The commencement of a class action tolls statutes of limitations for all members of the putative class. This rule, so simply stated by the Supreme Court in American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, has proved complicated in practice. Since American Pipe, lower courts have disagreed about the circumstances under which the tolling rule applies. Though the Court has resolved many of these disagreements, some uncertainties remain. This Comment takes up two of those questions. First, does tolling benefit plaintiffs who sue while class certification is pending? Second, does tolling benefit plaintiffs who opt out of a certified class? My analysis takes advantage of two recent Supreme Court decisions that clarify the legal basis of a doctrine left untouched for over three decades. These decisions make clear that American Pipe is a creature of courts’ equitable powers. This fact limits when tolling can apply. Most importantly, the judicially crafted tolling rule must respect the statutory intent of the time bar to be tolled. I argue that class action tolling respects the statutory intent of time bars only when plaintiffs claiming tolling have plausibly relied on the class action proceedings. This general rule, applied to the questions considered in this Comment, yields different answers de- pending on the exact time bars faced by plaintiffs. In general, plaintiffs facing a statute of limitations should benefit from tolling only if they sue after the class is denied certification or otherwise terminates. But plaintiffs facing two time bars—a statute of limitations and a statute of repose—should, in some cases, benefit from tolling even when they file before the certification ruling.
Brown, Jeremy L.
"The Misunderstood Role of Reliance in American Pipe Tolling,"
University of Chicago Law Review: Vol. 88:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclrev/vol88/iss3/3