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Kapetanovich v. Rockwell Intern.

filed: July 15, 1992.

STEVEN KAPETANOVICH, APPELLANT
v.
ROCKWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civil No. 89-02203. District Judge: Hon. Gustave Diamond.

Sloviter, Chief Judge, Stapleton and Seitz, Circuit Judges

Author: Sloviter

MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Chief Judge.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Steven Kapetanovich appeals from an order of the district court granting summary judgment to defendant Rockwell International Corporation in a case decided under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.

Kapetanovich originally filed his complaint against Rockwell in state court, alleging wrongful discharge. Kapetanovich asserted that Rockwell had terminated him both to avoid payment to him of increased pension benefits and to avoid payment of his medical bills under the company's health plan.

Rockwell removed the action to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) because the state common law tort claims relating to an employee pension and retirement plan were preempted by ERISA. Rockwell did not interpret the allegations in Kapetanovich's complaint relating to his medical benefits as preempted by ERISA, but justified the removal of those claims on the basis of pendent jurisdiction. See United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218, 86 S. Ct. 1130 (1966). Kapetanovich did not object to the removal at that time. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the case was referred to a magistrate Judge.

Shortly before the completion of discovery, Kapetanovich learned that his Rockwell pension had in fact vested prior to his discharge. Accordingly, Kapetanovich petitioned to remand, arguing that the federal ERISA issues had dropped from the case and that the remaining issues were ones of state law that should be resolved in state court. Rockwell argued that the district court should resolve the remaining state law issues as a matter of judicial economy and should grant summary judgment to Rockwell. The magistrate Judge took a different position than either party, and held that Kapetanovich's common law tort claims relating to an employee health plan were also preempted by ERISA.

Ultimately, the magistrate Judge filed a report recommending that Rockwell's summary judgment motion be granted, which the district court adopted. Kapetanovich filed a timely notice of appeal from this final order. Our review is plenary.

II.

Facts

Kapetanovich joined the Pittsburgh Corporate Office of Rockwell's Tax Department as a staff tax accountant in 1979. In 1987, because of a decrease in Rockwell's production of the B-1B strategic aircraft, the Tax Department, among others, was required to reduce its operating budget, and Kapetanovich was the one of five accountants in the Pittsburgh office who was selected for the layoff; his last day of work was September 15, 1987.

The Director of International Human Resources and the Director of Tax Administration for the Pittsburgh office together decided which accountant would be laid off. Their decision was based on the job performance of the five accountants, and their educational background. With the exception of one "excellent" rating in 1981, Kapetanovich was consistently rated as a "satisfactory plus" employee. As to education, Kapetanovich was the only one of the five accountants in his group who was neither in possession of a master's degree in taxation nor actively ...


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