North Star Steel Company v. Thomas

PETITIONER: North Star Steel Company
RESPONDENT: Thomas
LOCATION: Arkansas General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 94-834
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 515 US 29 (1995)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1995
DECIDED: May 30, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Laurence E. Gold - Argued the cause for the respondents
Laurence Stephen Gold - for respondents
Malcolm L. Stewart - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Steven B. Feirson - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) authorizes a civil enforcement action by aggrieved employees or their union against a covered employer who fails to give 60 days notice of a plant closing or mass layoff, but provides no limitations period for such an action. In 94-835, the United Steelworkers of America filed a WARN claim, charging Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc. with laying off 85 employees without giving the required 60-day notice. In rejecting Crown Cork's contention that the statute of limitations had run, the District Court held that the source of the limitations period for WARN suits is state law and that the union's suit was timely under any of the arguably applicable Pennsylvania statutes. In 94-834, another District Court granted summary judgment for North Star Steel Company, holding the nonunion employees' suit barred under a limitations period borrowed from the National Labor Relations Act, which the court believed was more analogous to WARN than any state law. The Court of Appeals consolidated the cases and held that a WARN limitations period should be borrowed from state, not federal, law.

Question

Is state law the proper source of the limitations period for civil actions brought to enforce the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act?

Media for North Star Steel Company v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1995 in North Star Steel Company v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 30, 1995 in North Star Steel Company v. Thomas

William H. Rehnquist:

The second case which I have to announce is consolidated case number 94-834, North Star Steel Company v Charles Thomas.

This case and no case that is consolidated would come to us on a certiorari to the Third Circuit.

In each of these cases, the respondents brought claims in the Federal District Court in Pennsylvania, claiming that the petitioners, who were their employers, had laid off employees without giving the 60-day notice required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification act known as WARN.

WARN does not provide a statute of limitations.

Petitioner has moved for summary judgment arguing that the court should borrow the six month statute of limitations from the National Labor Relations Act and their respondent’s action could be barred by such a limitation period.

The Third Circuit consolidated two appeals and held that this statute of limitations for WARN should be borrowed from state law.

In an opinion authored by Justice Souter and filed with the clerk of the court today and I should say incidentally that the opinion in Wyoming v. Nebraska was also authored by Justice Souter, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and hold that state law is the proper source of the statute of limitations for the WARN Act.

The presumption that state law should provide the limitation periods for federal statute they do not provide their own, is long standing and settle.

Only when state limitations period would frustrate, the objectives of the cause of the action at issue have we departed from that rule and here because several analogous state statute provide limitations period that would not frustrate the state policy, beside the point that a federal analogue also exists.

In this case Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.