RESPONDENT: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company
LOCATION: Polk County Courthouse
DOCKET NO.: 02-1205
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 541 US 369 (2004)
GRANTED: May 19, 2003
ARGUED: Feb 24, 2004
DECIDED: May 03, 2004
Ann Elizabeth Reesman - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Barbara R. Arnwine - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Carter G. Phillips - argued the cause for Respondent
Dennis Courtland Hayes - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Gregory G. Garre - argued the cause for Petitioners, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
H. Candace Gorman - argued the cause for Petitioners
Kristin M. Dadey - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Kevin Newsom - for the State of Alabama et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Kevin C. Newsom - argued the cause for Respondent
Michael L. Foreman - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Thomas J. Henderson - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Vincent A. Eng - for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Facts of the case
In November of 1996, Edith Jones and several other African Americans filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court against R.R. Donnelley and Sons, a commercial printing company. They claimed they had suffered racial discrimination in violation of section 1981 of United States Code (U.S.C.), which had no specified statute of limitations. Donnelley and Sons, however, argued that the section was bound by a two-year statute of limitations established by Illinois for all personal injury claims. The suit fell outside that statute of limitations, and the company argued that it should therefore be dismissed.
Jones, however, argued that a separate section of U.S.C. extended the statute of limitations to four years for any civil suit brought under an act of Congress passed after 1990. Because the 1991 Civil Rights Act had broadened the definition of section 1981, she argued, the four-year statute of limitations should apply to that section and the suit should therefore not be thrown out. Donnelley and Sons countered that the 1991 Civil Rights Act had merely amended the section, not created a new law, and that the four-year statute of limitations therefore did not apply.
A federal district court sided with Jones. A Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously reversed.
Does the United States Code's four-year statute of limitations for suits brought under acts of Congress passed after 1990 apply only to new laws, or does it also apply to amendments of previously existing laws?
Media for Jones v. R. R. Donnelley & Sons CompanyAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 2004 in Jones v. R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 03, 2004 in Jones v. R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 02-1205 Jones versus R. R. Donnelley and Sons will be announced by Justice Stevens.
John Paul Stevens:
In 1990, Congress enacted a catchall four years statute of limitations applicable to all causes of action arising under acts of Congress thereafter enacted.
The question in this case is whether that limitations period applies to a cause of action rising under 42 U.S.C. 1981, a statute that was originally enacted after the Civil War but amended in important respects in 1991.
The claim asserted by the petitioners in this case would not have stated a violation of the 1981 as originally enacted but it does state a violation of the amended statute.
For reasons stated in an opinion filed with the Clerk, contrary to the views of the Court of Appeals, we conclude that the claim arose under the amended statute and that the four years statute limitations applies.
Our opinion is unanimous.