intervenor’s claims, were now barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

The Court of Appeals reversed this judgment.

For the reasons set out at some lengths in the written opinion filed today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We hold that in the circumstances of this case, from the date Utah’s suit was filed until the date of the District Court’s order holding that a class suit was inappropriate, the statute of limitations was told as to members of the punitive class.

Since they sought to intervene eight days after the District Court’s order, and since there were 11 days yet to run at the time of the order, their motion to intervene was timely.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit is affirmed.

Mr. Justice Blackmun, while joining the opinion of the Court has filed a concurring opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you.