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Fitzgerald v. Larson

filed: August 5, 1985.

FRANCIS W. FITZGERALD, APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS LARSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SECRETARY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; JOHN HARHIGH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU OF HUMAN RESOURCES; ROBERT ROWLAND, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DISTRICT ENGINEER, ENGINEERING DISTRICT 6-0; SAMUEL ARRIGO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAINTENANCE MANAGER, MAINTENANCE DISTRICT 6-1, BUCKS COUNTY; LOUIS O'BRIEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF MAINTENANCE; JOSEPH WADE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ASSISTANT DISTRICT ENGINEER; HONORABLE RICHARD THORNBURGH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton). D.C. Civil No. 82-0762.

Before: Garth, Sloviter, Circuit Judges, and Fisher, District Judge*fn*

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Chief Judge.

This matter is before us on remand from the Supreme Court which vacated our decision, reported at 741 F.2d 32 (3d Cir. 1984), for further consideration in light of Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 105 S. Ct. 1938, 85 L. Ed. 2d 254 (1985), regarding the borrowing of state statutes of limitations for actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982). Larson v. Fitzgerald, 471 U.S. 1051, 105 S. Ct. 2108, 85 L. Ed. 2d 474 (1985). Our prior decision reversed the order of the district court dismissing plaintiff's complaint. Upon reconsideration we will affirm the district court.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Francis Fitzgerald was a nontenured employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation who was dismissed on June 7, 1979. He filed suit against appellees in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on October 1, 1979, claiming that the sole reason for his discharge was his affiliation with the Democratic Party, and that such termination violated the First Amendment. He sought reinstatement, backpay and benefits, attorney's fees and costs. On April 2, 1981, the district court held that defendants were sued in their official capacities and that plaintiff's claim for monetary relief was barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but that he could maintain an action for reinstatement. Fitzgerald v. Larson, No. 79-3741 (E.D. Pa. April 3 1981). Fitzgerald filed a motion to amend the complaint to state claims against defendants in their individual capacities, which the district ccourt denied on June 8, 1981. Brief for Appellant at 5.

On May 5, 1982 Fitzgerald filed the present action in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, seeking essentially the same relief against the same defendants, but adding an allegation against defendants as individuals. App. at 18a. Defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The parties agreed to hold the prior action filed in the Eastern District in suspension pending resolution of this action. App. at 12a.

Defendants moved to dismiss the removed action, claiming that the action was barred either by application of the six-month limitation period of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5522(b)(1) (Purdon 1981) for actions against government officials, or by the two-year limitation period of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524(2) (Purdon 1981) for personal injury actions. The matter was referred to a magistrate who recommended dismissal under the two-year statute, reasoning that plaintiff's claim was non-contractual and most analogous to the state law tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress which is governed by the two-year personal injury limitation. App. at 31a-32a. The district court adopted the magistrate's report and recommendation and dismissed the case.

We reversed. Applying this circuit's then-governing precedent for the choice of limitations periods for § 1983 actions, we sought to characterize "the essential nature of the federal claim within the scheme created by the various state statutes of limitation" and to apply "the limitation which would be applicable in the courts [of Pennsylvania] had an action seeking similar relief been brought under state law." Fitzgerald v. Larson, 741 F.2d at 35 (citations omitted). We concluded, relying heavily on Knoll v. Springfield Township School District, 699 F.2d 137 (3d Cir. 1983), vacated and remanded in light of Wilson v. Garcia, 105 S. Ct. 2065 (1985), on remand, No. 82-1241 (3d Cir. June 7, 1985), that Fitzgerald's claim was more analogous to a state law action for wrongful discharge or interference with contractual or economic rights, for which we concluded there was no specific limitation period in the Pennsylvania statute. We followed Knoll in rejecting application of the six-month provision, even if analogous, as too short to serve the remedial purpose of the federal civil rights statutes. Fitzgerald v. Larson. 741 F.2d at 34. Therefore we concluded, as in Knoll, that the most appropriate provision to borrow was the six-year residuary statute for civil actions that are not subject to another specified limitation, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5527(6) (Purdon 1981). Accordingly, we held that Fitzgerald's claim was timely filed. Id. at 36.

In Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 105 S. Ct. 1938, 85 L. Ed. 2d 254 (1985), the Supreme Court resolved the differences among the circuits and held that federal courts, in choosing the most analogous state law limitation for purposes of § 1983, should characterize all such claims as personal injury actions. It thus rejected the approach this court had taken in Its earlier cases in characterizing each such claim individually. We now reconsider this case in light of the Supreme Court's decision.

We have recently held in applying Wilson v. Garcia, that the two-year Pennsylvania limitation for personal injury actions of 42 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 5524 governs all § 1983 actions brought in Pennsylvania. See Smith v. City of Pittsburgh, 764 F.2d 188 (3d Cir. June 12, 1985); see also Johnson v. Swyka, 763 F.2d 602 (3d Cir. June 19, 1985); Knoll v. Springfield Township School District, 763 F.2d 584 (3d Cir. June 7, 1985). The parties here, who have been given the opportunity to comment, agree that because this action was filed more than two years after the injury accrued, Pennsylvania's two-year statute of ...


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