Unlike the bell of Donne's Meditation XVII, the three-year Uniform Statute of Limitations for Maritime Torts ("Uniform Statute") 1 tolls for no one. Consequently, the Uniform Statute bars claims arising from injury or death occurring on navigable waters during a traditional maritime activity three years after the cause of action accrues. 2 The bar of the Uniform Statute is wholly unaffected by the plaintiff's age, bankruptcy, or other condition that might traditionally toll limitation statutes. Although harsh on its face, the Uniform Statute embodies Congress' intent, as expressed in the legislative history and as confirmed by the courts, to establish a uniform limitation period for maritime torts.
Moreover, because the Uniform Statute applies to any maritime tort case involving injury or death, it can affect manufacturers of a surprising number of products. For example, the Uniform Statute would probably apply to a personal injury case in which the plaintiff alleges that defects in an ordinary toaster caused a fire aboard the plaintiff's boat while docked along the Mississippi River. Given the breadth of the Uniform Statute's application, therefore, even attorneys who do not routinely practice maritime law should have a basic understanding of the statute to ensure that their clients' interests are protected.
This article helps to develop that understanding in two ways. First, the article discusses the overall purpose and application of the Uniform Statute. Second, the article analyzes the cases addressing whether state law tolling provisions apply in cases governed by the Uniform Statute. This article should arm personal injury attorneys with the information necessary to assess whether claims are governed by the Uniform Statute and, if so, whether those claims have been timely asserted.
II. The Uniform Statute: Its Purpose and Application
A. Purpose: To Establish A Uniform Limitation Period for Maritime Torts
The Uniform Statute in its entirety provides:
Unless otherwise specified by law, a suit for recovery of damages for personal injury or death or both, arising out of a maritime tort, shall not be maintained unless commenced within three years from the date the cause of action accrued. 3
When it passed the Uniform Statute on October 6, 1980, 4 Congress sought to "establish a uniform national statute of limitations for maritime torts." 5 Prior to the enactment of the Uniform Statute, the equitable doctrine of laches governed the timeliness of maritime tort claims (other than those created by statutes such as the Jones Act). 6 That doctrine fostered widely divergent rulings about the timeliness of claims, leading to rampant forum shopping. 7 The discretion afforded by laches and the resulting forum-shopping led inexorably to inconsistent outcomes in seemingly identical cases:
The lack of consistency or uniformity as to laches issues is pointed out by the fact that during the period from 1940 to 1977, out of all of the personal injury and death cases reported in American Maritime Cases, some 35 cases were dismissed for laches where suit was commenced within 3 years. At the other extreme, some 29 cases were allowed to proceed where suit was brought more than 3 years later. At the same time, 41 cases within 3 years were allowed to proceed and 48 cases were dismissed after 3 years. 8
Under the circumstances, the Uniform Statute was necessary to lend uniformity, consistency, and predictability to this area of admiralty law. According to Congressman John Murphy, the sponsor of the bill that became the Uniform Statute:
This uncertainty regarding the availability of remedies and potential liability does not contribute to a free flow of commerce or to investment in the U.S. merchant marine.
* * *
The act is . . . aimed at eliminating the forum shopping and the presentation of stale claims which can result when claimants seek to bring their suit in the jurisdiction having the most advantageous procedural rules. . . . The Congress should take action to eliminate the inherent unfairness that exists when three claimants may be subject to three different sets of rules merely because they have utilized different legal tools. 9
As discussed in the following section, the courts have achieved Congress' goal by consistently and uniformly applying the Uniform Statute.
B. Application: All Maritime Tort Claims Not Governed by Other Federal Statutes
By its terms, the Uniform Statute applies to all suits for personal injury and death "arising out of a maritime tort." 10 A tort becomes a maritime tort when it occurs anywhere on navigable waters 11 and bears a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. 12 The United States Supreme Court defined the test in its 1995 opinion in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock:
[A] party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction . . . over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and connection with a maritime activity. A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether the injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must assess the general features of the type of incident involved to determine whether the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce. Second, a court must determine whether the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. 13
Without exception, state 16 and federal courts have held that the Uniform Statute, as an integral part of substantive admiralty law, must be applied to all maritime tort claims regardless of the forum in which those claims are asserted. 17 The seminal case on this issue is Butler v. American Trawler Co, 18 which arose out of an accident in which the plaintiff injured her finger while boarding a boat from a wharf owned by the defendant. 19 The accident occurred on May 8, 1984, but the plaintiff did not commence her action until November 29, 1987. 20
The United States District Court for the District of Maine granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the Uniform Statute barred the plaintiff's claims:
Having established that the cause of action lies in admiralty, it would make no sense to permit Plaintiff to circumvent the federal maritime tort statute of limitations simply by choosing diversity jurisdiction in lieu of maritime jurisdiction of the federal court. Similarly, permitting application of the state statute of limitations would result in an inequitable administration of admiralty law. One plaintiff who meets diversity requirements could invoke a state statute of limitations that may permit an action otherwise barred by 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a, while another plaintiff who fails diversity criteria may be barred from bringing an otherwise identical action. Other inequities may arise where a plaintiff invokes a statute of limitation in one forum that is more favorable than the statute of limitation available in another forum, resulting in different results for similar admiralty causes of action.
The Court finds that the statute of limitations for maritime torts under 46 U.S.C. § 763a is substantive in nature. This requires that the federal statute of limitations, as a substantive provision of federal admiralty law, be applied to the maritime tort described in the instant case under the analysis set out above. 21
The district court in Butler concluded that the Uniform Statute is substantive and must therefore be applied regardless of the forum. Even assuming the Uniform Statute is procedural, however, it is still binding on state and federal courts. As the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit cautioned in Butler:
We need not discuss the legal lore surrounding the words 'procedural' and 'substantive,' however, for the Supreme Court has made clear that a maritime tort is 'a type of action which the Constitution has placed under national power to control in 'its substantive as well as its procedural features.' Thus, the relevant question is not whether the federal limitations statute, 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a, is 'substantive' or 'procedural,' but whether Congress intended that statute to preclude the operation of different state limitations statutes in respect to maritime torts. We believe that it did.
* * *
Since, under federal law, a plaintiff may not begin a personal injury action, based upon a maritime tort, more than 'three years from the date the cause of action accrued,' and since Butler filed this action more than three years from the time her cause of action accrued, the court correctly dismissed her suit. 22
Under Butler and its progeny, 23 therefore, the Uniform Statute applies to all state and federal cases falling within admiralty jurisdiction irrespective of how the statute is characterized.
The Uniform Statute certainly worked to the defendant's advantage in Butler, but plaintiffs can invoke it no less effectively when faced with shorter state limitation periods. For example, in the companion cases of Anderson v. Varco Int'l, Inc., 24 and Anderson v. Diamond M-Odeco, Inc., 25 the plaintiff successfully argued, in opposition to motions for summary judgment, that the Uniform Statute supplanted Texas' two-year statute of limitation. Similarly, the plaintiff in Mendez v. Ishikawajima-Harma Heavy Indus. Co., 26 persuaded the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse the ruling of the district court, which erroneously applied California's one-year statute of limitation instead of the Uniform Statute. As the Ninth Circuit explained:
Regardless of the chosen forum, the applicable substantive law will be federal maritime law.
* * *
[In an earlier case, the court] noted that 'the effect of the lapse of time on the viability of the action is to be determined by one of the standards of the maritime law that governs the rights and liabilities of [the parties]. This is true because the right to bar an action for lapse of time is a substantive right.
Accordingly, the district court erred in concluding that the California one year statute of limitations barred her action and, instead, should have applied the admiralty three year statute of limitations for maritime torts. 27
Thus, the courts have even-handedly applied the Uniform Statute as intended by Congress.
III. The Tolling Cases
The courts have ruled unanimously that the Uniform Statute is unaffected by conditions and disabilities that would usually toll state limitation statutes. 28 Their decisions fall generally into three categories. First, at least three courts have held that the plaintiff's minority does not toll the Uniform Statute. 29 Second, at least three courts have held that a defendant's bankruptcy does not toll the Uniform Statute. 30 Finally, at least two courts have held that commencement of an action against some tortfeasors does not toll the Uniform Statute as to any remaining tortfeasors. 31
A. The Minority Cases
The first reported discussion of whether the plaintiff's minority tolls the Uniform Statute is the Georgia Court of Appeals' opinion in Ford v. Atkinson Dredging Co. 32 The plaintiff in Ford was injured in August 1987 when the pleasure boat in which she was riding collided with a barge owned by the defendant. 33 A minor at the time of the accident, the plaintiff did not commence her action until May 1995. 34 Appealing from judgment on the pleadings, the plaintiff argued that Georgia law tolled the Uniform Statute during her minority. 35 Affirming the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeals readily dismissed the plaintiff's argument:
The Georgia tolling statute is not applicable here because it is undisputed that the claim arises under federal maritime law. The legislative history of § 763a demonstrates that Congress sought to eliminate forum shopping and the presentation of stale claims which can result when claimants seek to bring their suit in the jurisdiction having the most advantageous procedural rules. Applying the Georgia tolling statute would undermine these concerns for fairness and uniformity. We believe that Congress would have contemplated application of state law tolling provisions to § 763a, had it intended such. 36
If the court had held that Georgia's tolling statute tolled or otherwise affected the Uniform Statute, its ruling would have disrupted the uniformity Congress so clearly sought to achieve through the Uniform Statute, raising serious constitutional concerns. As the Supreme Court admonished in Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen:
'One thing however, is unquestionable; the Constitution must have referred to a system of law coextensive with, and operating uniformly in, the whole country. It certainly could not have been the intention to place rules and limits of maritime law under the disposal and regulation of the several states, as that would have defeated the uniformity and consistency at which the Constitution aimed on all subjects of a commercial character affecting the intercourse of the states with each other or with foreign states.'
* * *
Equally well established is the rule that state statutes may not contravene an applicable act of Congress or affect the general maritime law beyond certain limits. . . . And plainly, we think no such legislation is valid if it contravenes the essential purpose expressed by an act of Congress, or works material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law, or interferes with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations. This limitation, at the least, is essential to the effective operation of the fundamental purposes for which such law was incorporated into our national laws by the Constitution itself. 37
The court in Ford also summarily rejected the plaintiff's argument that the Supreme Court's decision in Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun 38 mandated the application of Georgia law. 39 In Calhoun, the Supreme Court held that, because the Death on the High Seas Act 40 did not displace state law wrongful death remedies for nonseafarers' deaths occurring in territorial waters, those state law remedies may supplement federal admiralty law. 41 The court in Ford properly distinguished Calhoun on the ground that Congress "specifically provided" for the application of state law wrongful death remedies but not state law tolling provisions. 42 The refusal of the Georgia Court of Appeals to apply Georgia tolling law was entirely appropriate. 43
Employing identical arguments, the defendants in Johnston v. Nissan Marine & Power Products persuaded the San Bernardino, California Superior Court to enter judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the plaintiff's maritime personal injury claims were time-barred under the Uniform Statute. 44 The plaintiff suffered various injuries, including loss of eyesight, on September 2, 1990, when he collided with a boat while operating a personal watercraft on the Colorado River. The plaintiff was a minor at the time of the accident and did not commence his action until October 5, 1994. After concluding that admiralty law governed, the court held that the plaintiff's minority did not toll the Uniform Statute:
Section 763a requires that a suit for recovery of damages for personal injury shall not be maintained unless commenced within three years from the date the cause of action accrued. Plaintiff's accident occurred on September 2, 1990; he commenced this action on October 5, 1994, more than three years from the date of the accident. Although plaintiff was a minor at the time of the accident, section 763a provides no tolling provision to account for his minority. Consequently, his action is time-barred. 45
Although the court's ruling in Johnston has been appealed, it will be difficult for the appellate court to disregard the weight of authority supporting the superior court's holding.
Most recently, the New York Court of Appeals in O'Hara v. Bayliner 46 held that the Uniform Statute barred the claims of a girl who was injured in 1990 at age 16 but who did not commence an action within three years after the accident. The trial and intermediate appellate courts held that New York's minority tolling statute supplanted the Uniform Statute and permitted the plaintiff to sue more than three years after the accident. 47 On appeal, the Court of Appeals recognized that the Uniform Statute "has no infancy tolling protection" and correctly held that the plaintiff's claims were untimely asserted. 48
B. The Bankruptcy Cases
Section 108(c) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that, when nonbankruptcy law establishes a limitation period and that period does not expire before the debtor files its petition in bankruptcy, the established period does not expire until (1) the end of the period, or (2)thirty days after the automatic stay is lifted, whichever is later. 49 Plaintiffs have used section 108(c) to argue that it tolls the Uniform Statute. The courts have rejected that argument.
In Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, the plaintiff was injured on May 22, 1985, in a fire while working aboard a ship owned by one of the defendants, but the defendants filed their petition in bankruptcy on November 24, 1986, before the plaintiff could commence his action. 50 However, the plaintiff obtained relief from the bankruptcy court's automatic stay on November 27, 1991, permitting him to pursue his claims against the defendants. 51 On January 24, 1992 (fifty-eight days after the bankruptcy court lifted the stay), the plaintiff commenced his action against the defendants. 52 In dismissing the plaintiff's claims, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that "the bankruptcy court's stay did not toll the" Uniform Statute or the Jones Act statute of limitation. 53
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the district court's analysis. The Second Circuit reasoned that "by its terms § 108(c) does not provide for tolling of any externally imposed time bars, such as those found in the two maritime statutes of limitations." 54 Instead, the "bankruptcy section only calls for applicable time deadlines to be extended for 30 days after notice of the termination of a bankruptcy stay, if any such deadline would have fallen on an earlier date." 55
Using the same analysis, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Grotting v. Hudson Shipbuilders, Inc., 56 appropriately reached the same conclusion. In Grotting, the plaintiff sustained personal injuries in a commercial fishing accident on November 21, 1981, the defendant filed its bankruptcy petition on February 9, 1983, the bankruptcy court lifted the automatic stay on June 20, 1986, and the plaintiff commenced his action on September 4, 1986 (over sixty days after the stay was lifted). 57 The defendant moved for partial summary judgment on the plaintiff's maritime tort claims, raising the issue of "whether the applicable statute of limitations is tolled during the period of the Automatic Stay in bankruptcy." 58 The court held that nothing in the Bankruptcy Code "suspends a statute of limitations from running." 59 Rather, the Code "merely provides an extra 30 days to file a claim if the claims' limitation period expired before the automatic stay was lifted." 60
The Aslanidis line of cases clearly holds that the Bankruptcy Code does not toll the Uniform Statute. 61 But they recognize that the Code affords plaintiffs thirty days to commence an action against a bankruptcy debtor after the automatic stay is lifted even if the Uniform Statute has expired. Thus, a plaintiff wishing to assert maritime tort claims against a bankruptcy debtor must commence the action within three years from the date the cause of action accrues or within thirty days after the bankruptcy court lifts the automatic stay, whichever is later. Failure to do so will forever bar the claims.
C. The Prior Action Cases
It is a basic principle of civil procedure that ordinary statutes of limitation are not tolled if an action is commenced then later dismissed; the limitations clock continues to tick until the plaintiff commences the action anew, if ever, before time runs out. 62 That principle applies with equal force to the Uniform Statute.
In Davis v. Newpark Shipbuilding & Repair, Inc., 63 the plaintiff sued and ultimately settled with some, but not all, of the tortfeasors then commenced an action against the remaining tortfeasors more than three years after his accident. 64 In opposition to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff argued that, under Louisiana law, commencement of an action against some of the tortfeasors tolled the Uniform Statute as to the remaining tortfeasors. 65
Not persuaded by the plaintiff's argument, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas entered summary judgment for the defendant:
Plaintiff seeks to prevent summary judgment by impressing upon federal maritime law the application of the Louisiana law principle known as 'Solidary Obligors.'
* * *
Plaintiff's sole reliance on Louisiana law is misplaced. . . . Thus, this court need not rely solely upon Louisiana law as being determinative of the issue in this case. Louisiana law is not a part of the federal maritime law, and does not state the general rule as to when the statute of limitations can be interrupted or tolled against joint tort feasors. Therefore, it should not be adopted as part of the jurisprudence under 46 U.S.C. § 763a.
* * *
. . . The plaintiff has filed a totally separate cause of action beyond the time allowed by the applicable statute of limitations, after having already sued and settled his claim against other joint tort feasors. . . . Therefore, plaintiff's cause of action . . . is barred by limitations. 66
Davis is significant because it is the only federal case to hold that state tolling statutes and doctrines do not toll the Uniform Statute, which is precisely the result Congress hoped to achieve through its passage of the Uniform Statute.
The Uniform Statute of Limitations for Maritime Torts, unlike most ordinary statutes of limitation, cannot be avoided simply by choosing one forum over another because the statute governs maritime tort claims regardless of the forum in which they are asserted. Not only does the Uniform Statute establish the applicable limitation period, but it also completely displaces and supplants state law tolling provisions that might otherwise extend the limitation period. Accordingly, personal injury attorneys should understand the application and effect of the Uniform Statute even if they rarely venture into the arcane world of admiralty because the statute can dramatically affect their clients' rights and remedies.
* John Sear is an attorney with the Minneapolis-based firm of Bowman and Brooke LLP. His practice focuses on the defense of manufacturers, including manufacturers of recreational watercraft and marine propulsion systems, in all aspects of product liability litigation around the country. Mr. Sear extends his thanks and appreciation to Marcia M. Kull, Assistant General Counsel -- Litigation, Genmar Industries, and his colleagues at Bowman and Brooke LLP for critiquing drafts of this article.
- 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a (1996).
- The type of injury dictates when the tort cause of action accrues. E.g., Armstrong v. Trico Marine, Inc., 923 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1991). When the injury is readily discernible, the cause of action accrues at the time of the tortious event. Id. If the injury is completely indiscernible until long after the tortious event, then the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury and cause. Id.
- 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a.
- 94 Stat. 1525 (1980).
- H.R. Rep. No. 737, 96th Cong., 2nd Sess. 1 (1980), reprinted in 1980 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3303.
- Id. at 3303; see also Butler v. American Trawler Co., 887 F.2d 20, 22 (1st Cir. 1989) ("Before Congress enacted the 3-year federal statute of limitations, the admiralty doctrine of laches, not state law, controlled the timeliness of maritime personal injury actions.").
- 1980 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 3303.
- Id. at 3303-04.
- 126 Cong. Rec. 2591 (1980) (statement of Rep. Murphy). Congressman Murphy's colleagues in both the House and Senate concurred in his assessment. See 126 Cong. Rec. 2592 (1980) (statement of Rep. Dornan) ("This lack of consistency often allows litigants bringing suit to pick the court with the most favorable interpretation of timeliness."); 126 Cong. Rec. 26,884 (1980) (statement of Sen. Cannon) ("As matters now stand, therefore, no one can offer a prediction as to the outcome of a 'laches' dispute, and this unpredictability lends itself to the mischief of forum shopping."); id. ("By establishing a uniform 3-year statute of limitation for personal injury or death arising out of a maritime tort, [the Uniform Statute] would eliminate the 'laches' issue, and therefore end existing confusion.").
- 46 U.S.C. § 763a.
- The concept of navigability itself raises numerous thorny issues. In general, however, a body of water is "navigable" if it is "available as a continuous highway for commerce between ports and places in different states (or between a state and a foreign country)" and is "capable of being used for the 'customary modes of trade and travel on water.'" 1 Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 3-3, at 67-69 (2d ed. 1994), quoting The Daniel Ball, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 557, 563 (1870).
- See Executive Jet Aviation v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249 (1972); Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668 (1982); East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858 (1986); Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358 (1990); Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 115 S. Ct. 1043 (1995); see also Schoenbaum, supra note 11, § 3-5, at 78.
- 115 S. Ct. at 1048 (citations and quotations omitted).
- Admiralty is a body of federal law derived from Article III, § 2, of the Constitution: "The judicial Power shall extend . . . to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction." See 1 Schoenbaum, supra note 11, § 3-1, at 55.
- East River S.S. Corp., 476 U.S. at 864.
- State courts may adjudicate maritime claims, see Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 222 (1986), but they are still bound to apply federal admiralty law, see Chelentis v. Luckenbach S.S. Co., 247 U.S. 372, 381-83 (1918). See also Mendez v. Ishikawajima-Harma Heavy Indus. Co., 52 F.3d 799, 800 (9th Cir. 1995) ("Regardless of the chosen forum, the applicable substantive law will be federal maritime law.").
- See Butler v. American Trawler Co., 887 F.2d 20, 21 (1st Cir. 1989) (recognizing that "Congress intended that statute to preclude the operation of different state limitations statutes in respect to maritime torts"), aff'g 707 F. Supp. 29, 35 (D. Me. 1989) (holding that the Uniform Statute is "substantive in nature" and must therefore override the longer state statute of limitation); Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, 7 F.3d 1067, 1072-75 (2d Cir. 1993) (recognizing that the Uniform Statute governed the plaintiff's Jones Act and general maritime claims); Mendez v. Ishikawajima-Harma Heavy Indus. Co., 52 F.3d 799, 801 (9th Cir. 1995) (reversing district court's summary judgment for the defendant because the court "should have applied the admiralty three year statute of limitations for maritime torts" instead of California's shorter limitation period); Mink v. Genmar Indus., 29 F.3d 1543, 1547-48 (11th Cir. 1994) (following Butler and rejecting the plaintiff's argument "that a different state statute of limitations should apply" instead of the Uniform Statute); Gammill v. The Bradley T, 879 F. Supp. 737, 743 (W.D. Ky. 1995) (holding that the Uniform Statute applied to the plaintiff's maritime personal injury claim and that, to hold otherwise, "would thwart the congressional purpose of that section"); McKinney v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 739 F. Supp. 678, 680-83 (D. Mass. 1990) (following Butler and holding that the Uniform Statute barred the plaintiff's maritime tort claims); Mamer v. Apex R.E. & T., 852 F. Supp. 870, 872 (E.D. Mo. 1994) (acknowledging exclusive applicability of the Uniform Statute in maritime tort cases); Davis v. Newpark Shipbuilding & Repair, Inc., 659 F. Supp. 155, 156-57 (E.D. Tex. 1987) (holding that the Uniform Statute governs maritime tort claims unaffected by state law tolling doctrines); Grotting v. Hudson Shipbuilders, Inc., 85 B.R. 568, 568 (W.D. Wash. 1988) (holding that the plaintiffs' personal injury claims against the defendant shipbuilder were governed by the Uniform Statute); McCartney v. Kanawha River Towing, Inc., 921 F. Supp. 1504, 1505 (S.D. W. Va. 1996) (holding that applying state statute of limitation instead of the Uniform Statute would "clearly undermine uniformity in federal admiralty law") (quotations omitted and emphasis original); Ford v. Atkinson Dredging Co., 474 S.E.2d 652, 653 (Ga. Ct. App.) (following Butler and holding that state tolling statutes are inapplicable in cases governed by the Uniform Statute), recons. denied (1996); O'Hara v. Bayliner, No. 40, 1997 W.L. 135837, at *4 (N.Y. March 25, 1997) ("Concluding that the instant case is a Federal admiralty matter, we must then accept the Federal Statute of Limitations, which is designed to effectuate the Congressional intent of a uniform standard . . ."); Konrad v. South Carolina Elec. and Gas Co., 417 S.E.2d 557, 559 (S.C. 1992) (following Butler and rejecting the plaintiff's argument that South Carolina's longer limitation period should apply to his maritime tort claims); Anderson v. Varco Int'l, Inc., 905 S.W.2d 26, 29 (Tex. Ct. App. 1995) (following Butler and holding that the "federal three-year statute of limitations preempts the Texas two-year statute of limitations in maritime tort actions to preserve the uniformity sought by 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a"); Anderson v. Diamond M-Odeco, Inc., 912 S.W.2d 371, 372-73 (Tex. Ct. App. 1995) (holding that "the three-year federal statute of limitations applies" to plaintiff's maritime tort claims); Johnston v. Nissan Marine & Power Products, No. BCV 01369 (Oct. 10, 1996, San Bernardino County, CA Sup. Ct.) (order granting defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that California's minority tolling statute did not toll the Uniform Statute).
- 887 F.2d 20 (1st Cir. 1989).
- Id. at 20-21.
- 707 F. Supp. 29, 35 (D. Me. 1989) (emphasis added).
- Butler, 887 F.2d at 21, quoting Pope & Talbot, Inc. v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406, 409 (1953) (emphasis original and citations omitted); e.g., Ford, 474 S.E.2d at 654 n.1 (quoting Butler and Pope & Talbot).
- See supra note 17.
- 905 S.W.2d 26, 29 (Tex. Ct. App.), reh'g denied (1995).
- 912 S.W.2d 371, 372-73 (Tex. Ct. App. 1995).
- 52 F.3d 799, 801 (9th Cir. 1995).
- It should be obvious that Congress' enactment of the Uniform Statute did not automatically revoke the inherent power of courts to equitably toll statutes of limitation when justice requires. See Coleman v. Guy F. Atkinson Co., 887 F. Supp. 49, 52-53 (D.R.I. 1995). Courts will equitably toll statutes of limitation "only sparingly" and rarely, if ever, "where the claimant fails to exercise due diligence in preserving his/her legal rights," id. at 53 (quotations omitted), or fails to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances justifying equitable relief, see Mamer v. Apex R.E. & T., 852 F. Supp. 870, 872 (E.D. Mo. 1994). The court in Coleman, for example, equitably tolled the Uniform Statute because a fire in the offices of plaintiff's attorney made it extremely difficult for the attorney to meet pending deadlines. 887 F. Supp. at 53. The court hastened to add, however, that a "fire is an extenuating circumstance, that, in the interest of justice, should not be allowed to deprive plaintiffs of their right to seek compensation for [the plaintiffs' injuries] where the plaintiffs' attorney acted responsibly in preserving the rights of his clients." Id. See also O'Hara v. Bayliner, No. 40, 1997 W.L. 135837, at **4-5 (N.Y. March 25, 1997) (holding that the plaintiff's minority does not qualify as one of the "distinctly exceptional circumstances" warranting equitable tolling).
- Ford v. Atkinson Dredging Co., 474 S.E.2d 652 (Ga. Ct. App.), recons. denied (1996); O'Hara v. Bayliner, No. 40, 1997 W.L. 135837 (N.Y. March 25, 1997); Johnston v. Nissan Marine & Power Products, No. BCV 01369 (Oct. 10, 1996, San Bernardino County, CA Sup. Ct.) (order granting defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings).
- Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, 7 F.3d 1067 (2d Cir. 1993); Mamer v. Apex R.E. & T., 852 F. Supp. 870 (E.D. Mo. 1994); Grotting v. Hudson Shipbuilders, Inc., 85 B.R. 568 (W.D. Wash. 1988).
- Basco v. American Gen. Ins. Co., 43 F.3d 964 (5th Cir. 1994); Davis v. Newpark Shipbuilding & Repair, Inc., 659 F. Supp. 155 (E.D. Tex. 1987).
- 474 S.E.2d 652 (Ga. Ct. App.), recons. denied (1996).
- Id. at 653.
- Id. (emphasis added).
- 244 U.S. 205, 215-16 (1917), quoting The Lottawanna, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 558, 575 (1875); see also Mink v. Genmar Indus., 29 F.3d 1543, 1548 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Jensen and recognizing that "the fundamental need for uniformity with respect to maritime standards is of long-standing vintage").
- 116 S. Ct. 619 (1996).
- 474 S.E.2d at 653-54 ("Calhoun turned on the fact that Congress specifically provided that state law wrongful death remedies for nonseafarers' deaths within territorial waters would not be displaced by the Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C. § 767.").
- 46 U.S.C. § 767.
- 116 S. Ct. at 628-29.
- 474 S.E.2d at 653.
- See Francis v. Forest Oil Corp., 628 F. Supp. 836, 838 (W.D. La. 1986) (applying the Uniform Statute to a minor's claims brought pursuant to the Death on the High Seas Act).
- The author of this article was one of the attorneys who represented the Nissan defendants in Johnston and briefed this issue for the Superior Court.
- Johnston, Order at 2-3 (emphasis added).
- 1997 W.L. 135837 (N.Y. March 25, 1997).
- Id. at *1.
- Id. at **1, 5.
- 11 U.S.C. § 108(c).
- 7 F.3d at 1070.
- Id. at 1070-71.
- Id. at 1071.
- Id. (emphasis original).
- Id. at 1073.
- 85 B.R. 568.
- Id. at 568.
- Id. at 568-69.
- Id. at 569.
- E.g., Mamer v. Apex R.E. & T., 852 F. Supp. 870, 872-73 (E.D. Mo. 1994) (following Aslanidis and Grotting to hold that the Bankruptcy Code does not toll the Uniform Statute).
- 9 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2367, at 323-24 (2d ed. 1994) ("The statute of limitations is not tolled by bringing an action that later is dismissed voluntarily. . . .").
- 659 F. Supp. 155 (E.D. Tex. 1987).
- Id. at 156.
- Id. at 156-57 (emphasis added). E.g., Basco v. American General Ins. Co., 43 F.3d 964, 966 (5th Cir. 1994) ("Once [the plaintiff] voluntarily dismissed his first suit, he was in the same position as if the suit had never been filed.").