WEST V. CONNRAIL, 481 U. S. 35 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

West v. Connrail, 481 U.S. 35 (1987)

West v. Connrail

No. 85-1804

Argued February 25, 1987

Decided April 6, 1987

481 U.S. 35


In enacting the federal labor relations statutes, Congress did not include a statute of limitations expressly applicable to claims against unions for breach of their duty of fair representation. Thus, in DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U. S. 151, this Court "borrowed" from § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act its 6-month statute of limitations period for use in "hybrid" suits that combine unfair labor practice claims with duty of fair representation claims. Section 10(b) provides that no complaint may issue based on an unfair labor practice that occurred more than six months prior to the filing of a charge and the service of a copy thereof on the person against whom the charge is made. Although petitioner's complaint in his hybrid suit against respondents -- his employer, his union, and his union representative -- was filed less than six months after the § 10(b) statute of limitations began to run, the District Court granted summary judgment to respondents because the summonses and complaints were not mailed nor service acknowledgments made until after the 6-month period. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under DelCostello, § 10(b) requires in hybrid suits that both the filing and service of the complaint be made within the 6-month period.

Held: The action was timely commenced because the complaint was filed within the 6-month period. When the underlying cause of action is based on federal law and the absence of an express federal statute of limitations makes it necessary for a federal court to borrow a limitations period from another statute, the action is not barred if it has been "commenced" within the borrowed time period by the filing of a complaint with the court in compliance with Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The mere act of borrowing a statute of limitations to apply to a federal cause of action does not require that that statute's service provisions also be adopted, since Rules 4(a) and (j) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure normally require the plaintiff to serve the summons and a copy of the complaint within 120 days. When borrowing a statute of limitations for a federal cause of action, this Court borrows no more than is necessary to fill a gap left by Congress. DelCostello simply borrowed § 10(b)'s limitations period, and did not substitute § 10(b) for the Federal Rules. Pp. 481 U. S. 38-40.

780 F.2d 361, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 481 U. S. 36

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