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Nelson v. County of Allegheny

filed: July 18, 1995.

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); JANET COCCHI, (J.D. #12); MARY BEDDINGFIELD, (J.D. #7);
v.
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY, (THE "COUNTY"); CHARLES R. KOZAKIEWICZ, WARDEN OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL; CITY OF PITTSBURGH, (THE CITY); MAYER DEROY, ASSISTANT CHIEF OF THE CITY LOCKUP AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENTS COMPLAINED OF, BEING SUED IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, JUDY DICK, (J.D. #16); VALERIE ZYSKOWSKI, (J.D. #60); JANET COCCHI, (J.D. #12); AND MARY BEDDINGFIELD, (J.D. #7), APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 91-cv-00316).

Before: Becker, Scirica, and Wood*fn**, Circuit Judges

Author: Scirica

Opinion OF THE COURT

SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

For claims subject to federal statutes of limitations, commencement of a class action tolls the running of the statute for all purported members of the class, but upon denial of class certification, the tolling period ends. In this appeal we must decide whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would continue the tolling period of a state statute of limitations beyond a district court's denial of class certification until appeals of that denial are exhausted. We also must decide whether Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would permit relation back of an amendment to a pleading that names new plaintiffs after expiration of the statute of limitations when those new plaintiffs are neither substituted nor have shown mistake concerning identity. We will affirm the order of the district court dismissing plaintiffs' claims.

I.

On March 11, 1989, anti-abortion protestors demonstrated on the grounds of a private clinic in Pittsburgh and blocked patient access to the facility. Pittsburgh police arrested about sixty female protestors and took them to a city holding facility until their transfer to the Allegheny County jail. They were detained overnight and released the next day.

On February 21, 1991 -- eighteen days short of the two-year anniversary of the protest -- this lawsuit was filed, as a class action by a representative on behalf of all the women arrested and by four protestors asserting individual claims. The lawsuit alleges that the city and county and their employees, through their actions in arresting and detaining the women, violated the protestors' civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 The district court denied a motion for certification of a plaintiff class on November 22, 1991. Eighteen days later, on December 10, the protestors filed a third amended complaint that included two more women asserting individual claims.

After the passage of two more years, and five years after the demonstration at issue, the protestors filed a fourth amended complaint on March 17, 1994. This latest complaint named five of the six women who had previously asserted individual claims (one woman chose voluntarily to dismiss her claims) and added two more plaintiffs, Janet Cocchi and Mary Beddingfield. On May 31, 1994, two additional protestors, Judy Dick and Valerie Zyskowski, filed a joint motion to intervene as party plaintiffs.

Defendants then moved to dismiss the claims of Cocchi and Beddingfield and to strike the motion of Dick and Zyskowski to intervene. The district court granted the motions, holding that the four women's claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Cocchi, Beddingfield, Dick, and Zyskowski appeal.

II.

The district court had jurisdiction of this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1988) and § 1343(a)(3)-(a)(4) (1988). We have jurisdiction if the district court's orders constitute "final decisions" under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988). The determination that appellants' claims are barred by the statute of limitations is a final and reviewable decision. See Green V. Humphrey Elevator & Truck Co., 816 F.2d 877, 878 n.4 (3d Cir. 1987) ("order dismissing the complaint in the instant action is final and thus reviewable . . . because the statute of limitations on appellant's cause of action has run").

We exercise plenary review over a district court's dismissal of a complaint. See Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993); Napier v. Thirty or More Unidentified Fed. Agents, 855 F.2d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1988). Although we generally review Dispositions of motions to intervene for abuse of discretion, Brody ex rel. Sugzdinis v. Spang, 957 F.2d 1108, 1115 (3d Cir. 1992), the district court here did not exercise discretion in denying the motion to intervene, but barred the claims because of its legal Conclusion that the statute of limitations had expired. In these circumstances, we conduct plenary review. See American Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 560, 38 L. Ed. 2d 713, 94 S. Ct. 756 (1974) ("In denying permission to intervene in this case, however, Judge Pence did not purport to weigh the competing considerations in favor of and against intervention, but simply found that the prospective intervenors were absolutely barred by the statute of limitations. This determination was not an exercise of discretion, but rather a Conclusion of law . . . ."). Similarly, "we have plenary review of the district court's choice and interpretation of applicable tolling principles and its Conclusion that the facts gave rise to a tolling of the statute of limitations." Sheet Metal Workers, Local 19 v. 2300 Group, Inc., 949 F.2d 1274, 1278 (3d Cir. 1991). Finally, our review of the district court's construction of Pennsylvania law is de novo. Salve Regina College v. Russell, 499 U.S. ...


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