plant closing situation) on the last day the employee worked prior to the effective date of such layoff." (Exh. I of Def.'s Mem. of Law at § 2(b).)
Plaintiff was not eligible for IPP benefits when he was laid off. GMC categorized the May 1986 reductions in force at Plant 207 as a "plant consolidation" rather than as a "plant closing." As a result, only those employees who had at least fifteen year's service were eligible for IPP benefits. Plaintiff had less than the required fifteen years' service at the time he was laid off.
The parties agree that Ken Ford, the GMC official responsible for determining the order in which Plant 207 employees would be laid off, did not discuss IPP benefits with anyone at GMC in making lay-off decisions. Ford also did not know how the IPP program was funded, other than the fact that it was not the financial responsibility of the individual plant. Plaintiff admitted in deposition testimony that he does not know who determined IPP eligibility.
In late 1989, Plaintiff requested a meeting with GMC Personnel Department officials to discuss his concerns regarding the recall of other GMC employees prior to his recall. Such a meeting was consistent with GMC's so-called "Open Door Policy." After his meeting with the Personnel Department, he continued to pursue his concerns with other members of GMC's management, consistent with the Open Door Policy. Plaintiff exhausted the avenue provided by the Open Door Policy in April 1990 when he received a letter from Vice President Richard F. O'Brien.
Plaintiff brought this action on March 17, 1992. He subsequently amended his complaint twice, filing an Amended Complaint on August 4, 1992, and a Second Amended Complaint on February 22, 1993. Plaintiff has requested and received two extensions of the discovery period.
Count I of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges that GMC interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefit when it laid him of on April 30, 1986. (Second Am. Compl. at P 22.) Count I alternatively alleges that Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefits when Defendant did not identify Plant 207's shutdown as a plant "closure," (Id. at PP 23-24), and when it failed to transfer Plaintiff in accordance with GMC's stated policy. (Id. at PP 25-27.) Count II of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's attainment of his IPP benefits by failing to recall Plaintiff to a position at another facility even though certain employees with less seniority (namely, Lawrence J. Radziwon, Nora Shaughnessy, Michael C. Brown, Roy Canada, and Joseph R. Slifka) had been assigned to supervisory positions at those plants. (Id. at 32.) Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on July 8, 1993.
In order to prevail on a summary judgment motion, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories; and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, [must] show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). At this stage, we do not weigh evidence or determine the truth of asserted matters. We simply determine whether the there is a genuine issue for trial, i.e., "whether a proper jury question was presented." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). We must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, here the plaintiff. Bowyer v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, 804 F.2d 428, 430 (7th Cir. 1986). However, if that party bears the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, that party is required "to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986), quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Ultimately, if "alternate inferences can be drawn from the available evidence, summary judgment is inappropriate." LHLC Corp. v. Cluett Peabody & Co., 842 F.2d 928 (7th Cir. 1988).
However, the non-moving party must do more than "simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (footnote omitted). "The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247-48, 106 S. Ct. at 2510. Whether or not a disputed fact is material depends solely on the applicable substantive law. Id. at 248.
I. Defendant's Claim that Plaintiff's Claim is Time-Barred.
Defendant first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to Count I of Plaintiff's complaint because Plaintiff's lay-off related claims are time-barred. Defendant cites a decision rendered by another court in this district for the proposition that the applicable limitations period is five years. Plaintiff disagrees. According to Plaintiff, the correct statute of limitations is the ten year statute of limitations applicable under Illinois law to breaches of written contracts and Count I is not time-barred.
Plaintiff raises three additional arguments in response to Defendant's statute of limitations defense. Plaintiff argues first that his claim is not time barred because his cause of action did not accrue until he discovered his injuries in November 1989. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 4-5.) Plaintiff next argues that the statute of limitation was tolled until he exhausted the administrative remedies available to him under Defendant's corporate policy. (Id. at 5-6.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that the running of the statute of limitations must be tolled under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. (Id. at 9-12.)
In deciding whether or not Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Count I on this ground, the Court must address three issues. First, we must determine the limitations period applicable to Section 510 claims. Second, we must determine when Section 510 claims accrue generally and then decide whether there is a genuine issue with regard to when Plaintiff's Count I claims accrued. Finally, we must decide whether the statute of limitations should be tolled either by Plaintiff's pursuit of GMC's Open Door Policy or under the equitable estoppel doctrine.
ERISA does not specify what limitations period should be used for Section 510 claims. As such, the Court determines the most analogous claim under state law and applies the applicable state statute of limitations. Jenkins v. Local 705 Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters Pension Plan, 713 F.2d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1983).
As Plaintiff points out, the Seventh Circuit has not yet reached the question of which Illinois claim is most analogous to a Section 510 claim. Tolle v. Carroll Touch, Inc., 977 F.2d 1129 (7th Cir. 1992). Nonetheless, its discussion in Tolle suggests that it is likely to look to labor law rather than contract law in choosing an analogous Illinois statute of limitations. In comparing claims under Sections 502 and 510 of ERISA, the Seventh Circuit noted that
The difference between enforcing the terms of a plan and assuring that parties do not somehow impinge on current or future rights under employee benefit plans may seem subtle at first glance, but upon a close examination it becomes clear that the distinction is great. In order to enforce the terms of a plan under Section 502, the participant must first qualify for the benefits provided in the plan. Rather than concerning itself with these qualifications, one of the actions which Section 510 makes unlawful is the interference with a participant's ability to meet these qualifications in the first place.