It has been intimated that the uncertainty surrounding the continuing violations doctrine owes to a failure to grasp its origins and modem-day contours. This article treats this assertion as true, and tries to dispel at least some of this confusion. Toward this purpose, this article charts the conceptual landscape of this theory and explains how and why the doctrine has been and should be applied.
This analysis begins with the recognition of and distinction between two types of continuing violations. Though frequently confused or conflated, these two approaches are in fact quite different in both purpose and effect. The first sort of continuing violation aggregates multiple allegedly wrongful acts, failures to act, or decisions such that the limitations period begins to run on this collected malfeasance only when the defendant ceases its improper conduct. The second type of continuing violation divides what might otherwise represent a single, timebarred cause of action into several separate claims, at least one of which accrues within the limitations period prior to suit.
Review and analysis of the case law applying the continuing violations doctrine yields the insight that the two types of continuing violations address different issues implicated by statutes of limitations. The first form of the doctrine has been invoked for primarily equitable reasons, as in situations where a plaintiff faces an impediment to timely filing not readily addressed by other accrual or tolling rules. The second variation of the continuing violations doctrine promotes the efficient invocation of the judicial process in a variety of ways.
The thesis of this article follows from its recognition of two types of continuing violations and its identification of the possible utilities associated with each branch of the doctrine. The gravamen of a claim and the terms of the pertinent limitations statute often permit, but do not require, application of the continuing violations doctrine. This article proposes that in deciding whether to recognize a continuing violation in these circumstances, courts should consider whether, among the various accrual and tolling rules, a form of the continuing violations doctrine provides the best method of addressing the equitable and efficiency concerns implicated by a statute of limitations defense.
In unfurling its explanation of the continuing violations doctrine, this article proceeds as follows. Section II provides an overview of the various accrual and tolling rules, including the two forms of the continuing violations doctrine, that may affect how a statute of limitations will run on a claim. Section III then examines the justifications that have been given for the continuing violations doctrine and concludes that all of these explanations have little descriptive or predictive utility.
To devise a better approach, Section IV peruses the recurring application of the continuing violations doctrine to various causes of action, including claims alleging false imprisonment, seduction, a hostile work environment, and the negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress (all of which illustrate the first type of continuing violation); and nuisance, trespass, antitrust, and some civil rights claims (manifesting the second class of continuing violations). Though aberrant decisions appear, this review yields an evident tendency to recognize continuing violations principally in those situations in which the doctrine will advance equitable or efficiency interests to an extent unmatched by other accrual and tolling rules. Section V then discusses the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber CoY By a narrow majority, the Ledbetter Court ruled that a discriminatory-pay claim brought by a Title VII plaintiff was not a continuing violation. A review of the majority opinion and dissent reveals that the outcome in Ledbetter comports with the general principles regarding continuing violations set forth in this article. Finally, Section VI draws from Ledbetter in offering a few concluding remarks.
43 Gonz. L. Rev. 271 2007-2008