Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Federal Employment Discrimination-Jones V. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co.: The Inadequacy of the Federal "Catchall" Statute of Limitations

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Federal Employment Discrimination-Jones V. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co.: The Inadequacy of the Federal "Catchall" Statute of Limitations

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................232

II. THE HISTORY OF § 1981 ...................................................233

III. DETERMINING THE APPROPRIATE LIMITATIONS PERIOD FOR § 1981 CLAIMS BEFORE CONGRESS ENACTED THE FOUR-YEAR CATCHALL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ...239

IV. THE FEDERAL CATCHALL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS & ITS PURPOSES....................................................................243

V. THE CONTEXT AND HOLDING OF JONES V. R.R. DONNELLEY & SONS CO...............................246

VI. DOES § 1658 SERVE THE PURPOSES IDENTIFIED BY CONGRESS? .................................................................253

I. INTRODUCTION

In Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co.,1 the Supreme Court held that there are two possible statutes of limitations that may govern claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981-either the federal four-year catchall statute of limitations or the most analogous limitations period applied by the state in which the federal court sits.2 One would generally assume that only one limitations period would govern all claims arising from a single statute because such an approach would be consistent with common sense. A unanimous Supreme Court, however, explained that Congress intended a different result.3 The Supreme Court noted that to determine what limitations period applies to claims arising under § 1981, it is necessary to distinguish between claims arising under § 1981 (a) and those made possible by § 1981(b).4 The Court opined that such a distinction is necessary because, by its terms, the federal catchall statute of limitations governs claims made possible by § 198 l(b), but not those arising under §1981 (a).5

A reasonable person could undoubtedly conclude that this distinction drawn by the Supreme Court in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. further complicates the already difficult procedure of determining what statute of limitations governs claims arising under federal laws that lack specified limitations periods. This article will examine the Court's holding in detail, analyze its implications, and propose a solution tailored to remedy the inadequacies of the catchall statute of limitations here at issue.

The background for this study of the federal catchall statute of limitations will begin in Part II, which will put the Jones Court's holding in context by explaining the history of § 1981. Part III will examine the federal practice of applying "borrowed" state statutes of limitations to claims arising under federal law. Part IV will further develop the necessary background of this issue by examining the federal catchall statute of limitations and the purposes for which Congress enacted this legislation. The extent to which Congress accomplished its purposes is analyzed in Part V, which discusses how the issue in Jones arose, how the lower courts were split on the issue, and ultimately how a unanimous Supreme Court decided to resolve the prevailing confusion. Part VI, the conclusion, will analyze the approach adopted by the Supreme Court in Jones, and it will assess whether the catchall statute of limitations does more harm than good. This last section will furthermore propose a solution that, if adopted by Congress, would greatly simplify the practice of identifying the appropriate statute of limitations for all federal claims.

II. THE HISTORY OF § 1981

Congress originally enacted what is now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in section § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ("1866 Act") under the power conferred to it by the Thirteenth Amendment.6 This section of the 1866 Act originally read, "All persons born in the United States . . . shall have the same right. . . to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence . . . and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . ."7 After Congress adopted section 1 of the 1866 Act, Congress became concerned that this legislation was unconstitutional "as applied" to the states because it broadly banned racial discrimination based on the Thirteenth Amendment, which by its express terms only abolished slavery. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.