In the case of Jaiden Buchan v. The Milton Hershey School, the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently ruled that the clock does not stop on the statute of limitations for making a claim in state court, simply because someone voluntarily withdraws a lawsuit. Buchan filed a complaint against the school in December of 2016, alleging that the school had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act. She voluntarily withdrew her lawsuit against the school on June 19, 2017. The plaintiff filed a writ of summons in July of 2017, but the court ruled that the voluntary withdrawal of her lawsuit was not the same as a federal court dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.
According to Judge Alice Beck Dubow, since Buchan filed an action in federal district court, and then voluntarily dismissed it, this does not toll the statute of limitations. The Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the case in April 2018, saying that since there was no pause caused by the federal suit, the window to file an action closed when Buchan turned 20, which was six months before she filed the Complaint in state court.
Claims Made by Buchan
Buychan claimed that the school neglected her mental health issues, unfairly punished her for getting a tattoo, and accused her of starting a fire at the school, which resulted in her being expelled from the school. She initially filed claims in the federal court in December 2016, alleging that the school intentionally inflicted emotional distress, as well as other violations of the ADA, including breach of fiduciary duties of care and malicious prosecution. However, Buchan withdrew the suit in June of 2017.
Later that year, Buchan filed a writ of summons in Dauphin County, and two months later she filed a complaint alleging negligence, breach of duties of care and good faith, emotional distress, and malicious prosecution. The state court dismissed the case, saying that it was time-barred. Buchan appealed, arguing that according to the Title 42, Section 5103 of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes, the statute of limitations is tolled when a case is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Because she withdrew her case, Buchan argued that she “rendered the federal court without federal jurisdiction.” As a result, her federal suit should have stopped the clock. In addition, she argued that the Title 28, Section 1367 of the U.S. Code gave her 30 days to refile in state court if a federal court did not exercise supplemental jurisdiction. According to Buchan, less than 30 days had passed between the voluntary dismissal and the first filing in the state lawsuit. Section 1367 included voluntarily dismissed cases.
The Superior Court ruled that the “voluntarily dismissed” part of Section 1367 only applies to claims that are not being considered by the federal court under supplemental jurisdiction. Judge Dubrow wrote that the language in the Section 1367 does not apply to Buchan’s case because she voluntarily dismissed all of the state law claims she asserted in her federal complaint under supplemental jurisdiction.
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