RESPONDENT: Fumero Soto
LOCATION: Residence of Gates
DOCKET NO.: 82-271
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
CITATION: 462 US 650 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1983
John DeGooyer - for petitioners
John G. De Gooyer - on behalf of the Petitioners
Sheldon Nahmod - on behalf of the Respondents
Facts of the case
Media for Chardon v. Fumero Soto
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1983 in Chardon v. Fumero Soto
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments next in Chardon against Soto.
Mr. DeGooyer, you may proceed whenever you are ready.
John G. De Gooyer:
Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, nine years ago this Court, in American Pipe and Construction Company versus Utah, held that the statute of limitations is temporarily suspended in federal class actions until the District Court determines whether to certify the class.
The issue in the case before the Court this morning is whether the rule of American Pipe applies to federal class actions brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
We think the answer to that is clearly yes.
A number of lower courts have held that it applies, and only one court to our knowledge, and that is the court below in the instant case, has held that it does not.
The relevant facts are few and undisputed.
The Respondents are teachers in the Department of Education of Puerto Rico.
During the 1976-1977 school year, they held temporary one-year administrative positions in the department.
Toward the end of that year, they received formal notification that their appointments would not be renewed.
Approximately one year later, in June of 1978, a teacher who had received notification of non-reappointment, Mr. Jose Ortiz Rivera, who is not a respondent in this case, brought an action in the Federal District Court in Puerto Rico as a class action on behalf of himself and a class of persons who he contended had been victims of discrimination on account of their political beliefs.
Relief was sought under 42 United States Code Section 1983, and pendent state claims were asserted.
The defendants were the petitioners in this case.
It is undisputed that as of the date Ortiz Rivera filed his class action, the statute of limitations had not yet run against the respondents.
Approximately two months after the lawsuit had been filed, the District Court denied class certification on the grounds that the class was not so numerous as to make joinder impracticable.
It is undisputed that thereafter none of the respondents took any action on their own behalf to press their claims against the petitioners for five months, until January of 1979, when they brought individual lawsuits.
The petitioners filed answers in each case, and in each answer asserted as an affirmative defense that the statute of limitations had run.
Eventually, the cases were consolidated for trial, bifurcated on the issue of liability and damages.
The District Court reserved decision on the limitations issue.
The cases were tried in January of 1981, and verdicts were entered for the respondents.
Judgment was finally entered.
On appeal, the First Circuit found that the respondents' actions had been timely filed.
Although the Court recognized that if the rule of American Pipe and Construction Company were applied here, the statute of limitations would have been suspended when Ortiz Rivera filed his lawsuit, but that it would have resumed running when class certification was denied, and that the statute would have expired as to each respondent before and indeed well before his individual action was filed.
The court concluded, however, that it could not apply American Pipe and Construction Company because of this Court's decision in Board of Regents versus Tomanio, and the court below specifically held on the basis of that decision that the rule of American Pipe and Construction does not apply to cases brought under Section 1983 of Title 42.
Instead, the court felt constrained to look to state law to find the tolling rule.
Even though when the court looked to state law, or Puerto Rico law, it found, and I quote, "no discernible state rule" applicable to class actions, it fashioned a rule.
It fashioned a rule by borrowing the aspect of American Pipe and Construction Company, that aspect of the rule that filing of a class suit tolls the running of the statute of limitations, and then it found that when class certification was denied, a Puerto Rico rule applicable in other circumstances came into play.
Under that rule, the entire original statutory period of limitations began to run anew.
Each respondent therefore had another year within which to bring a lawsuit, even though at the time the class suit had been filed most of them had about three weeks left remaining in their statutory period.
Byron R. White:
And what was the ground?