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U.S. Supreme Court

American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974)

American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah

No. 72-1195

Argued November 12, 1973

Decided January 16, 1974

414 U.S. 538


Eleven days short of a year after a final consent judgment had been entered against petitioners in civil actions by the Government to restrain federal antitrust violations (which actions had been filed almost four years before entry of that judgment), the State of Utah commenced a Sherman Act treble damages class action against petitioners, in which the State purported to represent various state and local agencies and certain other Western States. The action was found to be timely under the federal four-year statute of limitations governing antitrust suits (§ 4B of the Clayton Act) because of § 5(b) of that Act providing that, whenever the United States institutes any proceeding to restrain antitrust violations, the running of the statute of limitations in respect of every private right of action arising under such laws and based on any matter complained of in such proceeding shall be suspended during the pendency thereof and for one year thereafter. The District Court thereafter granted petitioners' motion for an order pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(c)(1) that the suit could not be maintained as a class action, the court finding that, although the prerequisites to a class action contained in Rule 23(a)(2) through (4) had been met, the requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) that "the class [be] so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable" was not satisfied. Eight days after entry of this order, respondent towns,municipalities, and water districts, all of which had been claimed as members of the original class, moved to intervene as plaintiffs in Utah's action, either as of right under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 24(a)(2) or by permission under Rule 24(b)(2), but the District Court denied this motion, concluding that the limitation period had run as to all those respondents, and had not been tolled by institution of the class action. The Court of Appeals reversed as to denial of permission to intervene under Rule 24(b)(2), finding that as to the members of the class Utah purported

Page 414 U. S. 539

to represent, suit was actually commenced by Utah's filing of the class action.


1. The commencement of a class action suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties had the requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) been met, and here, where respondents, who were purported members of the class, made timely motions to intervene after the District Court had found the suit inappropriate for class action status, the institution of the original class suit tolled the limitations statute for respondents. Pp. 414 U. S. 552-556.

2. A judicial tolling of the statute of limitations does not abridge or modify a substantive right afforded by the antitrust acts; the mere fact that a federal statute providing for substantive liability also sets a time limitation upon the institution of suit does not restrict the power of the federal courts to hold that the statute of limitations is tolled under certain circumstances not inconsistent with the legislative purpose. Pp. 414 U. S. 556-559.

3. The District Court's determination, in denying permission to intervene, that respondents were absolutely barred by the statute of limitations was not an unreviewable exercise of discretion, but rather a conclusion of law which the Court of Appeals correctly found to be erroneous. Pp. 414 U. S. 559-560.

4. The commencement of the class action suspended the running of the limitations period only during the pendency of the motion to strip the suit of its class action character. Since the class action was filed with 11 days yet to run in the period as tolled by § 5(b), the intervenors had 11 days after entry of the order denying them participation in the class suit in which to move to file their intervention motion. Their filing only 8 days after the entry of such order was thus timely. Pp. 414 U. S. 560-561.

473 F.2d 580, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 414 U. S. 561.

Page 414 U. S. 540

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