In 1974 the United States Supreme Court in American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah held that the timely filing of a class action tolls the applicable statute of limitations for all persons encompassed by the class complaint. This holding was clarified in 1983 in Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker to provide that the tolling applies to those putative class members who intervene and to those putative class members who bring an individual suit after denial of class certification. In China Agritech v. Resh, the Ninth Circuit held that the American Pipe holding extended to successive class claims. Specifically, in that case, the Ninth Circuit revived a securities class action lawsuit after two prior attempts to bring such claims had failed to gain class certification and the named plaintiffs in those two prior lawsuits settled.
Today, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit decision and held that the tolling provision it established in its landmark American Pipe decision only applies to plaintiffs filing individual claims – not to class members who file follow-on class actions past the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court unanimously held that while non-named plaintiffs in class actions can return to court if they were part of a class action that fell apart after the statute of limitations expired to intervene or file individual actions, these non-named plaintiffs cannot turn around and file a new class action on behalf of themselves and others. The Court explained “[t]here is little reason to allow plaintiffs who passed up opportunities to participate in the first (and second) round of class litigation to enter the fray several years after class proceedings first commenced.”
In the employment context, this decision will hopefully limit successive wage and hour class actions against the same employer premised on the same claims following denial of class certification motions and prevent employees from having a proverbial second bite at the apple.