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NELSON v. COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY

August 15, 1994

TAMMY NELSON (J.D.#10), ARLEIGH EDDY (J.D.#17), IDA KAUFMAN (J.D.#26), SANDY SAUNDERS (J.D.#47), DONNA SKUTA (J.D.#52), Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY, CITY OF PITTSBURGH, CHARLES KOZAKIEWICZ, Warden of the County Jail, and MAYER DEROY, Assistant Chief of the City Lock-Up, being sued in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DONALD E. ZIEGLER

 ZIEGLER, Chief Judge

 Pending before the court is the motion of defendants, County of Allegheny, City of Pittsburgh, Charles Kozakiewicz, and Mayer DeRoy, to dismiss in part plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint. Also pending is defendants' motion to strike the motion of Judy Dick and Valerie Zyskowski to intervene as party plaintiffs.

 This civil action arises out of the allegedly unlawful treatment of anti-abortion demonstrators by employees of the County of Allegheny and City of Pittsburgh during and following their arrests on March 11, 1989. The action was originally brought as a class action by Amnesty America, in its representational capacity, on behalf of Jane Does Nos. 1 through 60, and by four individual Jane Does numbered 10, 17, 26 and 52 asserting their individual claims. On December 10, 1991, plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint in which Jane Does 37 and 47 also joined. By previous orders of this court, Amnesty America has been dismissed as a representative of the class and certification has been denied. Moreover, all claims except those made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 have been dismissed, and all anonymous Jane Does wishing to proceed with individual claims have been required to provide their identity to the defendants.

 Plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint, which was filed March 17, 1994, lists as plaintiffs five of the six Jane Does who were named in the third amended complaint *fn1" and adds two more plaintiffs, Janet Cocchi (J.D. #12) and Mary Beddingfield (J.D. #7). In addition, Judy Dick (J.D. #16) and Valerie Zyskowski (J.D. #60), filed a joint motion to intervene as party plaintiffs on May 31, 1994.

 Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims of Cocchi and Beddingfield and have also moved to strike the motion to intervene. Because we hold that the claims of Cocchi, Beddingfield, Dick and Zyskowski are untimely and are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, we will grant defendants' motions with respect to these claims. We will also require the remaining plaintiffs to amend their complaint to delete all class allegations as well as all claims which have been previously dismissed.

 Although plaintiffs' § 1983 claims are federal law claims, it is settled that there is no federal statute of limitations applicable to § 1983 claims, and both the limitations period and the applicable tolling period, if any, must be derived from state law. Chardon v. Fumero Soto, 462 U.S. 650, 655, 77 L. Ed. 2d 74, 103 S. Ct. 2611 (1983); 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We agree with the parties that Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations is applicable to plaintiffs' claims. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5524. Thus, absent a tolling period, the limitations period on all § 1983 claims arising out of the March 11, 1989 arrests would have run by March 11, 1991.

 The instant dispute arises out of a rather nebulous area of the law, to-wit, the application of a tolling period to claims of putative class members. In American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 38 L. Ed. 2d 713, 94 S. Ct. 756 (1974), the Supreme Court, applying federal law, held that the filing of a class action complaint tolled the limitations period for all putative class members. The "American Pine rule" has been adopted, at least in principle, by the Pennsylvania courts. Alessandro v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co., 487 Pa. 274, 409 A.2d 347, 350, n. 9 (Pa. 1979) (citing American Pipe); see also, the Explanatory Note to Pa.R.C.P. 1701 ("[Rule 1701] carries into effect the decision of the United States Supreme Court in [American Pipe]") (brackets supplied). The parties are in agreement that the tolling period commenced on February 21, 1991 (eighteen days before the expiration of the limitations period), the date the original class action complaint was filed. However, the crux of the controversy emanates from the polar views of the parties regarding the length of the tolling period and the resultant effect on the statute of limitations.

 The issue to be resolved is whether the tolling period terminates upon the filing of an order by the district court denying certification of a class of plaintiffs, or whether it continues to toll the limitations period until the appeal process on the certification issue has run its course. This issue has become the focal point of the parties because, on November 22, 1991, plaintiffs' motion to certify a plaintiff class was denied by this court as untimely pursuant to former Local Rule 34(c). *fn2"

 The Supreme Court addressed the identical issue, albeit under federal law, in American Pipe. In that case, the State of Utah commenced a Sherman Act action in district court against the defendant construction company in which the State purported to represent a class of various state and local agencies. The class action complaint was filed eleven days before the expiration of the limitations period. Upon motion of the defendant, the district court ruled that the suit could not be maintained as a class action on the basis that the class was not so numerous as to make joinder impracticable. Eight days after the order denying certification of a class, various state and local agencies moved to intervene in the action. The district court denied the motions and concluded that they were untimely.

 The Court of Appeals reversed and the Supreme Court affirmed. A unanimous Court held that the filing of the class action complaint tolled the limitations period with regards to the claims of the putative class members attempting to intervene. In holding that the motions to intervene were timely, the Court ruled "that the commencement of the class action in this case suspended the running of the limitation period only during the pendency of the motion to strip the suit of its class action character." Id. at 561. Thus, the Court held that the intervenors had eleven days after the entry of the order decertifying the class within which to intervene. The motions to intervene were timely because they were filed eight days after entry of the order. Id.

 We hold that, pursuant to American Pipe, the tolling period merely suspended the running of the limitations period during the pendency of this class action, and upon decertification of the class, class members had only eighteen days to intervene or join in the action, or to bring separate actions. Thus, we hold that the claims of the two plaintiffs attempting to join the action by way of the fourth amended complaint, Cocchi and Beddingfield, and the two proposed intervenors, Dick and Zyskowski, are time-barred and they will be dismissed.

 In reaching our conclusion, we are mindful of the central purposes underlying the application of limitations periods. As recognized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, limitations periods ensure that defendants are "protected against the prejudice of having to defend against stale claims, as well as the notion that, at some point, claims should be laid to rest so that security and stability can be restored to human affairs." Cunningham v. Ins. Co. of North America, 515 Pa. 486, 530 A.2d 407, 409 (Pa. 1987). Furthermore, the Court of Appeals stated in National Iranian Oil Co. v. Mapco International, Inc., 983 F.2d 485, 493 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing American Pipe), that "the right [of defendants] to be free of . . . stale claims must eventually prevail over the right to prosecute them." (brackets supplied).

 We also take particular note of Justice Blackmun's concurring opinion in American Pipe in which he cautioned that the tolling period "must not be regarded as encouragement to lawyers in a case of this kind to frame their pleadings as a class action, intentionally, to attract and save members of the purported class who have slept on their rights." 414 U.S. at 561. Likewise, in a concurring opinion to Crown, Cork & Seal Co., Inc. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 354, 76 L. Ed. 2d 628, 103 S. Ct. 2392 (1983), Justice Powell cited Justice Blackmun's concurring opinion in American Pipe and warned that "the tolling rule of ...


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