Held v. Manufacturers Hanover Leasing Corp.

Decision Date16 August 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-1206,89-1206
Citation912 F.2d 1197
PartiesJohn H. HELD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MANUFACTURERS HANOVER LEASING CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Marjorie N. Sloan (John N. McNamara, Jr., with her on the briefs) of Baker & Hostetler, Denver, Colo., for plaintiff-appellant.

J. Scott Dyer of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, New York City (Tonianne Florentino of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, New York City, Henry C. Cleveland, III and David E. Bellack of Saunders, Snyder, Ross & Dickson, P.C., Denver, Colo., with him on the brief), for defendant-appellee.

Before MOORE, BRORBY and EBEL, Circuit Judges.

BRORBY, Circuit Judge.

Appellant John H. Held appeals the grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado to appellant's former employer, Manufacturers Hanover Leasing Corporation (MHLC). Appellant's complaint alleges that MHLC discharged him after almost ten years of employment, in part to prevent him from attaining vested rights under MHLC's retirement plan in violation of Sec. 510 of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1140. The complaint seeks legal and equitable relief. The district court granted MHLC's summary judgment motion on the ground that the limitation period applicable to appellant's claim had expired. We review the grant of summary judgment under the same standards applied by the district court, Osgood v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 848 F.2d 141, 143 (10th Cir.1988), and affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.


The salient facts are not in dispute. Mr. Held commenced employment with MHLC on February 3, 1975, and resigned on July 13, 1984, although his salary was continued until October 9 of that year. At all times Mr. Held performed his services for the corporation outside of the United States first in Puerto Rico, and then in Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. Shortly after arriving in Hong Kong, Mr. Held was informed by his supervisor that he would not be reassigned to another position. He tendered his resignation at that time. His discharge took effect in November 1984, one month before the vesting date for his pension benefits.

Mr. Held graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1972 and claims to be a Colorado native. After leaving MHLC's employ, Mr. Held returned to Colorado, which he claims he had maintained as his domicile throughout his employment with MHLC. Appellant currently resides in Colorado.

Mr. Held filed his first complaint on July 25, 1988, just over four years after he resigned. His first complaint erroneously named Manufacturers Hanover Corporation as the defendant, and that complaint was amended to name MHLC on December 5, 1988. Mr. Held claimed that he was a participant in MHLC's pension plan, which qualifies as an "employee benefit plan" as defined in ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1002(2)(A). He further claimed that MHLC coerced him to resign from his position shortly before completion of the ten years of service required for a nonforfeitable vested right in accrued benefits in that plan. Mr. Held's complaint seeks an order enforcing his rights as a participant in the pension plan, a recovery of benefits due him under the plan, damages, and attorney fees and costs.

Mr. Held's claim arises in part under Sec. 510 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1140, which states: "It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge ... a participant or beneficiary ... for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan." In addition, Sec. 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1132 (the terms of which are applicable to enforcement of a claim under Sec. 510, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1140), forms the basis of appellant's claim for benefits due him under the pension plan. See Sec. 1132(a)(1)(B).

MHLC moved for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the action on the grounds that Mr. Held's claims were barred by the New York or Colorado statute of limitation concerning employment discrimination. The district court granted the motion on the grounds that New York law applied and that the three-year New York statute of limitation applicable to claims of employment discrimination barred the action.

ERISA does not expressly provide a limitation period for actions (including Sec. 510 actions) brought under Sec. 502. Because MHLC's headquarters and principal place of business are in New York, the district court determined that New York has the most significant relationship to the claim and thus that New York law applies. The district court further determined that the most analogous claim for relief under New York law is a claim for employment discrimination, which is barred after three years. District Court Order at 1 (citing N.Y.Civ.Prac.L. & R. Sec. 214(2) (McKinney Supp.1989)). The court held that "Colorado has no interest in the subject matter of this litigation," and that the "place of business of the employer is the dominant factor." Id. The district judge concluded that plaintiff's claim was barred by New York law as of July 13, 1987.


MHLC contends that, because Sec. 510 of ERISA does not provide a limitation period for claims arising thereunder, an analogous state statute of limitation must be applied. Appellee's Brief at 5 (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266-67 n. 12, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1942 n. 12, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985); Gavalik v. Continental Can Co., 812 F.2d 834 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 979, 108 S.Ct. 495, 98 L.Ed.2d 492 (1987)). Mr. Held, on the other hand, poses the principle somewhat differently. He states that "where there is no specifically stated or otherwise relevant federal statute of limitations, the controlling period is the most appropriate one provided by state law." Appellant's Brief at 4 (citing Reed v. United Transp. Union, 488 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 621, 622-23, 102 L.Ed.2d 665 (1989)). This case presents not only a question of the most appropriate statute of limitation, but also a threshold choice-of-law question, i.e., what state's law should apply. Specifically, the parties dispute whether we should look to Colorado or New York state law for an applicable statute. 1

ERISA contains two limitation periods, neither of which applies by its express terms to appellant's claims in this case. Section 413, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1113, is applicable to violations of Part 4 of the Act ("Fiduciary Responsibility"), 2 and Sec. 4301, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1451, applies to multiemployer plans. 3 Each statute provides two periods--six years and three years--keyed respectively to the date the cause of action arose and the date the plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the cause of action.

29 U.S.C. Secs. 1132 and 1140, under which appellant's claims arise, are codified in Part 5 of ERISA, "Administration and Enforcement," not in Part 4, "Fiduciary Responsibility," to which the limitation periods in Sec. 1113 expressly pertain. It may be that MHLC is a fiduciary with respect to the company pension plan; however, there is no evidence in the record on that question. Similarly, there is no evidence that MHLC's pension plan is a multiemployer plan, such that 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1451, which pertains to actions under Subtitle E of ERISA, "Special Provisions for Multiemployer Plans," would necessarily apply.

The Supreme Court has dealt recently and at length with the question of what statute of limitation governs a claim arising under federal law when the federal statute does not provide a specific limitation period. Reed v. United Transp. Union, 488 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 621, 102 L.Ed.2d 665 (1989). When a federal statute fails to prescribe a limitation period, the "general rule [is] that statutes of limitation are to be borrowed from state law." Reed, 109 S.Ct. at 625. However, the Court recognizes a "closely circumscribed exception to the general rule." Id. The Court "decline[s] to borrow a state statute of limitations only '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.' " Id. (quoting DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 172, 103 S.Ct. 2281, 2294, 76 L.Ed.2d 476 (1983)).

Although this case arguably provides an ideal context for considering whether adoption of an ERISA limitation period makes more sense than searching for an analogous state statute, we believe that inquiry is foreclosed to this panel by this circuit's decision in Trustees of the Wyoming Laborers Health & Welfare Plan v. Morgen & Oswood Constr. Co., 850 F.2d 613 (10th Cir.1988). There we addressed the question what limitation period is applicable to an action under ERISA by trustees of employee benefit pension and insurance funds against an employer for delinquent contributions. The district court and a panel of this court considered several possibly applicable limitation periods from Wyoming state law as well as the limitation period in Sec. 413 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1113. The district court concluded and we concurred that the "Wyoming ten-year statute of limitations for actions based on written contracts is the statute of limitations 'most analogous' to the Trustees' ERISA action." 850 F.2d at 621. 4

Morgen & Oswood, as the dissent suggests, arguably can be read as not deciding the precise issue presented here; i.e., whether an ERISA statute of limitation should be applied in lieu of an analogous state statute to a claim arising under ERISA Sec. 510. As explained below, however, the majority conclude that the case does answer that question. First, we are persuaded that, in light of the Morgen & Oswood panel's discussion of DelCostello, it must be assumed that the panel at least implicitly considered whether an ERISA statute of limitation was more analogous to a...

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