SMITH, Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff Sheldon Stephens appeals the dismissal of his claims against Defendant Kevin Clash for injuries resulting from the parties' sexual relationship while Stephens was underage, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422, 18 U.S.C. § 2423, and state law. The District Court dismissed Stephens's claims as untimely. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm.
Because the District Court dismissed both Stephens's complaint and his amended complaint on motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the facts recited here are drawn from those pleadings. Kevin Clash is "an internationally-known puppeteer and voice actor for children's programming," best known for his role as the voice of Sesame Street's Elmo. A42, A52. Stephens and Clash met at a "social networking event for models and actors" in 2004 when Stephens was 16 years old and Clash was approximately 44. A43, A56. According to Stephens, "[f]rom their earliest conversations, Clash led [Stephens] to believe that [Clash] was interested in having a sexual relationship" with Stephens. A44, A54. Clash arranged by telephone on several occasions to have Stephens transported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to New York City by chauffeured car for the purpose of a sexual relationship. The two engaged in a "pattern of sexual activity ... over a period of years." A44, A54.
Although he was "a compliant victim showered with attention and affection," Stephens contends that he "did not become aware that he had suffered adverse psychological and emotional effects from Clash's sexual acts and conduct until 2011." A45, A55. According to Stephens, because of his "compliance with the sexual relationship" and the "attention and affection" Clash gave him, Stephens "could not reasonably have been expected to know that he had been injured and that Clash had caused his injuries at the time of their sexual contact." A45, A55.
On the other hand, as stated in the amended complaint, Clash "compelled [Stephens] to engage in sexual contacts by intellectual, emotional and psychological force." A56. Clash did so by "ingratiat[ing] himself to [Stephens] through [Clash's] wealth and celebrity with knowledge that [Stephens] wanted to enter the modeling industry." Id. Taking advantage of Stephens's "low self-esteem and depression," Clash then "dominate[d] [Stephens] in a sexual relationship." Id.
Stephens eventually sued in March 2013 — approximately nine years after the parties' relationship began, and seven years after Stephens turned 18 in 2006 — bringing claims pursuant to 18 U.S.C.
The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1331 regarding Stephens's federal claims. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
We first examine whether the discovery rule is applicable to claims brought under § 2255. In general, the discovery rule "tolls the limitations period until the plaintiff learns of his cause of action or with reasonable diligence could have done so" and "is an exception to the usual principle that the statute of limitations begins to run immediately upon accrual regardless of whether or not the injured party has any idea what has happened to him." William A. Graham Co. v. Haughey (Graham II), 646 F.3d 138, 141, 150 (3d Cir.2011). To determine whether the discovery rule is available, we look to whether Congress intended that the discovery rule would not apply, either "by explicit command or by implication from the structure and text of the statute," in which case we defer to that directive. William A. Graham Co. v. Haughey (Graham I), 568 F.3d 425, 434 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Disabled in Action of Pa. v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 539 F.3d 199, 209 (3d Cir.2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
We begin with the statute's text. At the time Stephens filed his complaint, § 2255 provided that "[a]ny action commenced under this section shall be barred unless the complaint is filed within six years after under a legal disability, not later than three years after the disability." 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b) (2012).
Nor does the "structure and text" of § 2255 imply a Congressional directive not to apply the discovery rule. See Graham I, 568 F.3d at 434; cf. Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 92, 123 S.Ct. 1140, 155 L.Ed.2d 164 (2003) (for questions of statutory construction, "[w]e consider the statute's text and its structure to determine the legislative objective"); United States v. Tupone, 442 F.3d 145, 151 (3d Cir.2006) ("[T]he text of a statute must be considered in the larger context or structure of the statute in which it is found."). To the contrary, the statutory scheme supports the discovery rule's applicability. Section 2255 is an umbrella statute that creates a private cause of action for several crimes if the perpetrator victimizes a minor. See § 2255(a) (listing criminal statutes). Congress's prime objective when it first passed § 2255 as part of the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act of 1986 was to reach crimes related to child pornography. Pub.L. No. 99-500, § 703(a), 100 Stat. 1783 (listing only 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251, 2252). Congressional findings also described § 2255 as an attempt to address the "multi-million dollar" child-exploitation industry, along with the "physiological, psychological, and emotional harm caused by the production, distribution, and display of child pornography" and the "lack [of] effective remedies under Federal law" available to "exploitation victims." Id. § 702(1)-(3); see also S.Rep. No. 99-504, at 5 (1986) (noting that "child pornography victims have no real vehicle for adequate victim compensation" and therefore "are not adequately compensated for the substantial mental or emotional harms suffered as a result of being victimized"); S.Rep. No. 99-425, at 87 (1986) (same).
Yet this objective, particularly with regard to remedying the harms caused by the distribution of child pornography,
Our approach in concluding that the discovery rule is applicable here is consistent with that taken by our sister circuits when considering whether the discovery rule applies to other federal statutes. For example, the Second Circuit agreed with our conclusion in Graham I that the rule applied to Copyright Act claims. Psihoyos v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 748 F.3d 120, 124-25 (2d Cir.2014). Further, Psihoyos noted that the discovery rule may apply "where precedent, structure and policy all favor such a rule" despite the absence of express language in the statute adopting the discovery rule. Id. at 124 n. 5.
Clash argues that we should adopt the rationale expressed in Singleton v. Clash, 951 F.Supp.2d 578 (S.D.N.Y.2013), aff'd sub nom. on other grounds, S.M. v. Clash, 558 Fed.Appx. 44 (2d Cir.2014),
Singleton also relied on § 2255(b)'s express exception to the statute of limitations, which permits an action to be commenced "in the case of a person under a legal disability, not later than three years after the disability." See Singleton, 951 F.Supp.2d at 586. According to Singleton, "this exception is plainly crafted to afford minors at least three years after attaining the age of eighteen to contemplate whether they choose to sue for conduct committed against them while they were minors." Id. Thus, Singleton explains, the exception "counsels against implying an additional discovery rule into the statute." Id.
We disagree. Section § 2255(b)'s exception suggests that Congress considered tolling in instances where the victim's status prevents him from filing a timely lawsuit — for example, if the victim is still a minor when the six-year statute of limitations would otherwise have run. But the inclusion of an exception for infancy and other legal disabilities does not speak to whether Congress considered and rejected the discovery rule, a conceptually distinct tolling doctrine that does not depend on the victim's legal status but instead depends on when the victim "discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that forms the basis for the claim." Graham I, 568 F.3d at 438 (quoting Disabled in Action, 539 F.3d at 209). Because the text and structure of § 2255 as described above supports application of the discovery rule, we conclude that Congress's inclusion of a limited exception to the six-year statute of limitations for those under a legal disability does not indicate that Congress also intended to exclude the discovery rule.
To be sure, if Congress had expressly incorporated a limited discovery rule, or perhaps another entirely "judge-made doctrine" tolling the statute of limitations, like equitable estoppel, TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 31 n. 5, 122 S.Ct. 441, 151 L.Ed.2d 339 (2001), that inclusion might indicate "that Congress [had] implicitly excluded
Despite this holding, however, the discovery rule does not save Stephens's federal claims. A statute of limitations defense is an affirmative defense that a defendant must usually plead in his answer. Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir.2014). Nevertheless, "we permit a limitations defense to be raised by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) only if the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations." Id. (quoting Robinson v. Johnson, 313 F.3d 128, 134-35 (3d Cir.2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, a district court may grant a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) raising a limitations defense if "the face of the complaint" demonstrates that the plaintiff's claims are untimely. Id. (quoting Robinson, 313 F.3d at 134-35). But federal courts "may not allocate the burden of invoking the discovery rule in a way that is inconsistent with the rule that a plaintiff is not required to plead, in a complaint, facts sufficient to overcome an affirmative defense." Id. at 251-52. Thus, if "the pleading does not reveal when the limitations period began to run," then "the statute of limitations cannot justify Rule 12 dismissal." Barefoot Architect, Inc. v. Bunge, 632 F.3d 822, 835 (3d Cir.2011).
Stephens's complaint demonstrates that his claims are not timely, even applying the discovery rule. As noted above, under the discovery rule the statute of limitations begins to run "when the plaintiff discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that forms the basis for the claim." Graham I, 568 F.3d at 433 (quoting Disabled in Action, 539 F.3d at 209). A plaintiff's ignorance regarding the full extent of his injury is irrelevant to the discovery rule's application, so long as the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered that he was injured. Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 635 (3d Cir.2009) (statute of limitations begins to run "even though the full extent of the injury is not then known or predictable") (quoting Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 391, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007)). "Were it otherwise, the statute would begin to run only after a plaintiff became satisfied that he had been harmed enough, placing the supposed statute of repose in the sole hands of the party seeking relief." Wallace, 549 U.S. at 391, 127 S.Ct. 1091.
Here, Stephens's allegations demonstrate that he was aware that Clash had inflicted an injury at least as of the time Stephens willingly engaged in sexual relations with Clash. From the outset, "Clash led [Stephens] to believe that [Clash] was interested in having a sexual relationship." A44, A54. Stephens willingly traveled from Harrisburg to New York City at Clash's request. Stephens then became a "compliant
Given that § 2255 creates a cause of action only for criminal violations occurring while the victim was a minor, Clash's sexual relationship with Stephens was no longer actionable under § 2255 after Stephens turned 18 years of age in 2006. Yet despite Stephens's awareness of his sexual relationship with Clash, Stephens did not bring suit until 2013, after the six-year statute of limitations had expired and also more than three years after Stephens became an adult. Accordingly, neither the discovery rule nor § 2255's three-year extension for persons under a legal disability saves Stephens's federal claims.
Finally, we address Stephens's argument that the District Court erred in dismissing his state law claim for sexual battery as untimely. "[A] federal court must apply the substantive laws of its forum state in diversity actions, and these include state statutes of limitations." Lafferty v. St. Riel, 495 F.3d 72, 76 (3d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); see also Ross v. Johns-Manville Corp., 766 F.2d 823, 826 (3d Cir.1985) (federal courts sitting in diversity follow "the forum's choice of law rules to determine the applicable statute of limitations"). Accordingly, because Stephens filed his complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, we apply Pennsylvania law to determine the applicable statute of limitations.
Under Pennsylvania's borrowing statute, otherwise known as the Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act, "[t]he period of limitation applicable to a claim accruing outside this Commonwealth shall be either that provided or prescribed by the law of the place where the claim accrued or by the law of this Commonwealth, whichever first bars the claim." 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5521(b). The parties agree that Stephens's sexual battery claim accrued in New York. Under New York law, battery claims "shall be commenced within one year." N.Y. C.P.L.R. 215(3). By contrast, under Pennsylvania law, actions for battery "must be commenced within two years." 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5524(1).
On its face, New York's statute of limitations is shorter than Pennsylvania's, suggesting that New York's statute of limitations should govern. Indeed, Stephens agrees that New York's one-year statute of limitations is the applicable "period of limitation" in this case. But Stephens argues
42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5533(b)(2)(i).
Although Stephens characterizes this statute as a tolling provision, a close reading of the text indicates that § 5533(b)(2)(i) defines an entirely separate period of limitations for claims of childhood sexual abuse. In general, tolling rules prevent the applicable statute of limitations from running despite an accrued cause of action. See Graham II, 646 F.3d at 147 ("There exist, however, various statutory and judge-made rules that operate to toll the running of the limitations period — that is, `to stop [its] running'; `to abate it', or `[t]o suspend or interrupt' it." (alterations in original) (citations omitted)). Thus, "[t]ime that passes while a statute is tolled does not count against the limitations period." Id. at 147-48. For example, under Pennsylvania law, infancy tolls the statute of limitations, but does not create a new period of limitations for minor plaintiffs. 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5533(b)(1)(i) ("If an individual entitled to bring a civil action is an unemancipated minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the period of minority shall not be deemed a portion of the time period within which the action must be commenced.").
This is not how § 5533(b)(2)(i) operates. Rather than exclude a period of time from Pennsylvania's otherwise applicable two-year statute of limitations, § 5533(b)(2)(i) establishes "a period of 12 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages" for claims of childhood sexual abuse. Instead of merely tolling the two-year statute of limitations, § 5533(b)(2)(i) supplants the existing statute of limitations for battery claims. The extended statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims is entirely independent of the two-year provision applicable to battery claims that do not constitute childhood sexual abuse.
Thus, regardless of which state's tolling doctrines apply under Pennsylvania's borrowing statute, the borrowing statute still renders Stephens's claims untimely. Under the borrowing statute, we must apply the "period of limitation" that "first bars" Stephens's state law claim. Stephens turned 18 in 2006, and thus any sexual relationship continuing beyond that date would not constitute the abuse of a minor. Stephens did not file his complaint until 2013, well after the expiration of New York's one-year statute of limitations. Given that § 5533(b)(2)(i) establishes a longer period of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims and is not a tolling doctrine, New York's statute of limitations "first bars" Stephens's sexual battery claim, regardless whether Pennsylvania's or New York's tolling rules apply. Thus, the District Court properly dismissed that claim as time barred.
For these reasons, we will affirm the District Court's dismissal of Stephens's complaint and amended complaint.
JORDAN, Circuit Judge, Concurring:
I concur in the outcome of this case and with most of what my colleagues have said in reaching that outcome. I part company, though, with the Majority's decision to reach the issue of whether the discovery rule is available under 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Because the discovery rule does not save Stephens's claims, the discussion of § 2255(b) is dicta, and it is dicta as to which I have some doubt.
As noted in the Majority opinion, § 2255(b) provides that "[a]ny action commenced under this section shall be barred unless the complaint is filed within six years after the right of action first accrues or in the case of a person under a legal disability, not later than three years after the disability." This legal disability exception is not a tolling provision. It does not toll, stop, abate, suspend, or interrupt the limitation period. Rather, it provides a separate limitation period for cases involving legal disability. See William A. Graham Co. v. Haughey, 646 F.3d 138, 147 (3d Cir.2011) (noting that tolling provisions "operate to toll the running of the limitations period — that is, to stop [its] running; to abate it, or [t]o suspend or interrupt it" (alterations in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). In short, the three-year legal disability provision in § 2255(b) operates like the twelve-year infancy provision in Pennsylvania law, which the Majority recognizes as a distinct limitation provision and not a tolling provision.
But regardless of whether the disability provision in § 2255(b) is thought of as a tolling provision or a limitation provision, the result is the same: Congress has expressly included one exception and, it seems, has done so deliberately and perhaps to the exclusion of other exceptions. The Majority acknowledges the general rule applied in TRW Inc. v. Andrews: "Where Congress explicitly enumerates certain exceptions to a general prohibition,
In United States v. Brockamp, the Court declined to read equitable tolling into a statute that included a number of "explicit exceptions to its basic time limits," including the provision of distinct limitation periods to account for unique factual scenarios. 519 U.S. 347, 351, 117 S.Ct. 849, 136 L.Ed.2d 818 (1997). The Court explained that "those very specific exceptions do not include `equitable tolling.'" Id. The Court thus concluded that "the explicit listing of exceptions [and other aspects of the statute's text] indicate to us that Congress did not intend courts to read other unmentioned, open-ended, `equitable' exceptions into the statute that it wrote." Id. at 352, 117 S.Ct. 849.
A sound argument can be made that that same rationale applies here. Congress appears to have considered the possibility that, when a civil cause of action is based on an injury inflicted on a minor, the general rule of starting the limitation period from the time of accrual could lead to inequitable results. Rather than allowing the courts to apply traditional judge-made equitable doctrines to resolve the issue, Congress may be seen as having adopted a separate limitation period for persons who are under a legal disability, such as infancy, to address the very concern that the statute of limitations would otherwise run during that period of disability. See 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b). That "explicit exception" to the basic time limit of § 2255(b) thus may indicate that "Congress did not intend courts to read other unmentioned, open-ended, `equitable' exceptions into the statute that it wrote." Brockamp, 519 U.S. at 351, 352, 117 S.Ct. 849.
That the objectives of § 2255(a) might be better served by adopting a more expansive limitation period, particularly in cases of child pornography or abuse leading to repressed memory, would not empower us to change a Congressional policy decision on how best to balance the competing objectives of vindicating the rights created in § 2255(a) and placing an outer time limit on such vindication for the sake of repose. Cf. Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers v. Mortgage Asset Securitization Transactions, Inc., 730 F.3d 263, 275 (3d Cir.2013) ("[T]he purpose of statutes of limitations is to prevent stale claims...."). In the end, however, it is not necessary for us to decide what can be discerned of Congressional intent on this point. The outcome for the claimant here is unaffected by the issue, for reasons persuasively set forth in the Majority opinion. I would therefore leave for another day the question of whether § 2255(b) permits application of the discovery rule.