MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the issue whether in a diversity action the federal court should follow state law or, alternatively, Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in determining when an action is commenced for the purpose of tolling the state statute of limitations.
According to the allegations of the complaint, petitioner, a carpenter, was injured on August 22, 1975, in Oklahoma City, Okla., while pounding a Sheffield nail into a cement wall. Respondent was the manufacturer of the nail. Petitioner claimed that the nail contained a defect which caused its head to shatter and strike him in the right eye, resulting in permanent injuries. The defect was allegedly caused by respondent's negligence in manufacture and design.
Petitioner is a resident of Oklahoma, and respondent is a foreign corporation having its principal place of business in a
The District Court dismissed the complaint as barred by the Oklahoma statute of limitations. 452 F.Supp. 243 (1978). The court concluded that Okla. Stat., Tit. 12, § 97 (1971) was "an integral part of the Oklahoma statute of limitations," 452 F. Supp., at 245, and therefore under Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co., 337 U.S. 530 (1949), state law applied. The court rejected the argument that Ragan had been implicitly overruled in Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965).
We granted certiorari, 444 U.S. 823 (1979), because of a conflict among the Courts of Appeals.
The question whether state or federal law should apply on various issues arising in an action based on state law which has been brought in federal court under diversity of citizenship jurisdiction has troubled this Court for many years. In the landmark decision of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), we overturned the rule expressed in Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1 (1842), that federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction need not, in matters of "general jurisprudence," apply the nonstatutory law of the State. The Court noted
In Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945), we addressed ourselves to "the narrow question whether, when no recovery could be had in a State court because the action is barred by the statute of limitations, a federal court in equity can take cognizance of the suit because there is diversity of citizenship between the parties," id., at 107. The Court held that the Erie doctrine applied to suits in equity as well as to actions at law. In construing Erie we noted that "[i]n essence, the intent of that decision was to insure that, in all cases where a federal court is exercising jurisdiction solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties, the outcome of the litigation in the federal court should be substantially the same, so far as legal rules determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if tried in a State court." 326 U. S., at 109. We concluded that the state statute of limitations should be applied. "Plainly enough, a statute that would completely bar recovery in a suit if brought in a State court bears on a State-created right vitally and not merely formally or negligibly. As to consequences that so intimately affect recovery or non-recovery a federal court in a diversity case should follow State law." Id., at 110.
The decision in York led logically to our holding in Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co., supra. In Ragan, the plaintiff had filed his complaint in federal court on September 4, 1945, pursuant to Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of
We affirmed, relying on Erie and York. "We cannot give [the cause of action] longer life in the federal court than it would have had in the state court without adding something to the cause of action. We may not do that consistently with Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins." 337 U. S., at 533-534. We rejected the argument that Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governed the manner in which an action was commenced in federal court for purposes of tolling the state statute of limitations. Instead, we held that the service of summons statute controlled because it was an integral part of the state statute of limitations, and under York that statute of limitations was part of the state-law cause of action.
The Court in Hanna, however, pointed out "a more fundamental flaw" in the defendant's argument in that case. Id., at 469. The Court concluded that the Erie doctrine was simply not the appropriate test of the validity and applicability of one of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
The Court cited Ragan as one of the examples of this proposition, 380 U. S., at 470, n. 12.
The present case is indistinguishable from Ragan. The statutes in both cases require service of process to toll the statute of limitations, and in fact the predecessor to the Oklahoma statute in this case was derived from the predecessor to the Kansas statute in Ragan. See Dr. Koch Vegetable Tea Co. v. Davis, 48 Okla. 14, 22, 145 P. 337, 340 (1914). Here, as in Ragan, the complaint was filed in federal court under diversity jurisdiction within the 2-year statute of limitations, but service of process did not occur until after the 2-year period and the 60-day service period had run. In both cases the suit would concededly have been barred in the applicable state court, and in both instances the state service statute was held to be an integral part of the statute of limitations by the lower court more familiar than we with state law. Accordingly, as the Court of Appeals held below,
Petitioner argues that the analysis and holding of Ragan did not survive our decision in Hanna.
We note at the outset that the doctrine of stare decisis weighs heavily against petitioner in this case. Petitioner seeks to have us overrule our decision in Ragan. Stare decisis does not mandate that earlier decisions be enshrined forever, of course, but it does counsel that we use caution in rejecting established law. In this case, the reasons petitioner asserts for overruling Ragan are the same factors which we concluded in Hanna did not undermine the validity of Ragan. A litigant who in effect asks us to reconsider not one but two prior decisions bears a heavy burden of supporting such a change in our jurisprudence. Petitioner here has not met that burden.
This Court in Hanna distinguished Ragan rather than overruled it, and for good reason. Application of the Hanna analysis is premised on a "direct collision" between the Federal Rule and the state law. 380 U. S., at 472. In Hanna itself the "clash" between Rule 4 (d) (1) and the state in-hand service requirement was "unavoidable." 380 U. S., at 470. The first question must therefore be whether the scope of the Federal Rule in fact is sufficiently broad to control the issue before
As has already been noted, we recognized in Hanna that the present case is an instance where "the scope of the Federal Rule [is] not as broad as the losing party urge[s], and therefore, there being no Federal Rule which cover[s] the point in dispute, Erie command[s] the enforcement of state law." Ibid. Rule 3 simply states that "[a] civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court." There is no indication that the Rule was intended to toll a state statute of limitations,
In contrast to Rule 3, the Oklahoma statute is a statement of a substantive decision by that State that actual service on, and accordingly actual notice by, the defendant is an integral part of the several policies served by the statute of limitations. See C & C Tile Co. v. Independent School District No. 7 of Tulsa County, 503 P.2d 554, 559 (Okla. 1972). The statute of limitations establishes a deadline after which the defendant may legitimately have peace of mind; it also recognizes that after a certain period of time it is unfair to require the defendant to attempt to piece together his defense to an old claim. A requirement of actual service promotes both of those functions of the statute. See generally ibid.; Seitz v. Jones, 370 P.2d 300, 302 (Okla. 1961). See also Ely, The Irrepressible Myth of Erie, 87 Harv. L. Rev. 693, 730-731 (1974).
Since there is no direct conflict between the Federal Rule and the state law, the Hanna analysis does not apply.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
The Note of the Advisory Committee on the Rules states:
"When a Federal or State statute of limitations is pleaded as a defense, a question may arise under this rule whether the mere filing of the complaint stops the running of the statute, or whether any further step is required, such as, service of the summons and complaint or their delivery to the marshal for service. The answer to this question may depend on whether it is competent for the Supreme Court, exercising the power to make rules of procedure without affecting substantive rights, to vary the operation of statutes of limitations. The requirement of Rule 4 (a) that the clerk shall forthwith issue the summons and deliver it to the marshal for service will reduce the chances of such a question arising." 28 U. S. C. App., pp. 394-395.
This Note establishes that the Advisory Committee predicted the problem which arose in Ragan and arises again in the instant case. It does not indicate, however, that Rule 3 was intended to serve as a tolling provision for statute of limitations purposes; it only suggests that the Advisory Committee thought the Rule might have that effect.