Supplemental Jurisdiction

This space is reserved for the important stuff. Quirks in insurance decisions. Pictures of boats. Stuff that matters. Stuff you care about. Like the arcana of supplemental jurisdiction tolling periods. Good for the Supreme Court, because they care about this issue too, as they let us know in an opinion released today. 

When there's federal question or admiralty jurisdiction (28 USC 1331 or 1333) but not diversity jurisdiction (28 USC 1332), the federal court can hear state law cases arising out of the same case or controversy. Say for instance a boat spills oil all over. In remediating it, the vessel owner / others trespass on private property, doing a little damage and making the property owner unhappy. The property owner sues the trespasser under state law and the vessel, either under OPA-90 or general maritime law. The federal court can hear both because they arise out of the same ball of oily tar. It makes sense, or you'd have the possibility of inconsistent verdicts, and you'd have a lot of needless work to pursue two suits in two courts in the same time. But if you're a real stickler about federalism, it isn't ideal because you have federal courts hearing state court claims. (However, that's sort of baked into the constitution - diversity jurisdiction is an express guarantee that federal courts will hear state court claims.)

What if the federal cause of action gets dismissed? Then ordinarily the state claims get dismissed too, with the plaintiff able to re-file in state court on the following terms:

The period of limitations for any [state] claim [joined with a claim within federal-court competence] shall be tolled while the claim is pending [in federal court] and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.

Does this language - "shall be tolled while the claim is pending" - mean that the clock stops on state law claims' statute of limitations / prescriptive period? Or does it mean the clock keeps running, but you get 30 extra days even if your time would otherwise be up?

Say you have a two-year period to file a suit under state law, and two years under federal law, but you file a suit after 18 months in federal court on both the federal and the state claims. That suit is pending for a year, then the federal law claims get dismissed. Do you have 30 days to re-file in state court (i.e. a 30-day grace period) or do you have six months? 

The Supreme Court says "tolling" means stopped. You have six months, not 30 days. If you filed suit on the last day and the federal court dismissed the federal law questions, you'd have 30 additional days to file your state law claims in state court. That seems . . . like a reasonable interpretation to me. Why is something like this at the Supreme Court? Why, for that matter, did it took 20 pages to do so, and a 5-4 opinion with 18 pages in dissent. Wow. If that weren't enough, check out Justice Gorsuch's last paragraph: 

The Court today clears away a fence that once marked a basic boundary between federal and state power. Maybe it wasn’t the most vital fence and maybe we’ve just simply forgotten why this particular fence was built in the first place. But maybe, too, we’ve forgotten because we’ve wandered so far from the idea of a federal government of limited and enumerated powers that we’ve begun to lose sight of what it looked like in the first place. If the federal government can now, without any rational reason, force States to allow state law causes of action in state courts even though the state law limitations period expired many years ago, what exactly can’t it do to override the application of state law to state claims in state court? What boundaries remain then?

I have to confess I don't quite get this. It is really not honoring the state's limitation period to say it's tolled while a federal suit is ongoing? The idea of federal jurisdiction over state law is literally in the Constitution, and before Erie (1938), federal courts applied federal law to state court claims. Certainly that was a much Bigger Deal against federalism than . . . tolling? And if the purpose of a statute of limitations is to encourage plaintiffs to file suit timely, to give notice to defendants, to grant finality, and to ensure evidence is preserved, aren't those accomplished here reasonably well? 

Opinion, for those interested.