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USW v. CROWN CORK & SEAL CO.

August 24, 1993

UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO/CLC
v.
CROWN CORK & SEAL CO., INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS N. O'NEILL, JR.

 O'Neill, J.

 On October 15, 1992, plaintiff United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO/CLC ("USW"), filed a complaint seeking declaratory and monetary relief from defendant Crown, Cork & Seal Co., Inc. ("CC & S"). Plaintiff "is the exclusive collective bargaining representative unit composed of certain" workers employed by defendant's company. See Complaint at P.3. Defendant is a national corporation with headquarters located in Philadelphia. It employed more than 100 employees at its plant in Perry, Georgia. Id. at P.4.

 Currently before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Defendant contends that plaintiff's cause of action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. As demonstrated by counsels' presentations at oral argument on May 20, 1993, and subsequent correspondence regarding recent decisions on the WARN Act's statute of limitations, the question before the Court is topical. Because I agree with the reasoning of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in United Paperworkers v. Specialty Paperboard, Inc., 999 F.2d 51, 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 18608 (2d Cir. July 19, 1993), I reject defendant's arguments and therefore deny its motion for summary judgment.

 WARN requires companies with one hundred or more employees to provide workers with at least sixty-days' written notice before a mass layoff or plant closing. *fn1" A company that fails to provide such notice prior to a mass layoff or plant closing may be sued in federal court by employees who suffer an employment loss for backpay and benefits for each day of violation. See United Paperworkers, 999 F.2d 51, 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 18608 at *3-*4 (canvassing WARN statute).

 WARN does not include an express statute of limitations. Defendant asserts that the six-month statute of limitations contained in section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 160(b), is the appropriate limitations period. Plaintiff argues that this Court should apply a state limitations period.

 Both parties agree that the starting point for this Court's inquiry is DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476, 103 S. Ct. 2281 (1983). In DelCostello, the Court held that the six-month period in section 10(b) of the NLRA applies when an employee sues both an employer for breach of a collective bargaining agreement and a union for breach of its duty of fair representation for mishandling the ensuing grievance or arbitration proceedings. The Court set out the law governing the determination of a limitations period for a federal civil statute in the absence of an express period. Writing for the Court, Justice Brennan stated that "in such situations . . . we have generally concluded that Congress intended that the Courts apply the most closely analogous statute of limitations under state law." Id. at 158.

 However, as the Court noted, sometimes "state statutes of limitations can be unsatisfactory vehicles for enforcement of federal law." Id. at 161. In these situations, the Court borrows limitations periods from related federal statutes or employs an alternative such as laches. Id. at 162. It then reasoned that the six-month period in section 10(b) of the NLRA provided a better analogy than any state statute in formulating a limitations period for an employee's "hybrid § 301/fair representation claim." Id. at 165.

 The Court concluded:

 
We stress that our holding today should not be taken as a departure from prior practice in borrowing limitations periods for federal causes of action, in labor law or elsewhere. We do not mean to suggest that federal courts should eschew use of state limitations periods anytime state law fails to provide a perfect analogy. On the contrary, as the courts have often discovered, there is not always an obvious state-law choice for application to a given federal cause of action; yet resort to state law remains the norm for borrowing of limitations periods. Nevertheless, when a rule from elsewhere in federal law clearly provides a closer analogy than available state statutes, and when the federal policies at stake and the practicalities of litigation make that rule a significantly more appropriate vehicle for interstitial lawmaking, we have not hesitated to turn away from state law.

 Id. at 171-172.

 The Court affirmed its commitment to the principles set out in 488 U.S. 319, 102 L. Ed. 2d 665, 109 S. Ct. 621 (1989). In Reed, the Court was required to determine the proper limitations period for a union member's suit against the union and its officers under § 101(a)(2) of Title I of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 ("LMRDA") for violation of his free speech rights. The Court held that state general or residual personal injury statutes provided the proper limitations period. *fn2"

 Although the Supreme Court revisited the question of how to determine the appropriate limitations time for a civil federal statute that lacks an express period after Reed, Justice Blackmun's reformulation of the judicial inquiry did not command a majority of the Court. See Lampf, Pleva Lipkind, et al. v. Gilbertson, 115 L. Ed. 2d 321, 111 S. Ct. 2773, 2778-2779 (distilling "hierarchical inquiry for ascertaining the ...


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