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LAFFEY v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES

July 9, 1979

Mary P. Laffey et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Northwest Airlines, Inc., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

With respect to the Title VII backpay recovery period, this Court has been directed to do two things: first, determine the local statute of limitations most appropriate to this case and thus determine "the outermost limit on awards of Title VII backpay," Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 185 U.S.App.D.C. 322, 362, 567 F.2d 429, 469 (D.C.Cir.1976), and second, "reconsider, in light of Albermarle and this opinion, the need to limit the backpay remedy here." Id., 185 U.S.App.D.C. at 364, 567 F.2d at 471.

 As recently as last year, the D.C. Circuit in Forrestal Village, Inc. v. Graham, 179 U.S.App.D.C. 225, 227, 551 F.2d 411, 413 (D.C.Cir.1977), declared:

 
It is well established that when, as here, Congress has created a federal right but has not prescribed a limitation period for enforcement, federal courts will borrow the period of limitation prescribed by the state where the court sits (citations omitted). . . . that "best effectuates the federal policy involved."

 This is consistent with the principle announced by the Supreme Court in Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461, 67 S. Ct. 1340, 91 L. Ed. 1602 (1947).

 The District of Columbia has no borrowing statute and follows the common law that a statute of limitations is procedural. 2 J. Moore, Federal Practice P 3.07(3) (2nd ed. 1948). This is evidenced by the consistent rulings of the United States Court of Appeals prior to 1971 when it was the "highest state Court" and has been reaffirmed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The same conclusion was reached by Judge Richey in his analysis of the law in Manatee Cablevision Corp. v. Pierson, 433 F. Supp. 571 (D.D.C.1977).

 It is the settled law in this circuit that when, as in a Title VII case, the action is considered purely legal or one in which the Court has concurrent jurisdiction in law and equity, the District of Columbia statute of limitations applies. Cassell v. Taylor, 100 U.S.App.D.C. 153, 243 F.2d 259 (D.C.Cir.1957). This Court is without authority or precedent to consider the statute of limitations of some other state to fashion a federal common law period of limitation. As stated by the Court in Laffey, supra, 185 U.S.App.D.C. at 361, 467 F.2d at 468:

 
Most often this is effected by adopting the period prescribed by the most analogous state statute. Because of its convenience, and of the notice it presumably affords prospective litigants, adoption of the state limitation period is proscribed only when it would create important conflicts with the federal policy underlying the cause of action, or when it would amount to discriminatory restriction of a federal right of action. Neither of those conditions exists here. (emphasis added).

 A search of the statutes of the District of Columbia reveals only two which can be considered relevant in determining which limitation period is most appropriate for this case: (1) the D.C. Minimum Wage Law, which prescribes a three-year limitations period for all actions "to enforce any cause of action for unpaid wages or liquidated damages under this subchapter," D.C.Code § 36-416, and (2) the general statute of limitations, D.C.Code § 12-301, which provides as follows:

 
§ 12-301. Limitation of time for bringing actions
 
Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, actions for the following purposes may not be brought after the expiration of the period specified below from the time the right to maintain the action accrues:
 
(8) for which a limitation is not otherwise specially prescribed 3 years.

 The District of Columbia Minimum Wage Law, as originally enacted in 1918, provided:

 
This subchapter shall be known as the "District of Columbia Minimum-Wage Law." The purposes of the subchapter are to protect the women and minors of the District from conditions detrimental to their health and morals, resulting from wages which are inadequate to maintain decent standards of living; and the subchapter in each of ...

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