United States District Court, Western District of New York
December 12, 1991
DARLENE E. RAGGI, PLAINTIFF,
WEGMANS FOOD MARKETS, INC., JAMES KELLMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MANAGER (SUPERVISOR) WEGMANS FOOD MARKETS, INC., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Telesca, Chief Judge.
DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Darlene Raggi, filed this action on July 26,
1991, pursuant to § 504 of the
Federal Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the New York
State Human Rights Law. Ms. Raggi alleges that she is a
handicapped/disabled person within the meaning of the
Rehabilitation Act and that the defendants discriminated
against her on the basis of that handicap. She further alleges
that the defendants discriminated against her in violation of
New York State Human Rights Law.
The defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, on
the grounds that both Ms. Raggi's Rehabilitation Act claim and
her State Human Rights claim are barred by the applicable
statutes of limitations. Additionally, defendants argue that
the State Human Rights claim is barred because plaintiff
elected to pursue an administrative remedy instead of a
judicial remedy. For the reasons discussed below, defendants'
motion to dismiss the complaint is granted.
Plaintiff was employed by Wegmans for approximately fifteen
years as an Accounting Office Manager, until she was
terminated on June 11, 1986. At the time she was fired, she
was thirty-four years old. From approximately 1982 until 1986,
plaintiff underwent various surgical procedures, including two
operations to remove sections of her stomach. Plaintiff
alleges that despite her health problems, she remained able to
perform her job responsibilities, that she is handicapped
within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the
defendants were aware of her handicap.
She further alleges that prior to her termination, several
of defendant's employees made remarks that demonstrate their
discriminatory intent. For example, she alleges that defendant
James Kellman, the manager of the store in which she worked,
remarked that Wegmans was footing the bill for the plaintiff's
surgery, that she was a detriment to the company, and that
Wegmans could reduce its payroll by firing plaintiff and
hiring someone half her age.
Shortly after she was terminated, plaintiff filed a
complaint with the State Division of Human Rights, charging
the defendants with discriminatory employment practices. The
Division made a finding of probable cause and commenced
hearings on the charges, which continued until August 17,
1989. The Administrative Law Judge issued his recommended
findings and decision on April 10, 1991. He dismissed
plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that the defendants did
not discriminate against plaintiff on the basis of either her
age or disability. Plaintiff filed objections, and on May 29,
1991, the Commissioner issued a Notice of Order after Hearing,
dismissing plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff filed this action
on July 26, 1991.
A. The Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act Claim:
1. The Most Appropriate Statute of Limitations:
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794,
[n]o otherwise qualified handicapped individual
in the United States . . . shall, solely by
reason of his handicap, be excluded from the
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or
be subjected to discrimination under any program
or activity receiving Federal financial
assistance. . . .
29 U.S.C. § 794. The Rehabilitation Act does not, however,
provide its own statute of limitations for actions brought
pursuant to § 504. Under such circumstances, the court must
"borrow" the most appropriate state statute of limitations.
Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261
, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1942, 85
L.Ed.2d 254 (1985); Marin v. New York State Department of
Labor, 512 F. Supp. 353, 355 (S.D.N.Y. 1981); Andrews v.
Consolidated Rail Corp., 831 F.2d 678
, 683 (7th Cir. 1987).
Both parties agree that the court must look to New York State
law to determine the most appropriate statute of limitations.
They disagree, however, with respect to which of New York's
several limitations provisions should apply.
Defendants urge the court to apply a three-year limitations
period to plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim. Plaintiff, on
other hand, argues that this court should apply New York's
six-year limitation for contract actions, New York C.P.L.R.
§ 213(2).*fn1 Alternatively, plaintiff argues that the court
should apply New York C.P.L.R. § 213(1), which provides that
"an action for which no limitation is specifically prescribed
by law," shall be commenced within six years.
In arguing that the court should apply C.P.L.R. § 213(2) to
her Rehabilitation Act claim, the plaintiff focuses on the
phrase "most appropriate limitations period." She alleges that
defendants terminated her employment because she was
handicapped, despite the fact that her handicap did not
interfere with her job responsibilities. Thus, plaintiff argues
that her claim is most closely analogous to an action for
breach of implied contract, and that the six-year limitations
period is the one which most closely addresses plaintiff's
Alternatively, plaintiff claims that C.P.L.R. § 213(1) should
apply because a claim pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act is an
"action for which no limitation is specifically prescribed by
law." New York C.P.L.R. § 213(1). In other words, plaintiff
reasons that section 213(1) is the limitations period which
would best apply to her Rehabilitation Act claim. Although
plaintiff's arguments are logical and somewhat appealing, this
court concludes that existing Second Circuit dicta, together
with the Supreme Court's reasoning with respect to similar
statute of limitations issues, dictates that New York's
three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions
should govern plaintiff's claim.
Several district courts have held that a three-year
limitations period should be applied to Rehabilitation Act
claims.*fn2 Marin, 512 F. Supp. at 355; McGuire v. Switzer,
734 F. Supp. 99, 104 n. 2 (S.D.N.Y. 1990); Fiesel v. Board of
Education of the City of New York, 490 F. Supp. 363, 365
(E.D.N.Y. 1980), aff'd, 675 F.2d 522 (2d Cir. 1982); Reilly v.
New York City Transit Authority, 1985 WL 3954, at 3 (S.D.N Y
1985). Moreover, the Second Circuit has, at least in dicta,
indicated that Rehabilitation Act claims are most likely
subject to a three-year statute of limitations. Fleming v. New
York University, 865 F.2d 478, 481-82 (2d Cir. 1989).
The Court of Appeals did not reach the statute of
limitations issue in Fleming because the appellant failed
properly to raise the question below. The Fleming court did,
however, comment that
[i]n Wilson v. Garcia, the [United States Supreme]
Court held that suits brought under § 1983 ought to
be governed by the limitations period provided by
state statute for personal injury actions. In
Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., the Court extended
Wilson to claims under § 1981, and specifically
rejected an argument . . . that a six-year statute
of limitations for interference with contractual
relationships was more appropriate. Whether this
analysis should be extended . . . to statutes like
§ 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 remains an
open question. Goodman, however, in characterizing
discrimination claims as a "fundamental injury to
the individual rights of a person" and thus akin to
personal injury actions, seems to suggest an
Fleming, 865 F.2d at 481-82, n. 1 (emphasis added) (citations
As the Second Circuit suggests, the reasoning advanced by
the Supreme Court in applying state limitations periods
governing personal injury actions to other discrimination
statutes is compelling. For example, in determining that a
state's statute of limitations for personal injury actions
should be applied to all cases arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
the Supreme Court recognized
that § 1983 is a broad remedial statute which encompasses many
types of claims and many different factual scenarios. Wilson,
105 S.Ct. at 1945. As the Wilson Court noted, lower courts that
have based their choice of a limitations period on the
particular factual circumstances of each case have found "that
their approach inevitably breeds uncertainty and time-consuming
litigation that is foreign to the central purposes of § 1983."
Id.; see also Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 109 S.Ct. 573, 577,
102 L.Ed.2d 594 (1989) ("[t]he practice of seeking state law
analogies for particular § 1983 claims bred confusion and
inconsistency in the lower courts . . ."). Thus, the Supreme
Court has concluded that, in the interest of clear and
consistent rules, the Court should "select, in each State, the
one most appropriate statute of limitations for all § 1983
claims." Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1947 (emphasis added); see also
Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 U.S. 656, 107 S.Ct. 2617,
2620-21, 96 L.Ed.2d 572 (1987) (extending this reasoning to
claims brought pursuant to § 1981).
In choosing the most appropriate limitations period for
§ 1983 and § 1981 actions, the Supreme Court has focused on
Congress' policies and goals in enacting the statutes, as well
as the statutes' broad remedial nature. See Wilson, 105 S.Ct.
at 1947-49; Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621. Explicitly rejecting
the petitioner's argument that a six-year limitations period
for contract actions was most appropriate in a § 1981 action,
the Goodman Court reasoned that § 1981
has a much broader focus than contractual rights.
The section speaks not only of personal rights to
contract, but personal rights to sue, to testify,
and to equal rights under all laws for the
security of persons and property. . . . It is
thus part of a federal law baring racial
discrimination, which . . . is a fundamental
injury to the individual rights of a person. . .
. That § 1981 has far-reaching economic
consequences does not change this conclusion, since
such impact flows from guaranteeing the personal
right to engage in economically significant
activity free from racially discriminatory
Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621 (emphasis added). Similarly, the
Wilson Court reasoned that, in light of the violence and other
atrocities which prompted Congress to enact § 1983, "Congress
unquestionably would have considered the remedies established
in the Civil Rights Act to be more analogous to tort claims for
personal injury than, for example, to claims for damages to
property or breach of contract." Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1947.
Thus, the Supreme Court has concluded that state statutes of
limitations governing personal injury actions best encompass
the fundamental nature of both § 1983 and § 1981 actions.
Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1947; Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621.
In the matter presently before this court, the plaintiff
implicitly argues that a fact-based analysis is a suitable
approach to determining the limitations period most
appropriate to her Rehabilitation Act claim. The
Wilson and Goodman Courts' reasoning, rejecting a case-by-case
approach to statute of limitations questions is, however,
equally applicable to claims advanced pursuant to § 504 of the
The purpose of § 504 is to "prohibit discrimination,
exclusion or denial of benefits to otherwise qualified
handicapped individuals . . ." 1973 U.S.Cong. & Admin.News, at
2143. Thus, although § 504 does not bar race-based
discrimination, it has the same type of broad, remedial goals
as sections 1981 and 1983. Like those two statutes, claims made
pursuant to § 504 encompass a wide variety of factual
scenarios. E.g., Poole v. South Plainfield Board of Education,
490 F. Supp. 948, 951 (D.N.J. 1980) (athletic participation in
school); New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc.
v. Carey, 466 F. Supp. 487 (D.C.N.Y. 1979) (public school health
restrictions); Jacobson v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 742 F.2d 1202,
1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1984) (public transportation). Section 504
claims thus have "a much broader focus than contractual
rights." See Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621. Assigning a particular
limitations period to each Rehabilitation Act claim because of
its factual background would no
doubt result in the same type of confusion and inconsistency
that the Supreme Court criticized in Wilson and Goodman.
Every Rehabilitation Act claim does, however, have a common
theme — an allegation that the plaintiff suffered
discrimination solely because of his or her physical or mental
handicap. The Supreme Court has suggested in both Wilson and
Goodman, that the discrimination barred by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
§ 1981 results in a violation of individual or personal rights.
Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621; Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1948. The
discrimination forbidden by § 504, although addressing a
different bias, is of similar character as that outlawed in
sections 1983 and 1981 and thus is also appropriately
characterized as "conferring a general remedy for injuries to
personal rights." See Goodman, 107 S.Ct. at 2621. Accordingly,
this court concludes that New York's three-year statute of
limitations for personal injury actions, New York C.P.L.R. §
214(5), "most appropriately" governs the plaintiff's
Rehabilitation Act claim.
2. Tolling the Statute of Limitations:
Plaintiff argues that if this court applies a three-year
statute of limitations, it should toll that limitations period
during the time that she was pursuing her state administrative
claim. As discussed above, the Rehabilitation Act provides
neither a statute of limitations nor rules for tolling that
limitations period. See supra at 706-707; see also 29 U.S.C. § 504.
Where the court has "borrowed" the statute of limitations
from New York State law, it must also apply New York State
tolling provisions. Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478,
100 S.Ct. 1790, 1794-95, 64 L.Ed.2d 440 (1980).
As the Tomanio Court noted, New York has codified the
limitations periods for actions as well as the circumstances
under which those limitations periods can be tolled. Id. 100
S.Ct. at 1796; New York C.P.L.R. § 201, et seq. Section 201
sets forth the general principle that "an action . . . must be
commenced within the time specified in this article unless a
different time is prescribed by law or a shorter time is
prescribed by written agreement. No court shall extend the time
limited by law for the commencement of an action." New York
C.P.L.R. § 201 (emphasis added); see also Tomanio, 100
S.Ct. at 1796.
"No section of [New York] law provides, however, that the
time for filing a cause of action is tolled during the period
in which a litigant pursues a related, but independent cause
of action." Tomanio, 100 S.Ct. at 1796. This is exactly what
the plaintiff requests the court to do. There is no dispute
that plaintiff diligently pursued her administrative remedies
under New York State Human Rights Law. Nevertheless, neither
federal nor New York law requires her to exhaust her state law
claims before filing a Rehabilitation Act claim in federal
court. See Andrews, 831 F.2d at 684. The Rehabilitation Act and
New York Human Rights Law provide completely independent
grounds for plaintiff's claim of discrimination, and she was
entitled to pursue both simultaneously if she so desired.
Accordingly, no tolling provision exists which would extend the
three-year limitations period.
Plaintiff's "failure to comply with the New York statute of
limitations, therefore, precludes maintenance of this action
unless New York's tolling rule is `inconsistent' with the
policies underlying" the Rehabilitation Act. See Tomanio, 100
S.Ct. at 1796. This court finds no inconsistency between the
New York tolling provisions and the goals of the Rehabilitation
Act. Like 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Rehabilitation Act was designed
to protect a certain class of individuals from invidious
discrimination. Compare Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1947-48, with 1973
U.S.Cong. & Admin.News, at 2143. The Tomanio Court, after
carefully weighing the policies behind § 1983 and the New York
State limitations and tolling provisions, concluded that those
provisions were not inconsistent with the federal statute.
Tomanio, 100 S.Ct. at 1797-98. I conclude that the Tomanio
Court's reasoning should also apply to claims brought
pursuant to § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.*fn3
Plaintiff's employment was terminated on June 11, 1986. She
filed this action on July 26, 1991, more than three years
after her cause of action accrued. Accordingly, plaintiff's
Rehabilitation Act claim is time-barred.
B. Plaintiff's New York Human Rights Law Claim:
In her second cause of action, brought pursuant to this
court's supplemental jurisdiction, plaintiff alleges that the
defendants' actions violated New York State Human Rights Law.
28 U.S.C. § 1367(a); See Complaint, ¶¶ 1, 26-29. Defendants
move to dismiss plaintiff's second cause of action on the
grounds that it is barred both by the statute of limitations
and by plaintiff's election of remedies. This court need not
reach either of the defendants' arguments because it declines
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state
Section 1367(c) provides in relevant part that "[t]he
district courts may decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if . . . the
district court has dismissed all claims over which it has
original jurisdiction. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Here,
plaintiff brings two claims — one grounded in federal law and
one pursuant to state law. This court has dismissed plaintiff's
federal claim as time-barred. Accordingly, plaintiff's state
law claim — over which the court has no original jurisdiction
— is dismissed pursuant to § 1367(c)(3).
For the reasons discussed above, plaintiff's Rehabilitation
Act claim is barred by New York's statute of limitations for
personal injury actions, New York C.P.L.R. § 214(5), and is
hereby dismissed. In light of the fact that this court has
dismissed "all claims over which it has original jurisdiction,"
plaintiff's state Human Rights law claim is also dismissed.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SO ORDERED.