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2000 Term, Number 16 / June 4, 2001

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in one case of potential interest to the business community. Amicus briefs in support of the petitioners are due on Thursday, July 19, 2001, and amicus briefs in support of the respondents are due on Monday, August 20, 2001. Any questions about this case should be directed to Eileen Penner (202-263-3242) or Miriam Nemetz (202-263-3253) in our Washington office.

Supplemental Jurisdiction Tolling of Statute of Limitations for State Law Claims Eleventh Amendment. A federal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1357(a), permits the federal courts to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state claims that are intertwined with claims over which the federal courts have original jurisdiction. The statute provides that the statute of limitations for a state claim asserted under the federal court's supplemental jurisdiction is tolled while the claim is pending in federal court and for thirty days after its dismissal allowing the plaintiff to file in state court any state-law claim that has been dismissed without prejudice from the federal action. Id. 1357(d). The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Raygor v. Regents of the University of Minnesota, No. 00-1514, to decide whether the application of the tolling provision to a state-law claim against a state defendant violates the Eleventh Amendment.

Lance Raygor and James Goodchild sued the University of Minnesota, a state entity, in federal district court, alleging age discrimination in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Nine months later, the federal court dismissed both claims without prejudice, on the ground that the Eleventh Amendment generally bars suits in federal court against state entities absent their express consent. Plaintiffs filed their MHRA claims in state court within the time period allowed by Section 1367's tolling provision. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on statute of limitations grounds, concluding that the tolling provision was inapplicable because the federal court never had original jurisdiction over the claims barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed. 604 N.W. 2d 128 (2000). Observing that Eleventh Amendment immunity can be waived, the court rejected the argument that the Eleventh Amendment had prevented the federal court's original and supplemental jurisdiction from ever attaching and thus precluded application of Section 1367's tolling provision. 

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed. 620 N.W.2d 680 (2000). Finding it unnecessary to decide whether federal jurisdiction had ever attached to the claims against the University, the court ruled that the application of the tolling provision to claims against the state would violate the Eleventh Amendment. As the court observed, to permit tolling under Section 1367(d) would require the University to answer in state court a claim that otherwise would be barred by state law. Id. at 685. Because Congress cannot constitutionally extend the federal judicial power to an unconsenting state, the court reasoned, "it follows that Congress cannot impose a penalty on a state for being named, without its consent, as a defendant in federal court." Ibid. 

This case is of interest to all businesses that regularly litigate against states. If the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court is upheld, then claims against state entities that are filed in federal court but are later dismissed on Eleventh Amendment grounds may be barred by the applicable state statute of limitations.

This Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw Supreme Court Docket Report provides information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. The foregoing is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed herein.

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