plaintiff initiated a state action to compel Testwell's compliance. Plaintiff Gorwin requested the Union's assistance with this action.
Thereafter, plaintiff Gorwin returned to his job with Testwell, but his reemployment proved shortlived. Within a few days, on April 12, 1991, Testwell again discharged Gorwin. Gorwin challenged this second discharge and again sought the Union's assistance. The arbitrator in this second proceeding issued a decision on June 19, 1992, favorable to Testwell, concluding that Testwell fired Gorwin for cause.
On September 28, 1992, plaintiff filed an action against Testwell and the Union in New York State Supreme Court alleging, inter alia, that his discharge and the Union's failure to represent him were improper. On January 27, 1993, this state action was dismissed, without prejudice, for lack of service. Approximately one month later, on February 26, 1993, Mr. Gorwin refiled his state action.
The defendants thereafter removed the state action to this Court on May 24, 1993. Simultaneous with defendants' removal, Mr. Gorwin served the summons and complaint on Testwell on May 24, 1993 and the Union on May 25, 1993. Plaintiff Gorwin filed a document designated a "complaint" with this Court on May 24, 1993. This complaint sets forth allegations similar to those in the state action. More specifically, the complaint claims that the Union took no action, or inadequate action, on both the enforcement of his March 1991 arbitration award and his later challenge to his second termination. Gorwin maintains that the Union took no action on his second discharge for approximately eleven months, and that any steps taken thereafter by the Union were woefully inadequate.
Plaintiff brought his Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 and 56 motions by way of Order to Show Cause on July 27, 1993 claiming that the Union's defenses "are not properly stated, are insufficient as a matter of law, and are otherwise without merit."
The motions rely exclusively on the complaint, the parties' respective motion papers and their statements pursuant to Local Rule 3(g).
Plaintiff again moved by Order to Show Cause on October 21, 1993, for a stay of all discovery pending my decision on his motions. Plaintiff claims that extensive discovery would be burdensome and possibly unnecessary based on my determination of the statute of limitations issue.
II. The Standards for a Motion to Strike and for Summary Judgment
A party may move to strike "any insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f). A Rule 12(f) motion to strike an affirmative defense is generally disfavored. Even when a motion presents a purely legal question, a court should be reluctant to resolve the issues on a motion to strike, and should prefer to address such issues after discovery and a hearing. William Z. Salcer, Panfeld, Edelman v. Envicon Equities Corp., 744 F.2d 935, 939 (2d Cir. 1984), vacated on other grounds, 478 U.S. 1015, 106 S. Ct. 3324, 92 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1986) (Citing 5 C. Wright and A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1381, at 800-801). See also Durham Indus., Inc. v. North River Ins. Co., 482 F. Supp. 910, 913 (S.D.N.Y. 1979) ("ordinarily, a motion to strike a defense will be denied if the defense is sufficient as a matter of law or it fairly presents a question of law or fact which the court ought to hear."); Reliability Research Inc. v. Computer Assoc. Int'l, Inc., 793 F. Supp. 68, 69 (E.D.N.Y. 1992) (quoting Edelman v. Evicon).
Plaintiff also bears a heavy burden on a Rule 56 summary judgment motion. Plaintiff Gorwin, as the movant, bears the "initial responsibility" of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). To establish the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the movant does not have to "negate the opponent's claim." Id. Rather, the movant must establish that the "nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element . . . with respect to which she has the burden of proof." 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S. Ct. at 2552.
III. Plaintiff Gorwin's Motion.
A. The Statute of Limitations Defense
Plaintiff Gorwin argues that the Union's statute of limitations defense is without legal basis, because his first state action against the Union was timely filed in state court, in accordance with New York's procedural rules. The Union instead argues that plaintiff is time barred because Gorwin's first state action must be ignored and Gorwin's instant action, filed almost eleven months after the second arbitration, fails to comply with the applicable federal six-month statute of limitations.
The Second Circuit has not addressed the specific issue before me of whether filing a labor action of the type at issue here in a state court tolls the federal statute of limitations. Judge Curtin of the Western District of New York, however, who has decided facts similar to those in this case, applied state rules to toll the federal statue of limitations. For the reasons discussed below, I concur with Judge Curtin's conclusion.
1. Applicable Federal Law
An employee's claims against an employer for a breach of a collective bargaining agreement, in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 185 ("§ 301"), and an employee's claims against a union for breach of the duty of fair representation, implied under the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. ("NLRA"), are treated as a "hybrid" § 301/duty of fair representation claim. DelCostello v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 158, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 2287, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983).
The parties agree that plaintiff Gorwin's charges against the defendants constitute a hybrid § 301 claim. Section 301, however, does not contain an express statute of limitations. When a federal statute is silent as to an applicable time limitation, courts traditionally look to the most analogous time limit and "borrow" that limitations period. Id. at 158, 103 S. Ct. at 2287. However, where a state limitations rule undermines a federal statute's goals, a comparable federal statutory limit may be the more appropriate standard. Id. at 161-62, 103 S. Ct. at 2289; see also Lampf, Pleva, Lipkind, Prupis & Petigrow v. Gilbertson, U.S. 111 S. Ct. 2773, 2778, 115 L. Ed. 2d 321 (1991). There is a need, nevertheless, to avoid adoption of state rules which conflict with the "purpose or operation of federal substantive law."
DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 161, 103 S. Ct. at 2289.
In DelCostello, the Supreme Court resolved a split in the lower courts as to the applicable statute of limitations for § 301 claims. Prior to DelCostello, courts had applied a panoply of different state and federal limitations periods in their efforts to fill the gap in federal law. After reviewing the goals of § 301 and considering the urgent need for uniformity in these cases, the Court decided in DelCostello that the six-month statute of limitations found in § 10(b) of the NLRA applied to § 301 claims.
The Supreme Court reasoned that an employee's claim against a union is more analogous to claims under the NLRA, and that the practicalities of this type of employee action weighed in favor of the application of a six-month limitations period. The Court observed that:
the two claims are inextricably interdependent. 'To prevail against either the company or the Union, . . . [employee-plaintiffs] must not only show that their discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating breach of duty by the Union.'
462 U.S. at 164-65, 103 S. Ct. at 2291 (citation omitted).
The extent to which courts must borrow from § 10(b) in § 301 cases, however, caused further confusion in the lower courts which resulted in the Supreme Court revisiting the question in West v. Conrail, 481 U.S. 35, 107 S. Ct. 1538, 95 L. Ed. 2d 32 (1987). The West opinion narrowed the Court's DelCostello holding and restricted the application of other § 10(b) provisions to § 301 cases. In West, the plaintiffs filed a hybrid action in federal court and the defendants argued that plaintiffs had to comply with both the six-month statute of limitations provision and the service requirements contained in § 10(b). The Supreme Court concluded, however, that the service provisions in NLRA § 10(b) are not applicable to hybrid § 301/duty of fair representation actions. Instead, the Court held that Fed. R. Civ. P. 3 controls § 301 actions. The Court stated explicitly that it never intended in DelCostello to replace governing federal rules with § 10(b) provisions in § 301 cases filed in federal court. It explained that its intention was merely to fill the statute of limitations gap in the federal statute:
Inevitably our resolution of cases or controversies requires us to close interstices in federal law from time to time, but when it is necessary for us to borrow a statute of limitations for a federal cause of action, we borrow no more than necessary. Here, because of the availability of Rule 3, there is no lacuna as to whether the action was brought within the borrowed limitations period.