Congress often enacts statutes that create specific causes of action for aggrieved individuals. Many federal statutes, however, create duties with no corresponding action for breach, leaving courts to create causes of action for individuals owed those duties.' When the courts, rather than Congress, create a cause of action, no specific statute of limitations governs the suit. Surprisingly, many statutory causes of action also lack limitation periods." Courts frequently face actions not governed by any statute of limitations because traditionally there has been no general statute of limitations governing all federal actions.
Courts usually are not content to find that a party may bring suit at any time after the cause of action accrues." Throughout history,courts have found time limitations necessary to protect possible defendants, the judicial system, and society in general. Because many federally derived causes of action do not have statutory limitation periods,courts must look elsewhere for appropriate time restrictions.
In 1990 Congress sought to relieve the courts of the arduous task of borrowing limitation periods. The Judicial Improvements Act of 1990 (the Act) contains a general statute of limitations governing actions arising under federal statutes that contain no specific limitation periods. Part II of this Note discusses the Act in more detail. Part III evaluates options courts have when confronting a federal cause of action with no limitation period, including borrowing from state law, borrowing from federal law, applying no limitation period, limiting the action with laches, or simply creating an appropriate period.
Part IV examines steps Congress could take to ensure that every action arising under a federal statute has an appropriate limitation period and examines constitutional concerns regarding congressional delegation of the power to fix statutes of limitations. Finally, this Note concludes that the general fallback statute of limitations in the Act is insufficient as a remedy for the uncertainty caused by Congress's failure to provide limitation periods in statutes that create causes of action. Because courts are unable to provide uniform solutions to this problem, Congress must enact additional legislation.
M. Patrick McDowell,
Limitation Periods for Federal Causes of Action After the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990,
44 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol44/iss6/5