Ninth Circuit Holds that Use of State Statute of Limitations Does Not Alter Time Available for Service of Process
BNA’s United States Law Week reported in Vol. 75, No. 23 (Dec. 19, 2006) on the case S.J. v. Issaquah School District No. 411, --- F.3d ----, 2006 WL 3544858 (9th Cir. Dec. 11, 2006). Here is an excerpt from the case:
This appeal presents the question whether, in an action arising under federal law where there is no federal statute of limitations, a federal court borrows the state's time period for service of process as well as for filing suit.
S.J., a juvenile, appeals the district court's dismissal of his claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., against the Issaquah School District and its Superintendent and Director of Special Education (collectively, "Issaquah"). The IDEA had no statute of limitations at the time, so the district court applied Washington's Administrative Procedure Act ("WAPA"), RCW 34.05.542(2), which provides that a petition for review must be filed and served within thirty days of service of the final order by a state administrative agency. As S.J. conceded that he had not attempted to serve Issaquah until after the thirty-day period, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction.
We have previously held that Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure controls when an action which arises under federal law is "commenced" for purposes of tolling the statute of limitations borrowed from state law. Sain v. City of Bend, 309 F.3d 1134, 1136 (9th Cir.2002). It follows that federal procedural rules thereafter govern the action, at least when there is a federal rule to apply. Here there is, because Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides a time limit for service of process (120 days). Accordingly, we hold that a federal court borrowing a state's time period for filing suit brought under federal law should not also borrow the state's time limits for serving the complaint. As S.J.'s IDEA action was timely commenced for purposes of tolling the borrowed statute of limitations when it was filed within 30 days, we reverse.
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