In many cases, the filing of a class action will toll the statute of limitations for plaintiffs who later file an individual lawsuit based on the same conduct. See American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 38 L. Ed. 2d 713, 94 S. Ct. 756 (1974) (statute tolled for those who seek to intervene after a federal court has denied class certification); Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 76 L.Ed.2d 628, 103 S.Ct. 2392 (1983) (extending American Pipe to toll the statute of limitations for those who file individual lawsuits in federal court following a federal class action).
In Illinois state courts, the tolling effect will depend on whether the class action and the later, individual cases were filed in state or federal court. Cf. Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School, 371 N.E.2d 634 (1977) (the commencement of a class action in Illinois state court suspends the statute of limitations for all members of the purported class for later-filed state court actions); Portwood v. Ford Motor Co., 701 N.E.2d 1102 (1998) (the filing of a class action in federal court does not toll the statute of limitations for later-filed state court actions).
Why the distinction? The Portwood court explained:
Tolling the statute of limitations for individual actions filed after the dismissal of a class action is sound policy when both actions are brought in the same court system. In such instances, failing to suspend the limitation period would burden the subject court system with the protective filings described by the Supreme Court in American Pipe and Crown, Cork. Tolling the statute of limitations for purported class members who file individual suits within the same court system after class status is denied therefore serves to reduce the total number of filings within that system.
Tolling a state statute of limitations during the pendency of a federal class action, however, may actually increase the burden on that state's court system, because plaintiffs from across the country may elect to file a subsequent suit in that state solely to take advantage of the generous tolling rule. Unless all states simultaneously adopt the rule of cross-jurisdictional class action tolling, any state which independently does so will invite into its courts a disproportionate share of suits which the federal courts have refused to certify as class actions after the statute of limitations has run.
Portwood, 701 N.E.2d at 1104 (citations omitted).