The Tolling Effect of the Federal Supplemental-Jurisdiction Statute

In Brief

On July 7, 2014, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in City of Los Angeles v. County of Kern,1 holding the federal supplemental-jurisdiction statute to provide only a “grace period” of thirty days to refile a supplemental claim in state court after dismissal by a federal court. Under this holding, if a plaintiff refiles the claim in state court more than thirty days after a federal dismissal, the plaintiff could be barred by the state statute of limitations.

Background

Although federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, they may hear state claims under circumstances allowed by the U.S. Constitution and federal statute. One such federal statute is the federal supplemental-jurisdiction statute, which allows a federal court to hear a state claim that otherwise would not qualify for federal jurisdiction if the state claim is closely related to another claim that does qualify for federal jurisdiction.2

Supreme Court of California

Recognizing that this jurisdictional grant could sweep into federal court state claims that are better suited to adjudication in state court, Congress granted federal courts discretion to decline to exercise the supplemental jurisdiction authorized by the statute.3 Thus, if a state claim presents novel or complicated issues of state law, or if all other claims have been resolved, a federal court may decide to dismiss the state claim to allow state courts the opportunity to resolve it. If the case was filed in federal court originally and the federal court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a state claim, then the claimant must refile the state claim anew in state court.

Most claims must be filed within a certain amount of time or risk being barred. These limitations periods incentivize plaintiffs to bring claims in a timely fashion, give defendants repose, and help ensure that evidence and testimony does not become stale.4

However, the time during which a state claim is pending in federal court under the supplemental-jurisdiction statute can be months or even years. If the claim’s limitation period continues to run during that time, a federal court could be put in the difficult position of decide between keeping jurisdiction over a claim that deserves to be in state court and dismissing the claim that may be barred from refiling by the limitations period. In addition, because the plaintiff timely filed the claim in some court, the rationale for the limitations period barring refiling in state court is less compelling.

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Postings on the HLJ Law Report are written by UC Hastings professors and practicing attorneys throughout California.