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SMITH v. FIRESTONE TIRE & RUBBER CO.

January 8, 1988

LEROY SMITH, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRESTONE TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

Statute of limitations.

Applied retroactively?

No.

This action, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to file his action within the appropriate statute of limitations.

This ground for summary judgment presents an issue of first impression in this circuit.

The short answer: Motion denied.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff, a black male, secured a position with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in April of 1981. Plaintiff had previously worked for Firestone in Akron, Ohio, but, due to a plant closing, relocated in Decatur, Illinois, to work at Firestone's plant there as a production supervisor. During Plaintiff's first several years at the Decatur plant, Plaintiff's performance was satisfactory. Beginning in January 1984, however, the quality of Plaintiff's job performance was called into question on a number of occasions. For example, in January 1984, certain batches of defective rubber were manufactured under Plaintiff's supervision. Plaintiff accepted responsibility for this mishap. In June 1984, Plaintiff was observed sleeping on the job. In August 1984, Plaintiff failed to show up for scheduled overtime work. Finally, in September 1984, more defective batches of rubber were produced under Plaintiff's supervision. Following this final incident, Plaintiff was removed from his supervisory position and was reassigned to the bargaining unit. This occurred on or about September 20, 1984. Plaintiff filed this action October 21, 1986, some 25 months later.

Plaintiff contends that his demotion was racially motivated and constituted racial discrimination. Defendant asserts that the decision to demote Plaintiff was based solely on Plaintiff's record of performance at the Decatur plant.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that the instant suit is barred by the Illinois two-year personal injury statute of limitations. Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110, ¶ 13-202. Defendant bases this argument on the recently decided United States Supreme Court decision of Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 2617, 96 L.Ed.2d 572 (1987). In Goodman, the Court held that Pennsylvania's two-year personal injury statute of limitations applied to a suit brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant argues that this decision should be applied retroactively to the instant suit, thus necessitating use of the Illinois two-year personal injury statute of limitations. "As a rule, judicial decisions apply `retroactively.'" Solem v. Stumes, 465 U.S. 638, 642, 104 S.Ct. 1338, 1341, 79 L.Ed.2d 579 (1984).

For the following reasons, this Court declines to apply Goodman retroactively to the case at bar.

In Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, 92 S.Ct. 349, 30 L.Ed.2d 296 (1971), the Court specified the circumstances under which nonretroactivity is appropriate. The Court noted three factors to be considered: (1) the decision to be applied nonretroactively must establish a new principle of law, either by overruling clear past precedent or by deciding an issue of first impression whose resolution was not clearly foreshadowed; (2) whether retrospective operation will further or retard the operation of the rule in question; and (3) whether retroactive application would produce substantial inequitable results. Id. at 106-07, 92 S.Ct. at 355-56. Apparently conceding the latter two grounds, ...


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