North Star Steel Co. v. Thomas
515 U.S. 29 (1995)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1994

Syllabus

NORTH STAR STEEL CO. v. THOMAS ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

No. 94-834. Argued April 25, 1995-Decided May 30,1995*

Respondents filed separate claims under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which 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 rejecting petitioner employer's contention that the statute of limitations had run, the District Court in Crown Cork held that the source of the limitations period for WARN suits is state law and that respondent union's suit was timely under any of the arguably applicable Pennsylvania statutes. In North Star, however, another District Court granted summary judgment for petitioner employer, holding respondent 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 Third Circuit consolidated the cases and held that a WARN limitations period should be borrowed from state, not federal, law, reversing in North Star and affirming in Crown Cork.

Held: State law is the proper source of the limitations period for civil actions brought to enforce WARN. Pp.33-37.

(a) Where a federal statute fails to provide any limitations period for a new cause of action, this Court's longstanding and settled practice has been to borrow the limitations period from the most closely analogous state statute. A closely circumscribed and narrow exception to this general rule allows borrowing from elsewhere in federal law when the arguably relevant state limitations periods would frustrate or interfere with the implementation of national policies or be at odds with the purpose or operation of federal substantive law. See, e. g., DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U. S. 151, 161, 172. Pp. 33-35.

(b) These cases fall squarely inside the general rule, not the exception. The presumption that state law will be the source of a missing

*Together with No. 94-835, Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc. v. United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO-CLC, also on certiorari to the same court.


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Syllabus

federal limitations period was already longstanding when WARN was passed in 1988, justifying the assumption that Congress intended by its silence that courts borrow state law. Agency Holding Corp. v. MalleyDuff & Associates, Inc., 483 U. S. 143,147. Accordingly, since the complaints in both of these cases were timely even under the shortest of the potentially-applicable Pennsylvania statutes of limitations, there is no need to go beyond the Court of Appeals's decision to choose the best of the four, and it is enough to say here that none of these statutes would be at odds with WARN's purpose or operation, or frustrate or interfere with the intent behind it. DelCostello, supra, at 166, distinguished. Although petitioners are right that the adoption of state limitations periods can result in variations from State to State and encourage forum shopping, these are just the costs of the general rule itself, and nothing about WARN makes them exorbitant. Agency Holding Corp., supra, at 149, 153-154, distinguished. Because a state counterpart provides a limitations period without frustrating consequences here, it is simply beside the point that a perfectly good federal analogue exists. Pp. 35-37.

32 F.3d 53, affirmed.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 37.

Steven B. Feirson argued the cause for petitioners in both cases. On the briefs in No. 94-834 were Vincent Candiello, Wayne D. Rutman, and Peter Buscemi. With Mr. Feirson on the briefs in No. 94-835 was Jerome A. Hoffman.

Laurence Gold argued the cause for respondents in both cases. On the briefs in No. 94-834 were Paul Alan Levy and Alan B. Morrison. With Mr. Gold on the briefs in No. 94-835 were Robert M. Weinberg, Jeremiah A. Collins, Carl B. Frankel, David 1. Goldman, and David M. Silberman.

Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Deputy Solicitor


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Full Text of Opinion

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