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Callwood v. Questel

decided: December 21, 1987.


On Remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, Decided December 21, 1987.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, and Stapleton and Mansmann, Circuit Judges.


Per Curiam.

This matter is before this court on remand from the Supreme Court, 109 S. Ct. 2425 (1989). The historical facts, primarily procedural in nature, are as follows:

James Callwood is a territorial prisoner of the Virgin Islands, incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution at El Reno, Oklahoma. On January 14, 1986, Callwood filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985 (1982) in the District Court of the Virgin Islands alleging that the defendants, four detectives in the service of the St. Thomas Department of Public Safety, acted individually and as part of a conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights. In his complaint, Callwood averred that, on August 23, 1983, he was severely beaten during the course of an allegedly illegal arrest of his person. In addition, Callwood claimed that, despite his request for representation, he was forced to submit to an interrogation by the defendants without benefit of an attorney's presence.

The district court, referencing the chronology of Callwood's case -- the events complained of occurred on August 23, 1983 and the action was filed on January 14, 1986 -- found the action barred by the Virgin Islands' two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury claims and dismissed the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We affirmed, 838 F.2d 459 (1987).

Callwood appealed our decision, affirming the district court, to the United States Supreme Court. On May 30, 1989, the Court granted Callwood's petition for certiorari, vacated our judgment and remanded the matter to us for further consideration in light of the Court's recent decision in Hardin v. Straub, 490 U.S. 536, 109 S. Ct. 1998, 104 L. Ed. 2d 582 (1989).

In Hardin, a Michigan state prisoner filed a pro se § 1983 complaint alleging that prison authorities had deprived him of his federal constitutional rights. The district court dismissed the complaint because it had been filed after the expiration of Michigan's three-year statute of limitations period for personal injury actions. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, refusing to apply a Michigan statute which suspends limitations periods for persons under a legal disability, including prisoners, until one year after the disability has been removed.

The Supreme Court reversed and held that a federal court applying a state statute of limitations to an inmate's federal civil rights action should give like effect to the provision tolling the limitations period for prisoners. Id. at 2003. The Court recited its previous holding in Board of Regents, University of New York v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 64 L. Ed. 2d 440, 100 S. Ct. 1790 (1980), which held that limitations periods in § 1983 suits are to be determined by reference to the appropriate state statute of limitations and coordinate tolling rules, provided that the state law does not defeat the goals of the federal law at issue. Id. at 483 (emphasis added). In evaluating the Michigan tolling rule, the Court in Hardin v. Straub, 109 S. Ct. at 2003, noted the likelihood of inmate reluctance to assert legal challenges against those who regulate their daily activities and, also, the possibility that potential plaintiffs may not have a fair opportunity to establish the validity of their allegations while confined. The Court thus concluded that the Michigan tolling statute was consistent with the remedial purpose of § 1983. Id.

With Hardin as our guidepost, we reevaluate the viability of Callwood's civil rights cause of action.

Because Congress has not established a time limitation for claims filed under the Civil Rights Act, the settled practice, implicitly endorsed by 42 U.S.C. § 1988,*fn1 had been to adopt the local time limitation most pertinent to the activity addressed by the law. Burnett v. Grattan, 468 U.S. 42, 82 L. Ed. 2d 36, 104 S. Ct. 2924 (1984).

Conflict and uncertainty spawned from the practice of seeking state law analogies in § 1983 claims. To alleviate the problems inherent in the ensuing case-by-case approach, in Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 85 L. Ed. 2d 254, 105 S. Ct. 1938 (1985), the Court decided that § 1983 is best understood as conferring a general remedy for injuries to personal rights. Accordingly, the Court determined that § 1983 claims should be uniformly ruled by the states' personal injury statutes of limitations. See also Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 109 S. Ct. 573, 102 L. Ed. 2d 594 (1989).

In regards to suits brought under the auspices of § 1981, in Goodman v. Lukens Steel Company, 482 U.S. 656, 96 L. Ed. 2d 572, 107 S. Ct. 2617 (1987), the Supreme Court decided that its personal injury characterization of § 1983 claims in Wilson was equally appropriate to actions filed under § 1981 since § 1983 would reach racially discriminatory state action that encroaches upon those rights protected by § 1981. The Court thus affirmed the decision of our court in selecting the Pennsylvania personal injury two-year statute of limitations as apropos to a § 1981 claim.

The Supreme Court has yet to make a definitive statement concerning the most analogous state limitations period for 42 U.S.C. § 1985 claims concerning conspiracies to deny constitutional rights. We, however, spoke implicitly on the issue when, in Pratt v. Thornburgh, 807 F.2d 355 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 839, 108 S. Ct. 125, 98 L. Ed. 2d 83 (1987), we affirmed a district court decision holding that, after Goodman v. Lukens Steel, 482 U.S. 656, 96 L. Ed. 2d 572, 107 S. Ct. 2617, § 1985 actions ...

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