699 F.2d 137 (3rd Cir. 1983), 82-1241, Knoll v. Springfield Tp. School Dist.

Docket Nº:82-1241.
Citation:699 F.2d 137
Party Name:KNOLL, Madelin H., Appellant, v. SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Roman, Louis A., Superintendent, Springfield Township School District; Lawn, John J., Hanshaw, Marie M., Commins, James A., Goren, Sara Lee, Hoch Jr., William C., Hogue Jr., E. Burke, Kalish, Sally, Lieberman, Max L. a
Case Date:January 27, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Page 137

699 F.2d 137 (3rd Cir. 1983)

KNOLL, Madelin H., Appellant,



subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Roman,

Louis A., Superintendent, Springfield Township School

District; Lawn, John J., Hanshaw, Marie M., Commins, James

A., Goren, Sara Lee, Hoch Jr., William C., Hogue Jr., E.

Burke, Kalish, Sally, Lieberman, Max L. and Tobin, Harpur

M., individually and as members of the Board of School

Directors, Springfield Township School District.

No. 82-1241.

Submitted Under Third Circuit Rule 12(6)

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

January 27, 1983

Jan. 6, 1983.

Petition for Rehearing Denied Feb. 23, 1983.

Statement Sur Denial of Petition for Rehearing Feb. 23, 1983.

Page 138

Theodore M. Lieverman, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant.

Charles Potash, Harris F. Goldich, Wisler, Pearlstine, Talone, Craig & Garrity, Norristown, Pa., for appellee.



ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

Until recently, Pennsylvania's omnibus six-year statute of limitations, set forth in the Act of March 27, 1713, 1 properly governed employment discrimination suits

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brought in Pennsylvania under the federal Civil Rights Acts. By 1978, however, Pennsylvania had repealed the Act of 1713 and completely revised its statutes of limitations. 2 The major question before us is whether a new six-month statute of limitations governing suits against government officials applies to employment discrimination claims brought under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. 3 We hold that because application of the six-month limitations period would be inconsistent with the policies and legislative history underlying Sec. 1983, and because none of Pennsylvania's more specific limitations provisions would apply, that the six-year residuary provision of the limitations schema should govern this dispute. We, therefore, reverse that part of the district court's judgment which determined that appellant's Sec. 1983 claim was time-barred after six months. This appeal also asks us to review the district court's rejection of appellant's claim of employment discrimination brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-17, as time-barred. We reverse that part of the judgment as well.


For the purposes of our decision, we take as true the material facts alleged in the complaint. They are not complicated. On December 12, 1980, appellant Madelin H. Knoll, a teacher employed by the Springfield Township School District, filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that her employer had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in failing to promote her to several administrative positions. On January 28, 1981, the EEOC issued her a right to sue letter and dismissed the charge as untimely filed. On April 21, 1981, she filed a civil action in the district court against the school district and the individual members of the school board contending that the school district's failure to promote her to the position of Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent in July 1979, and later to Assistant Superintendent in September 1980, violated Sec. 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-2. The complaint further alleged that the individual school directors had acted under color of state law to deny appellant the equal protection of the laws under the fourteenth amendment, in violation of Sec. 1983. 4

The school district and the individual members of the school board moved for

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summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that both claims were barred by statutes of limitations. After oral and written argument, the district court agreed. It ruled that the Sec. 1983 action was time-barred by the new Pennsylvania statute which limits actions against government officials to six months, and that the Title VII claim was time-barred because it was filed more than 180 days from the last discriminatory act which the court determined occurred in July 1979. The district court thus granted the summary judgment motion and dismissed the complaint. From this decision and order, Ms. Knoll appeals.


Appellant's primary contention is that the district court erred in applying Pennsylvania's six-month statute of limitations to her claim of employment discrimination under Sec. 1983. That limitations provision, enacted as part of the new Pennsylvania Judicial Code, provides:

(b) Commencement of action required--The following actions and proceedings must be commenced within six months:

(1) An action against any officer of any government unit for anything done in the execution of his office, except an action subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter.

42 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. Sec. 5522(b)(1) (Purdon 1981).

She argues that instead the residuary provision of Pennsylvania's limitations schema should govern her cause of action. That Code provision establishes a six-year limitations period for:

Any civil action or proceeding which is neither subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter nor excluded from the application by a period of limitation by section 5531 (relating to no limitation).

42 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. Sec. 5527(6) (Purdon 1981). To support her argument, appellant maintains that the six-month limitations provision is not the most analogous state statute to apply to a Sec. 1983 action, that its application is inconsistent with federal policy, and that the application of different statutes of limitations to government and nongovernment defendants violates her right to equal protection under the law.

Appellant's next contention is that the district court erred in determining that her Title VII claim was time-barred. She argues that because appellees engaged in a continuing policy of discrimination, her charge was filed within 180 days of the last discriminatory act, as required by statute.

In reviewing the district court's summary judgment order, we are guided, as was the trial court, by the standard set forth in Rule 56(c), F.R.Civ.P.: summary judgment is proper when it appears "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See Goodman v. Meade Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir.1976). With this standard in mind, we will address first the question of the statute of limitations applicable to a Sec. 1983 action. In so doing, we note that because the parties do not contest any material fact applicable to that action, we can only uphold the summary judgment ruling as to appellant's Sec. 1983 claim if we find that the six-month statute of limitations applies, as appellees contend, as a matter of law.


Because Congress has not prescribed a specific statute of limitations for actions brought under Sec. 1983, it is necessary to borrow "the state law of limitations governing an analogous cause of action." Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 483-84, 100 S.Ct. 1790, 1794-1795, 64 L.Ed.2d 440 (1980). Selection of the appropriate state limitations provision "requires characterization of the essential nature of the federal claim within the scheme created by the various state statutes of limitation." Davis v. United States Steel Supply, 581 F.2d 335, 337 (3d Cir.1978). See also Skehan v. Board of Trustees, 590 F.2d 470, 476 (3d Cir.1978), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 832, 100 S.Ct. 61, 62 L.Ed.2d 41 (1979); Meyers v. Pennypack Woods Home Ownership Ass'n, 559 F.2d 894, 900 (3d Cir.1977), Polite v. Diehl, 507 F.2d 119, 122 (3d Cir.1974) (in banc).

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We have analogized a claim of employment discrimination brought under the federal Civil Rights Acts, to "those torts which involve the wrongful interference with another's economic rights or interests." Skehan, 590 F.2d at 477 (quoting Davis, 581 F.2d at 339). Although these federal Civil Rights Acts do not create federal tort law, they do create, inter alia, a right to be accorded equal status, free of gender-based discrimination in the pursuit of personal economic interests.

Review of the new Pennsylvania limitations schema, however, fails to reveal any provision expressly applicable to claims for the torts of wrongful discharge or interference with contractual or economic rights. See 42 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. Secs. 5521-5536 (Purdon 1981); Riccobono v. Whitpain Township, 497 F.Supp. 1364, 1375 (E.D.Pa.1980). Further, courts considering these torts have ascertained the applicable limitations period by reference to the two residuary provisions of the limitations scheme--the six-month and the six-year statutes of limitations--which control only when the nature of the dispute falls outside one of the more specific limitations provisions. Compare Clyde v. Thornburgh, 533 F.Supp. 279 (E.D.Pa.1982) (six-month limitations period applicable to Sec. 1983 action) with Riddick v. Cuyler, No. 81-0246 (E.D.Pa. July 16, 1981) (six-year limitations period applicable to Sec. 1983 action). Because appellant's claim does not fit under one of the specific provisions, we must determine which of the two residuary provisions governs her Sec. 1983 action.

Our focus in this inquiry must shift from probing the nature of the cause of action--which is irrelevant once the more specific, non-residuary provisions have been discounted as inapplicable--to determining which statute of limitations the Pennsylvania courts would have applied had this action been brought under state law. Because the six-year limitation only applies if the six-month limitation does not, we must first determine whether the courts would have applied the shorter limitation period to an employment discrimination suit brought against public officials under state law. Because appellant seeks relief from the school district and related officials for...

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