LOCATION: Hammond Police Station
DOCKET NO.: 87-7023
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 490 US 536 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1989
DECIDED: May 22, 1989
Douglas Ryan Mullkoff - on behalf of the Petitioner
Louis J. Caruso - on behalf of the Respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Hardin v. Straub
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1989 in Hardin v. Straub
William H. Rehnquist:
We'll hear argument next in No. 87-7023, Tyrone Hardin v. Dennis Straub.
Mr. Mullkoff, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Douglas Ryan Mullkoff:
Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.
The question in this case is whether a federal court hearing a state prisoner's Section 1983 claim must apply that state's prisoner tolling statute.
We claim that the tolling statute must apply in light of this Court's previous decisions and in light of the plain language of the Civil Rights Act.
The record below in this case is scant.
In 1986, Petitioner Hardin filed a Section 1983 action claiming a due process violation by a Michigan prison official who ignored Michigan Department of Correction rules which required a hearing be held before he could be confined in a solitary segregation unit.
Almost six months were spent in segregation without any hearing, much of the time in his cell 24 hours a day.
This segregation ended in 1981.
The federal lawsuit was filed in 1986.
The district court below dismissed this case sua sponte prior to service on the defendant finding that it was barred by Michigan's three-year general statute of limitations.
Petitioner argued on appeal to the Sixth Circuit that the statute of limitations was tolled under Michigan statute of limitations law since there is a particular Michigan tolling provision which allows an inmate whose cause of action accrues during imprisonment until one year after the imprisonment ends to file any civil suit which has accrued during that imprisonment.
The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument and said that the Michigan statute of limitation tolling rule for prisoners does not apply to Section 1983 claims.
We believe that the Sixth Circuit was wrong and should be reversed.
The particular tolling rule in question was rewritten by the Michigan legislature in 1972.
It was amended from a five-year tolling period after incarceration ended to a one-year period.
It was reviewed again in 1981 by the Michigan legislature and upheld.
This Court has made unambiguous pronouncements on the use of state statute of limitations tolling law.
In Tomanio, a 1980... 1980 decision of this Court, you said that federal courts hearing actions under Section 1983 must borrow the relevant state statute of limitation and tolling rules unless they're inconsistent with federal law.
In Chardon v. Fumero Soto in 1983, this Court said that application of interrelated tolling rules, when state statute of limitations law is borrowed, are appropriate and must... must be used in that manner unless they're inconsistent.
This Court has in total since 1980 reviewed the application of specific state limitation statutes to civil rights cases six times.
That body of law has established that state statute of limitations and their interrelated tolling rules must be applied unless the state statute interferes with or unduly burdens assertion of the civil rights claim.
The Michigan tolling rule in question here does not interfere with assertion of Section 1983 claims.
In fact, it's our position that it accommodates Section 1983 claims.
Borrowing a state's tolling rules is... is the rule; not borrowing would be an exception.
And under the procedural statute which applies to Section 1983, that being 1988, it must be borrowed unless inconsistent.
The central issue raised by the Respondent is that Michigan's tolling rule is inconsistent with Section 1983 because it does not foster deterrence of official misconduct.
I'd first like to point out that this Court in Felder v. Casey last year said that compensation is the primary goal of Section 1983, the central objective.
Compensation is well-served by a rule which extends a victim's time to file a civil rights claim, like the rule in this case.
To date, this Court has not rejected any state law which made access to the courts easier for persons who claim to be victims of civil rights violations.