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Posted: October 18, 2019

Class Action Asserting Federal Antitrust Claims Did Not Toll State Antitrust Claims

On March 29, 2019, Judge Wilson of the Bergen County Superior Court (Law Division) issued a decision in Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, Docket No. BER-L-6325-18, holding that a class action asserting federal antitrust claims did not toll state antitrust claims, explaining:

MBUSA argues that the filing of federal Clayton Act claims by a putative class of direct purchasers in the New Jersey MDL action “tolled” the statute of limitations on MBUSA’s putative New Jersey Antitrust Act claim. However, no such class action tolling applies in this instance.

The doctrine of class action tolling that MBUSA seeks to invoke is sometimes referred to as the “American Pipe” rule. Under American Pipe, the commencement of a class action that is ultimately not certified due to a lack of numerosity suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties had the suit been permitted to continue as a class action. The weight of authority holds that American Pipe tolling is afforded only to subsequent individual causes of actions or claims identical to the ones alleged in the earlier putative class action.

In adopting class action tolling, New Jersey courts have expressly relied on American Pipe and discussed it at length. Relying on American Pipe, Staub held that if the pendency of a putative class action does not toll the statute of limitations for individual claimants who would be members of the class if it is certified, potential class members who have discovered their claims would be compelled to file suit to avoid expiration of the period of limitations.

MBUSA also misconstrues American Pipe in arguing that the statute of limitations on its state antitrust claim should be tolled because a previous federal court action asserted substantially the same claims as those asserted by MBUSA under the New Jersey Antitrust Act in this case. However, mere similarity in claims is not enough to warrant American Pipe tolling because the policies underlying American Pipe and like precedents simply do not apply in the cross-jurisdiction context, such as between the federal courts and state courts. However similar or dissimilar the function of federal antitrust law may be with respect to state law, the federal claim is part of a distinct body of law that must be pursued in a wholly different court system. This fact cuts decisively against the application of the policies of American Pipe across jurisdictional lines.

When considering the foregoing, it is abundantly clear that class action tolling under the American Pipe rule is inappropriate given the circumstances, and MBUSA’s state antitrust claims must be dismissed as time-barred.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

It is not unusual for the statute of limitations to be an issue in complex business litigation. Contact Schlam Stone & Dolan partner John Lundin at jlundin@schlamstone.com if you or a client have questions regarding whether a claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

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