A Circuit Court has clarified when the doctrine of equitable tolling applies to FRSA Section 20109 time limitations.

In Sparre v. United States Dep’t of Labor, the 7th Circuit confirms the FRSA’s various time limitations for filing or appealing are not jurisdictional and therefore are subject to equitable tolling. However, the Court warns such tolling “is granted sparingly only when extraordinary circumstances far beyond the litigant’s control prevented timely filing.”

Here are the four principal situations in which equitable tolling may apply:

(1) when the opposing party has actively misled the movant about the cause of action;

(2) when the movant has in some extraordinary way been prevented from filing his or her appeal before the Board;

(3) when the movant has raised the precise statutory claim in issue but has done so in the wrong forum; and

(4) when the opposing party’s own acts or omissions have lulled the movant into forgoing prompt attempts to vindicate his rights.

The Court also notes that “parties represented by counsel are ordinarily not entitled to equitable tolling.” This is because attorneys are “presumptively aware” of any applicable time limits, and “clients are accountable for the acts and omissions of their attorneys.”

Here is the full decision in Sparre. For more on Section 20109 deadlines, go to FRSA Statute of Limitations. For more on the rights of railroad workers under the FRSA, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.