CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether a federal court applying a state statute of limitations to an inmate's federal civil rights action should give effect to the State's provision tolling the limitations period for prisoners.
Petitioner is incarcerated in a Michigan state prison. In 1986 he filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U. S. C. § 1983, alleging that for approximately 180 days in 1980 and 1981 he had been held in solitary confinement in violation of his federal constitutional rights.*fn1 The District Court sua sponte dismissed the complaint because it had been filed after the expiration of Michigan's 3-year statutory limitations period for personal injury actions. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 836 F.2d 549 (CA6 1987). Following its 3-day-old decision in Higley v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 835 F.2d 623 (CA6 1987), the court refused to apply a Michigan statute that suspends limitations periods for persons under a legal disability until one year after the disability has been removed. Because that holding appeared to conflict with our decision in Board of Regents, University of New York v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478 (1980), we granted certiorari.*fn2 488 U.S. 887 (1988). We now reverse.
In enacting 42 U. S. C. § 1988 Congress determined that gaps in federal civil rights acts should be filled by state law, as long as that law is not inconsistent with federal law.*fn3 See Burnett v. Grattan, 468 U.S. 42, 47-48 (1984). Because no federal statute of limitations governs, federal courts routinely measure the timeliness of federal civil rights suits by state law. Id., at 49; Chardon v. Fumero Soto, 462 U.S. 650, 655-656 (1983); Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 464 (1975). This tradition of borrowing analogous limitations statutes, cf. O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318 (1914), is based on a congressional decision to defer to "the State's judgment on the proper balance between the policies of repose and the substantive policies of enforcement embodied in the state cause of action." Wilson v. Garcia,
U.S. 261, 271 (1985).*fn4 "In virtually all statutes of limitations the chronological length of the limitation period is interrelated with provisions regarding tolling, revival, and questions of application." Johnson, supra, at 464. Courts thus should not unravel state limitations rules unless their full application would defeat the goals of the federal statute at issue. See, e. g., Wilson, supra, at 269; Chardon, supra, at 657.
These principles were invoked in Board of Regents, University of New York v. Tomanio, supra, to review a contention that a § 1983 action was barred by New York's 3-year limitations statute. The District Court and the Court of Appeals had rejected the defense by relying on a "federal tolling rule" not contained among the tolling provisions the state legislature had codified with its limitations periods. Id., at 482, 486. This Court reversed. Limitations periods in § 1983 suits are to be determined by reference to the appropriate "state statute of limitations and the coordinate tolling rules"; New York's legislative choices in this regard were therefore "binding rules of law." Id., at 484. Since the State's rules did not defeat either § 1983's chief goals of compensation and deterrence*fn5 or its subsidiary goals of uniformity and federalism,
the Court held that Tomanio's suit was time barred. Id., at 488-492.
It is undisputed that the limitations period applicable to this case is three years, as established in Michigan's statute governing personal injury actions.*fn6 See Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235 (1989); Wilson v. Garcia, supra. Since 1846, however, the Michigan Legislature has enacted provisions tolling the onset of limitations periods for prisoners ...