87 F.3d 1320 (9th Cir. 1996), 94-15770, Mancinelli v. International Business Machines Corp.

Docket Nº:94-15770.
Citation:87 F.3d 1320
Party Name:Dan MANCINELLI, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:June 13, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1320

87 F.3d 1320 (9th Cir. 1996)

Dan MANCINELLI, Plaintiff-Appellee,



No. 94-15770.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 13, 1996

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA9 Rule 36-3 regarding use of unpublished opinions)

Argued and Submitted March 13, 1996.

Memorandum Withdrawn Pursuant to Parties' Joint Motion for Dismissal September 5, 1996. For Superseding Decision, see 1996 WL 501112.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, D.C. No. CV-91-780-LKK; Lawrence K. Karlton, District Judge, Presiding.



Before: THOMPSON, KLEINFELD and TASHIMA, Circuit Judges.


Plaintiff-appellee Dan Mancinelli sued his longtime employer, defendant-appellant International Business Machines Corporation ("IBM") for constructive discharge in breach of an oral contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. IBM appeals a jury verdict in favor of Mancinelli on the ground that New York law governed the suit, and therefore Mancinelli was an at-will employee who could be fired for any reason. Alternatively, IBM argues that Mancinelli did not make out his claim under California law. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

I. New York Law.

IBM's primary argument is that the district court erred by refusing to apply New York law. We review a district court's decision concerning the appropriate choice of law de novo. General Signal Corp. v. MCI Tel. Corp., 66 F.3d 1500, 1505 (9th Cir.1995). We review a district court's application of local rules for an abuse of discretion. Guam v. Sasaki Corp. v. Diana's, Inc., 881 F.2d 713, 715 (9th Cir.1989).

The district refused to apply New York law because IBM did not lodge proposed jury instructions invoking New York law at the beginning of trial as required by local rule. Eastern District of California Local Rule 163(a) provides that in civil actions, jury instructions must be lodged with the court at the beginning of the trial. If they are presented thereafter, they "may be deemed not to have been properly requested unless the necessity for the request arose in the course of trial and could not reasonably have been anticipated prior to trial." Id.

IBM claims that it was taken by surprise, and did not find out until trial, that New York law should apply to this suit. The basis of IBM's claim is that it did not know until trial that the only statements that could form the basis of an express oral contract were those statements made during Mancinelli's pre-employment interview in New York. IBM's claim is disingenuous.

Discovery revealed, and IBM's own employment records confirmed, that IBM hired and initially employed Mancinelli in New York for several years. Indeed, in their Joint Statement of Facts filed in preparation for the Pre-Trial Conference, the parties agreed that "Plaintiff began working for IBM in February 1967 in Poughkeepsie, New York." Thus, IBM knew that New York had substantial connections to contract formation. Discovery also revealed that the statements relied upon by Mancinelli to evidence a "just cause" contract involved the statements made during his pre-employment interview in New York.

Thus, IBM always knew the facts on which the applicability of New York law is based; it simply failed to realize their significance until the day of closing arguments. Accordingly, IBM's attempts to raise New York law at the eleventh hour were not based on necessity arising from Mancinelli's presentation of evidence at trial.

IBM's attempt to apply New York law was also untimely under Hurtado v. Superior Court, 114 Cal.Rptr. 106, 110 (Cal.1974). Hurtado provides that California courts must "apply its own rule of decision unless a party litiganttimely invokes the law of a foreign state." Id. (emphasis added). 1

When IBM first raised the applicability of New York law, the case had been fully presented to the jury; all that remained were closing arguments. Mancinelli had presented his case in reliance on California law. At the very least, a substantial recess, and possible reopening of plaintiff's case, would have been required to permit Mancinelli time to research New York law, potentially conduct more discovery and put on additional evidence. Quite possibly, a mistrial may have been required. Undoubtedly, California...

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