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Jones v. R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co.

Supreme Court of the United States

February 24, 2004, Argued ; May 3, 2004, Decided

No. 02-1205

Opinion

 [*371]   [**1839]  Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

] Like many federal statutes, 42 USC § 1981 [42 USCS § 1981] does not contain a statute of limitations. We held in  Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 US 656, 660, 96 L Ed 2d 572, 107 S Ct 2617 (1987), that federal courts should apply "the most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations" to claims based on asserted violations of § 1981. Three years after our decision in Goodman, Congress enacted a catchall 4-year statute of limitations for actions arising under federal statutes enacted after December 1, 1990. 28 USC § 1658 [28 USCS § 1658]. The question in this case is whether petitioners' causes of action, which allege violations of § 1981, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act), 105 Stat. 1071, are governed by § 1658 or by the personal injury statute of limitations of the [****6]  forum State.

Petitioners are African-American former employees of respondent's Chicago manufacturing division. On November  [*372]  26, 1994, petitioners filed this class action alleging violations of their rights under § 1981, as amended by the 1991 Act. Specifically, the three classes of plaintiffs alleged that they were subjected to a racially hostile work environment, given an inferior employee status, and wrongfully terminated or denied a transfer in connection with the closing of the Chicago plant. Respondent sought summary judgment on the ground that petitioners' claims are barred by the applicable Illinois statute of limitations because they arose more than two years before the complaint was filed. Petitioners responded that their claims are governed by § 1658, which provides: ] "Except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action arising under an Act of Congress enacted after the date of enactment of this section may not be commenced later than 4 years after the cause of action accrues." 28 USC § 1658(a) [28 USCS § 1658(a)]. 1 Section 1658 was enacted on December 1, 1990. Thus, petitioners' claims are subject to the 4-year statute of limitations if they arose under an Act [****7]  of Congress enacted after that date.

The original version of the statute now codified at Rev Stat § 1977, 42 USC § 1981 [42 USCS § 1981], was enacted as § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat 27.  It was amended in minor respects in 1870 and recodified in 1874, see  Runyon v. McCrary, 427 US 160, 168-169, n 8, 49 L Ed 2d 415, 96 S Ct 2586 (1976), but its basic coverage did not change prior to 1991. As first enacted, § 1981 provided in relevant part that "all persons [within the jurisdiction of the United States] shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts [**1840]  . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens." 14 Stat 27 .  We [****8]  held in  Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 US 164, 105 L Ed 2d 132, 109 S Ct 2363 (1989),  [*373]  that the statutory right "to make and enforce contracts" did not protect against harassing conduct  [***651]  that occurred after the formation of the contract.  Under that holding, it is clear that petitioners' hostile work environment, wrongful discharge, and refusal to transfer claims do not state violations of the original version of § 1981. In 1991, however, Congress responded to Patterson by adding ] a new subsection to § 1981 that defines the term "make and enforce contacts" to include the "termination of contracts and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship." 42 USC § 1981(b) [42 USCS § 1981(b)]. 2 It is undisputed that petitioners have alleged violations of the amended statute. The critical question, then, is whether petitioners' causes of action "ar[ose] under" the 1991 Act or under § 1981 as originally enacted.

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541 U.S. 369 *; 124 S. Ct. 1836 **; 158 L. Ed. 2d 645 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 3236 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4332; 93 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 993; 85 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P41,634; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 266

EDITH JONES et al., on behalf of herself and a class of others similarly situated, Petitioners v. R. R. DONNELLEY & SONS COMPANY

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.

 Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 305 F.3d 717, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 18842 (7th Cir. Ill., 2002)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

cause of action, petitioners', federal law, statute of limitations, borrowing, limitations period, act of congress, limitations, state statute of limitations, courts, rights, termination, contracts, alleged violation, federal statute, federal court, retroactively, purposes, cases, work environment, district court, state statute, new right, hostile, terms

Civil Rights Law, Contractual Relations & Housing, Equal Rights Under the Law (sec. 1981), Public Discrimination, Constitutional Law, Equal Protection, Full & Equal Benefit, Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Pleadings, Complaints, Affirmative Defenses, Borrowing Statutes, Effect & Operation, Retrospective Operation, Amendments, Enactment, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination