446 U.S. 478 (1980), 79-424, Board of Regents v. Tomanio

Docket Nº:No. 79-424
Citation:446 U.S. 478, 100 S.Ct. 1790, 64 L.Ed.2d 440
Party Name:Board of Regents v. Tomanio
Case Date:May 19, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 478

446 U.S. 478 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1790, 64 L.Ed.2d 440

Board of Regents

v.

Tomanio

No. 79-424

United States Supreme Court

May 19, 1980

Argued February 26, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Pursuant to New York statutes requiring that chiropractic practitioners obtain a state license either by passing an examination or obtaining a waiver of the examination requirement from petitioner Board of Regents (Board), respondent practitioner applied to the Board for a waiver of the examination requirement. In November, 1971, the Board notified respondent that [100 S.Ct. 1792] her waiver application was denied, but respondent was not afforded an evidentiary hearing or given a statement of reasons for the denial. In January, 1972, respondent commenced state court proceedings, attacking the Board's decision as arbitrary and capricious but not raising any constitutional challenge to the decision. Ultimately, in November, 1975, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed an order holding that the Board had not abused its discretion in denying respondent's waiver Application. In June, 1976, respondent instituted this action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that petitioners' refusal to grant her a license violated due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Holding that the § 1983 action was not barred by the applicable 3-year New York statute of limitations even though respondent's claim arose in November, 1971, when her waiver application was denied by the Board, the District Court concluded that it was appropriate to adopt a federal rule to toll the running of the statute of limitations during the pendency of respondent's state court litigation. Under the New York tolling rule, the time for filing an action is not tolled during the period in which a litigant pursues a related but independent cause of action. On the merits of the federal constitutional claim, the District Court held that respondent was entitled to a hearing before the Board on her eligibility for waiver of the examination requirement. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to both the statute of limitations issue and the merits.

Held: Respondent's action was barred by the New York statute of limitations. The federal courts were obligated not only to apply the analogous New York statute of limitations to respondent's federal constitutional claims, but also to apply the New York rule for tolling that statute of limitations. Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584; Johnson v. Railway

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Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454; Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167. Pp. 483-492.

(a) Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, federal courts are instructed to refer to state statutes when federal law provides no rule of decision for actions brought under § 1983, and § 1988 authorizes federal courts to disregard an otherwise applicable state rule of law only if the state law is "inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States." Since Congress did not establish a statute of limitations or a body of tolling rules applicable to federal court actions under § 1983, the analogous state statute of limitations and the coordinate tolling rules are binding rules of law in most cases. This "borrowing" of the state statute of limitations includes rules of tolling unless they are "inconsistent" with federal law. Pp. 483-486.

(b) New York's tolling rule is not "inconsistent" with the policies of deterrence and compensation underlying § 1983. Neither of these policies is significantly affected by New York's rule, since plaintiffs can still readily enforce their claims, thereby recovering compensation and fostering deterrence, simply by commencing their actions within three years. And there is no need for nationwide uniformity so as to warrant displacement of state statutes of limitations for civil rights actions. Nor are policies of federalism undermined by adoption of the New York rule. When Congress establishes a remedy (such as § 1983) separate and independent from other remedies that might also be available, a state rule which does not allow a plaintiff to litigate such alternative claims in succession, without risk of time bar, is not "inconsistent." Pp. 486-492.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 492. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 494.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case, 444 U.S. 939, to review a judgment of the Court [100 S.Ct. 1793] of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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holding that petitioners, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York and the Commissioner of Education, were required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to afford a hearing to respondent, Mary Tomanio, before denying her request for a waiver of professional licensing examination requirements. In so doing, the Court of Appeals rejected petitioners' claims that both the statute of limitations and the doctrine of estoppel by judgment barred respondent's maintenance of an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the federal courts. We find it necessary to consider only the defense based on the statute of limitations, since the resolution of that issue is virtually foreordained in favor of petitioners by our prior cases when the indisputably lengthy series of events which ultimately brought this case here is described.

I

Respondent has practiced chiropractic medicine in the State of New York since 1958. Prior to 1963, the State did not require chiropractic practitioners to be licensed. But in that year, the State enacted a statute which required state licensing, and established three separate methods by which applicants could obtain a license to practice chiropractic in the State of New York. 1963 N.Y. Laws, ch. 780, codified as amended, N.Y.Educ.Law §§ 6506(5), 6554, 6556 (McKinney 1972 and Supp. 1979-1980). First, the statute established education and examination requirements for applicants who had not previously engaged in chiropractic practice. An alternative qualifying examination was made available to individuals already engaged in practice in New York on the date that the licensing statute became effective. Finally, the Act established a third means for current practitioners to qualify without taking any state-administered examination. Under § 6506(5), they could obtain a waiver of

education, experience and examination requirements for a professional license . . . provided the board of regents shall be satisfied

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that the requirements of such article have been substantially met.1

Respondent has been unsuccessful in her efforts to obtain a license to practice in New York. On seven separate occasions between 1964 and 1971, she attempted to qualify by taking the special examinations designed for current practitioners. Respondent failed, by a narrow margin, to ever receive a passing score on the examinations.2 After this series of failures, she applied to the Board of Regents for waiver of the examination requirements pursuant to § 6506(5). This application was based upon her claim that she had failed the examinations by only a very narrow margin, that she was licensed in the States of Maine and New Hampshire, and that she had passed an examination given by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. On November 22, 1971, the Board notified respondent that they had voted to deny her application for a waiver at a meeting held on November 19. Respondent was not afforded an evidentiary hearing on the denial of the waiver or given a statement of reasons for it.

In January, 1972, respondent commenced a proceeding in the New York state courts attacking the decision of the Board of Regents not to grant a waiver as arbitrary and capricious, and seeking an order directing the Board to license her. She did not raise any constitutional challenge to the Board's decision in this judicial proceeding. The trial court granted the requested relief, but its order was reversed by the Appellate Division. In November, 1975, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division holding that the [100 S.Ct. 1794] Board of Regents had not abused their discretion in denying respondent's application for a waiver. Tomanio v. Board of Regents, 38 N.Y.2d 724, 343 N.E.2d 755 (1975),

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aff'g 43 App.Div.2d 643, 349 N.Y.S.2d 806 (3d Dept.1973).

Seven months later, on June 25, 1976, respondent instituted this action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Respondent alleged that the refusal of petitioners to grant her a license to practice violated due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioners invoked res judicata and the statute of limitations as affirmative defenses to respondent's action.

The District Court rejected these defenses. First, the court found that res judicata would not bar consideration of a § 1983 claim in federal court if the constitutional claim was not actually litigated and determined in the prior state court proceeding. Since respondent had not raised any constitutional challenge to the Board's action in state court, the trial court ruled that res judicata did not preclude the federal action.

The District Court also found that the § 1983 action was not barred by the statute of limitations. Respondent's claim arose in November, 1971, when her application for waiver was denied, more than three years prior to the date on which the suit in federal court was commenced. Although the District Court found that a 3-year New York statute of...

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