Portwood v. Ford Motor Co.

Annotate this Case
Portwood v. Ford Motor Co., No. 84488 (10/1/98)
Docket No. 84488--Agenda 39--May 1998.
GWENDOLYN PORTWOOD et al., Appellants, v. FORD
MOTOR COMPANY, Appellee.
Opinion filed October 1, 1998.

JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:
Gwendolyn Portwood and 51 other plaintiffs appeal the
following holdings of the circuit and appellate courts: (1) the
filing in federal court of a complaint seeking certification of a
class action does not toll, or suspend, the Illinois statute of
limitations during the pendency of that complaint; and (2)
plaintiffs whose breach of warranty claims are dismissed by a
federal court for lack of jurisdiction have six months to refile
those claims in Illinois state court. We affirm both holdings.

BACKGROUND
On August 21, 1981, a group of plaintiffs filed a complaint
in United States District Court for the District of Columbia
seeking certification of a nationwide class action against
defendant Ford Motor Company. The complaint alleged that
thousands of people who purchased Ford automobiles between
1976 and 1979 sustained property damage as a result of
collisions which occurred when the vehicles' transmissions
shifted from "park" to "reverse" without warning. The district
court initially certified a class action, but was reversed on
appeal. Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 807 F.2d 1000 (D.C. Cir.
1986). On remand, the district court found class certification
unwarranted, and also dismissed the plaintiffs' individual claims
for lack of federal jurisdiction. Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 130 F.R.D. 260 (D.D.C. 1990). The district court denied
reconsideration on May 14, 1990.
On May 14, 1991, plaintiffs filed this action in the circuit
court of Cook County seeking certification of a nationwide class
similar to that sought in Walsh. Of the named plaintiffs in the
instant case, 47 were also named as plaintiffs in Walsh; the
other five were unnamed members of the potential Walsh class.
The circuit court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the
complaint as untimely. The court ruled that the statute of
limitations for bringing suit in Illinois was not tolled, or
suspended, by the filing in federal court of the Walsh class
action complaint, and hence the claims of the five plaintiffs not
named in Walsh were untimely. The court also ruled that under
section 2--725 of the Uniform Commercial Code (Ill. Rev. Stat.
1991, ch. 26, par. 2--725), the 47 plaintiffs named in Walsh had
six months to bring suit in Illinois following dismissal by the
federal district court. Because the instant complaint was not
filed until one year after the dismissal of Walsh, the circuit court
ruled that the claims of the 47 Walsh plaintiffs were also
untimely. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court's
dismissal of the complaint. Portwood v. Ford Motor Co., 292
Ill. App. 3d 478 (1997). We granted leave to appeal, and now
affirm.

ANALYSIS
I. Cross-Jurisdictional Class Action Tolling
In American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 38 L. Ed. 2d 713, 94 S. Ct. 756 (1974), the United States
Supreme Court held that the filing of a class action in federal
district court tolls the running of the statute of limitations for all
purported members of the class who make timely motions to
intervene after the court has found the suit inappropriate for
class action status. American Pipe, 414 U.S. at 553, 38 L. Ed. 2d at 726, 94 S. Ct. at 766. This court subsequently adopted the
American Pipe rule for class actions filed in Illinois state court.
Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School, 69 Ill. 2d 320, 342
(1977). The Supreme Court then extended American Pipe by
holding that the filing of a class action in federal district court
tolls the statute of limitations not just for those who move to
intervene in the original suit after class status is denied, but also
for those who subsequently file their own individual suits in
federal court. Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345,
350, 76 L. Ed. 2d 628, 633, 103 S. Ct. 2392, 2395-96 (1983).
The five instant plaintiffs who were not named as parties in
the prior federal suit urge this court to apply the holding of
Crown, Cork to toll the Illinois statute of limitations during the
pendency in federal court of a complaint seeking class
certification. These plaintiffs argue that when a federal court
denies class certification, the tolling principle of Crown, Cork
should apply to all purported class members who subsequently
file individual suits, regardless of whether they file in federal or
state court.
Statutes of limitation rest upon the premise that the right to
be free of stale claims in time comes to prevail over the right to
prosecute them. Golla v. General Motors Corp., 167 Ill. 2d 353,
369 (1995). Limitation periods are designed to encourage
claimants to pursue causes of action before memories have
faded, witnesses have died or disappeared, and evidence has
been lost. Chase Securities Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304,
314, 89 L. Ed. 1628, 1635, 65 S. Ct. 1137, 1142 (1945).
Statutes of limitation thus promote predictability and finality.
Golla, 167 Ill. 2d at 370.
In American Pipe, the United States Supreme Court
reasoned that tolling the statute of limitations for all purported
class members upon the filing of a class action complaint would
best promote the purposes of the class action procedure, which
are efficiency and economy of litigation. American Pipe, 414 U.S. at 553-54, 38 L. Ed. 2d at 726-27, 94 S. Ct. at 766.
Without such a tolling rule, the Court explained, class members
not named in the original complaint would feel compelled to file
motions to intervene in the action before the expiration of the
limitation period in order to prevent loss of their claims in the
event class status was ultimately denied after the limitation
deadline. American Pipe, 414 U.S. at 553, 38 L. Ed. 2d at 726,
94 S. Ct. at 766. The Court asserted that such "protective"
filings would be unnecessarily duplicative and thus detrimental
to the class action's goal of litigative efficiency. American Pipe,
414 U.S. at 553-54, 38 L. Ed. 2d at 726-27, 94 S. Ct. at 766.
Similarly, in Crown, Cork, the Court reasoned that tolling the
statute of limitations for purported class members who file
separate, individual suits after the denial of class status was
likewise essential to prevent needless "protective" filings of such
suits during the pendency of the class action complaint. Crown,
Cork, 462 U.S. at 350-51, 76 L. Ed. 2d at 634, 103 S. Ct. at
2396.
Plaintiffs concede that both American Pipe and Crown,
Cork concerned individual suits filed in federal court after denial
of class certification in federal court. Plaintiffs nevertheless
contend that the tolling principles of those cases are applicable
as well to individual suits filed in Illinois state court after denial
of class certification in federal court. We disagree.
Tolling the statute of limitations for individual actions filed
after the dismissal of a class action is sound policy when both
actions are brought in the same court system. In such instances,
failing to suspend the limitation period would burden the subject
court system with the protective filings described by the
Supreme Court in American Pipe and Crown, Cork. American
Pipe, 414 U.S. at 553-54, 38 L. Ed. 2d at 726-27, 94 S. Ct. at
766; Crown, Cork, 462 U.S. at 350-51, 76 L. Ed. 2d at 634, 103 S. Ct. at 2396. Tolling the statute of limitations for purported
class members who file individual suits within the same court
system after class status is denied therefore serves to reduce the
total number of filings within that system.
Tolling a state statute of limitations during the pendency of
a federal class action, however, may actually increase the burden
on that state's court system, because plaintiffs from across the
country may elect to file a subsequent suit in that state solely to
take advantage of the generous tolling rule. Unless all states
simultaneously adopt the rule of cross-jurisdictional class action
tolling, any state which independently does so will invite into its
courts a disproportionate share of suits which the federal courts
have refused to certify as class actions after the statute of
limitations has run. Although plaintiffs assert that the majority
of courts which have considered this issue have chosen to adopt
cross-jurisdictional tolling to preserve claims under state law,
our research indicates precisely the opposite. See Barela v.
Showa Denko, K.K., No. CIV--93--1469 (D.N.M. February 28,
1996) (concluding that class action brought in another
jurisdiction does not toll New Mexico statute of limitations);
Bell v. Showa Denko, K.K., 899 S.W.2d 749, 757 (Tex. Ct. App.
1995) (holding that pendency of federal class action does not
toll Texas statute of limitations); In re Agent Orange Product
Liability Litigation, 818 F.2d 210, 213 (2d Cir. 1987) (holding
that Hawaii statute of limitations is not tolled by pendency of
federal class action); but see Lee v. Grand Rapids Board of
Education, 148 Mich. App. 364, 369-70, 384 N.W.2d 165, 168
(1986) (holding that Michigan state claims were preserved by
prior federal suit). At any rate, it is apparent that very few states
to date have even considered the issue of cross-jurisdictional
tolling, let alone adopted it. Given this state of affairs, it is clear
that adoption of cross-jurisdictional class tolling in Illinois
would encourage plaintiffs from across the country to bring suit
here following dismissal of their class actions in federal court.
We refuse to expose the Illinois court system to such forum
shopping.
Furthermore, because state courts have no control over the
work of the federal judiciary, we believe it would be unwise to
adopt a policy basing the length of Illinois limitation periods on
the federal courts' disposition of suits seeking class certification.
State courts should not be required to entertain stale claims
simply because the controlling statute of limitations expired
while a federal court considered whether to certify a class
action.
Our concerns with forum shopping and with the delay
occasioned by the pendency of a class action in federal court are
well illustrated by the instant case. Most of the current plaintiffs
originally filed suit against defendant in federal court in
Washington, D.C., in 1981. After numerous orders and appeals,
that suit was finally dismissed in March of 1990. Plaintiffs
thereafter brought two similar suits, one in the local courts of
the District of Columbia and the other in Pennsylvania state
court. Each of those suits was also dismissed. The fourth
incarnation of this action in Illinois thus follows three
unsuccessful forays by plaintiffs elsewhere, spanning a period
now approaching two decades.
Plaintiffs contend that our rejection of cross-jurisdictional
tolling will necessitate numerous protective filings in Illinois by
plaintiffs who have class actions pending in other jurisdictions,
thus burdening our state court system and inconveniencing the
affected litigants. We are convinced, however, that any potential
increase in filings occasioned by our decision today would be
far exceeded by the number of new suits that would be brought
in Illinois were we to adopt the generous tolling rule advocated
by plaintiffs. By rejecting cross-jurisdictional tolling, we ensure
that the protective filings predicted by plaintiffs will be
dispersed throughout the country rather than concentrated in
Illinois.
Furthermore, early filings in state court by plaintiffs who
are pursuing a class action elsewhere would not be entirely
undesirable, as such filings would put that state's court system
on notice of the potential claim. If necessary, the state suit could
be stayed pending proceedings elsewhere. Certainly, the instant
plaintiffs would be much better off if they had instituted such a
protective filing years ago in an appropriate jurisdiction.
For all of these reasons, we affirm the circuit and appellate
courts' holding that the Illinois statute of limitations is not tolled
during the pendency of a class action in federal court.

II. Applicable Savings Provision
Next, the 47 plaintiffs in the instant case who were also
named as plaintiffs in the prior federal litigation contend that the
circuit and appellate courts erred in holding that the complaint
herein was untimely filed. These plaintiffs argue that the lower
courts erroneously applied section 2--725(3) of the Uniform
Commercial Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 26, par. 2--725(3))
rather than section 13--217 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill.
Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 110, par. 13--217) in calculating the time
allowed for refiling this action after it was dismissed in federal
court.
Section 2--725 of the Uniform Commercial Code provides,
in relevant part, as follows:
"(1) An action for breach of any contract for sale must
be commenced within 4 years after the cause of action has
accrued.
***
(3) Where an action commenced within the time limited
by subsection (1) is so terminated as to leave available a
remedy by another action for the same breach such other
action may be commenced after the expiration of the time
limited and within 6 months after the termination of the
first action ***." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 26, par. 2--725.
In contrast, section 13--217 of the Code of Civil Procedure
provides as follows:
"In the actions specified in Article XIII of this Act or
any other act or contract where the time for commencing an
action is limited, if *** the action is dismissed by a United
States District Court for lack of jurisdiction, then, whether
or not the time limitation for bringing such action expires
during the pendency of such action, the plaintiff, his or her
heirs, executors or administrators may commence a new
action within one year or within the remaining period of
limitation, whichever is greater ***." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991,
ch. 110, par. 13--217.
Plaintiffs contend that because section 13--217 of the Code
of Civil Procedure applies to "any ** act *** where the time for
commencing an action is limited," its one-year savings period
takes precedence over that contained in section 2--725(3) of the
Uniform Commercial Code. We disagree.
Where there are two statutory provisions, one of which is
general and designed to apply to cases generally, and the other
particular and relating to only one subject, the particular
provision must prevail. Hernon v. E.W. Corrigan Construction
Co., 149 Ill. 2d 190, 195 (1992). Section 13--217 of the Code
of Civil Procedure explicitly governs a wide variety of actions,
both real and personal. Conversely, UCC section 2--725(3)
governs only actions for breach of contracts for sale. As the
more specific provision, section 2--725(3) controls the instant
case.
In addition to the specificity of the provision, another
compelling reason to apply section 2--725(3) herein is to
maintain the interjurisdictional uniformity sought by the
Uniform Commercial Code. Section 2--725 was written "[t]o
introduce a uniform statute of limitations for sales contracts,
thus eliminating the jurisdictional variations and providing
needed relief for concerns doing business on a nationwide
scale." 810 ILCS Ann. 5/2--725, Uniform Commercial Code
Comment (1993). Failure to apply the explicit language of
section 2--725(3) in this instance would defeat this goal of
uniformity.
Plaintiffs cite a number of cases ostensibly supporting the
priority of section 13--217 of the Code of Civil Procedure. See
Limer v. Lyman, 241 Ill. App. 3d 125 (1993); Roth v. Northern
Assurance Co., 32 Ill. 2d 40 (1964); Bethlehem Steel Corp. v.
Chicago Eastern Corp., 863 F.2d 508 (7th Cir. 1988). Unlike
the instant case, however, none of the cited cases involved two
conflicting savings provisions, and we therefore deem the cases
inapplicable.
For these reasons, we conclude that the circuit and appellate
courts did not err in holding that those plaintiffs who
participated in the prior federal litigation of this matter failed to
timely file their complaint in Illinois pursuant to section 2--
725(3) of the Uniform Commercial Code.

CONCLUSION
For the reasons stated, we affirm the judgment of the
appellate court, affirming the circuit court's dismissal of the
instant complaint as untimely filed.

Affirmed.