United States District Court, Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division
January 8, 1988
LEROY SMITH, JR., PLAINTIFF,
FIRESTONE TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:
Statute of limitations.
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.
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.
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, Defendant argues
only that "Plaintiff in this case clearly cannot satisfy the
first requirement of Chevron, since Goodman [did not overrule]
any clear Seventh Circuit precedent. . . ."
Defendant is simply wrong in this assertion. Clearly, Goodman
did overrule a long line of precedent from the Seventh Circuit
holding that Illinois' general five-year statute of limitations
(Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110, ¶ 13-205) should apply to actions brought
under § 1981.*fn1 Beginning with Waters v. Wisconsin Steel Works,
427 F.2d 476 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 911, 91 S.Ct.
137, 27 L.Ed.2d 151 (1970), the Seventh Circuit has consistently
held that the Illinois five-year statute of limitations applies
to statutory claims brought under § 1981. Id. at 488. This rule
has remained unchanged with respect to § 1981 claims since
Waters. See, e.g., Perkins v. Hendrickson Mfg. Co., 610 F.2d 469,
470 (7th Cir. 1979); Archie v. Chicago Truck Drivers, Helpers &
Warehouse Workers Union, 585 F.2d 210, 218 n. 1 (7th Cir. 1978);
Teague v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 566 F.2d 7, 8 (7th Cir. 1977);
see also Beard v. Robinson, 563 F.2d 331, 338 (7th Cir. 1977),
cert. denied, 438 U.S. 907, 98 S.Ct. 3125, 57 L.Ed.2d 1149 (1978)
(The Seventh Circuit has consistently held that "the Illinois
five-year statute of limitations applies to statutory claims
brought under the Civil Rights Acts."). Clearly, Goodman presents
a clear break with established precedent in this circuit —
precedent on which the Plaintiff justifiably relied. Thus, the
first Chevron factor for a holding of nonretroactive application
The second Chevron factor — whether retroactive application
would advance or retard uniform federal characterization of §
1981 claims — does not militate for or against retroactive
application. See Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1339
(9th Cir. 1986) (refusing retroactive application of Wilson v.
Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985), to
a § 1983 claim), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 928, 93
L.Ed.2d 979 (1987); Anton v. Lehpamer, 787 F.2d 1141, 1145 (7th
The third Chevron factor weighs heavily against retroactive
application of Goodman, for it would yield substantial
inequitable results to hold that Plaintiff "`slept on his rights'
at a time when he could not have known the time limitation that
the law imposed upon him." Chevron, 404 U.S. at 108, 92 S.Ct. at
Finally, the Defendant is not prejudiced by enforcing the
statute of limitations rule which prevailed in this circuit at
the time of Defendant's alleged wrongful acts. Gibson, 781 F.2d
at 1339. Accordingly, as the equities clearly favor
nonretroactive application of Goodman, we hold under Chevron that
Goodman will not serve to time bar Plaintiff's claim.*fn2
Ergo, Defendant's motion for summary judgment based on the
statute of limitations is DENIED.