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G.D. Searle & Company v. Cohn

United States Supreme Court
455 U.S. 404 (1982)


Facts

Susan Cohn suffered a stroke after using an oral contraceptive manufactured by G.D. Searle & Company (Searle) (defendant). Susan and her husband, Walter (plaintiffs), filed suit against Searle in New Jersey state court. Searle was served with notice of the action under New Jersey’s long-arm statute. Searle removed the matter to federal district court. Thereafter, Searle moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Cohns’ action was time barred by New Jersey’s two-year statute of limitations. The Cohns countered that the action should proceed pursuant to a New Jersey statute permitting the tolling of the statute of limitations for an action against a foreign corporation that is not represented in the state by any person or officer upon whom service of process could be served. The district court held for Searle, reasoning that the New Jersey long-arm statute negated the need for the state’s tolling provision and that the tolling statute violated the Equal Protection Clause. Therefore, according to the district court, the Cohns’ suit was barred. The Cohns appealed. In the meantime, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the tolling statute remained in full force and effect. The state supreme court held that the tolling statute did not violate the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution because the increased difficulty of service on an out-of-state corporation served as a rational basis for tolling the statute of limitations. The court of appeals agreed and upheld the constitutionality of the New Jersey law. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review.

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Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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