10 Essential Supreme Court Cases of Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Artis v. District of Columbia, 2017

Supreme Court sketch
By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Superior Court's ruling and adopted the so-called "stop-the-clock" interpretation proffered by Stephanie Artis. Art Lien/courtartist.com

A District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) code inspector named Stephanie Artis filed a discrimination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her employer in 2009, alleging that her supervisor had singled her out unfairly. The following year, with her claim still pending, the DOH terminated her employment. The year after that, Artis sued the District in federal court saying it had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion). The Federal District Court ruled against her and dismissed the case [sources: Oyez, AAUW].

Fifty-nine days later, Artis refiled the claims in the D.C. Superior Court, but the District said the claims exceeded the statute of limitations. Artis argued that the statute of limitations was "tolled" (i.e. suspended) pending the outcome of the federal district court, citing 28 U.S. Code § 1367 (which states "the period of limitations for any claim asserted under subsection (a), and for any other claim in the same action that is voluntarily dismissed at the same time as or after the dismissal of the claim under subsection (a), shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period").

The D.C. Court of Appeals agreed that Artis had only had a 30-day window to refile the claims, so it rejected her argument, which sent the case to the Supreme Court [sources: Oyez, Ballotpedia, LLI].

The Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether the tolling provision suspended a statute of limitations period in which to file a lawsuit entirely or whether 28 U.S. Code § 1367 only allowed for a 30-day grace period to refile claims in a state or local court following a federal court's determination that it lacks jurisdiction.

By a vote of 5-4, the court reversed the D.C. Superior Court's ruling. The majority adopted the so-called "stop-the-clock" interpretation proffered by Artis. Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court, which held that the tolling provision suspended the statute of limitations clock while the federal case was pending.

"Tellingly, the District has not identified any federal statute in which a grace-period meaning has been ascribed to the word 'tolled' or any word similarly rooted. Nor has the dissent, for all its mighty strivings, identified even one federal statute that fits its bill, i.e., a federal statute that says 'tolled' but means something other than 'suspended,' or 'paused,' or 'stopped.'"

This meant Artis should have been given the remainder of the statute of limitations period plus 30 days to file her claim in a D.C. local court [source: Ballotpedia].