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IN RE UMW EMPLE. BEN. PLANS LITIG.

June 7, 1994

In re United Mine Workers of America Employee Benefit Plans Litigation

Hogan


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOGAN

Nineteen defendants *fn1" in five of the cases, which have been transferred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 for multidistrict proceedings, have filed motions to dismiss, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or motions for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c), on the ground that plaintiffs' claims as alleged are barred by the applicable limitations period. The issue presently before the Court is whether the transferor fora statutes of limitations periods, the District of Columbia's three-year statute of limitations period or an analogous federal limitations period apply to these multidistrict litigation cases. *fn2"

 I. Standard of Review

 The Court may dismiss a complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) only when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove "no set of facts in support of his claims that would entitle him to relief in this court." Doe v. United States Dep't of Justice, 243 U.S. App. D.C. 354, 753 F.2d 1092, 1102 (D.C. Cir. 1985). In its review, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. Johnson v. Computer Technology Servs., Inc., 670 F. Supp. 1036, 1038 (D.D.C. 1987).

 The legal standard that applies to a motion for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as that applied to a motion to dismiss. "Rule 12(c) requires that the movant show, at the close of the pleadings, that no material issue of fact remains to be solved, and that he or she is clearly entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Haynesworth v. Miller, 261 U.S. App. D.C. 66, 820 F.2d 1245, 1249 (D.D.C. 1987). "Judgment on the pleadings . . . is appropriate upon a showing that [the plaintiff] cannot prevail even if all the allegations in his Complaint are taken as true." Rafeedie v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 795 F. Supp. 13, 18 (D.D.C. 1992).

 II. Discussion

 Plaintiffs bring their claims under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and § 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1145. Neither statute contains an express limitations period. In such circumstances, federal courts generally apply the most analogous state statute of limitations, although "the choice of limitations period for a federal cause of action is itself a question of federal law." DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 159 n.13, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476, 103 S. Ct. 2281 (1983). In ERISA delinquency actions such as these, the state statute of limitations selected is typically the limitations period for contract claims. *fn3"

 Plaintiffs filed the above cases in the federal district courts of Kentucky (West Ken, Dorton Coal), Virginia (Big Star), West Virginia (A.M. Trucking), and Utah (Energy West). The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred these cases to the District of Columbia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. *fn4" The applicable limitations periods for breach of contract actions in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Utah are 15, 5, 10 and 6 years, respectively. The limitations period for breach of contract actions in the District of Columbia is three years.

 In their various motions, defendants argue that the Court should apply the District of Columbia's three-year limitations period to the above cases because in § 1407 transfer cases, the transferee forum's statute of limitations should control. Defendants further argue that the choice of law provision contained in the applicable trust documents requires the Court to apply the District of Columbia's limitations period.

 Plaintiffs contend that the Court should apply the limitations periods of the transferor fora because the § 1407 transfer orders should have no effect on the applicable limitations period. Alternatively, plaintiffs argue that should the Court decide to apply a uniform limitations period to these multidistrict cases, it should apply the analogous six-year limitations period contained in § 4301(f) of ERISA. 29 U.S.C. § 1451(f).

 A. Does the transferor or transferee forum's limitations period apply to a multidistrict litigation case transferred pursuant to § 1407?

 The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has not addressed whether a transfer order affects the applicable statute of limitations period. Two circuits, the Seventh and the Second, have addressed this issue and have reached conflicting conclusions. See Eckstein v. Balcor Film Investors, 8 F.3d 1121, 1126-27 (7th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 127 L. Ed. 78 (1994); Menowitz v. Brown, 991 F.2d 36, 40-41 (2d Cir. 1993), aff'g, In re General Development Corp. Bond Litigation, 800 F. Supp. 1143 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).

 Most recently, in Eckstein v. Balcor Film Investors, the Seventh Circuit considered whether to apply the transferee or transferor circuit's statute of limitations period to a Securities and Exchange Act claim which had been transferred to a federal district court in Wisconsin for consolidated pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). *fn5" Section 27A of the Securities and Exchange Act provided that "the limitation period . . . shall be the limitation period provided by the laws applicable in the jurisdiction, including principles of retroactivity, as such laws existed on June 19, 1991." *fn6" The Seventh Circuit interpreted § 27A's instruction to use the "laws applicable in the jurisdiction" on June 19, 1991, as requiring courts to apply federal law (i.e., the appropriate statute of limitations) as the different circuits understood it at a point in the past, rather than directing the courts to make their own independent judgments. Id. at 1127. Thus, the Seventh Circuit approached the limitations question from the perspective of the transferor court, the Ninth Circuit, and applied California's three-year statute of limitations for fraud. Id. Writing for the Seventh Circuit, Judge Easterbrook stated:

 
when the law of the United States is geographically non-uniform, a transferee court should use the rule of the transferor forum in order to implement the central conclusion of Van Dusen and Ferens: that a transfer under § 1404(a) accomplishes 'but a change of courtrooms.' Van Dusen, 376 U.S. 612 at 639.

 8 F.3d at 1127.

 Van Dusen and Ferens are cases in which the Supreme Court held that a federal district court must apply the law of a transferor forum following a § 1404(a) transfer, see Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 11 L. Ed. 2d 945, 84 S. Ct. 805 (1964), even if the plaintiff initiates the transfer, see Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494 U.S. 516, 108 L. Ed. 2d 443, 110 S. Ct. 1274 (1990). In Eckstein, Judge Easterbrook recognized that Van Dusen and Ferens arose under the federal courts' diversity jurisdiction. 8 F.3d at 1127. Nonetheless, ...


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