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Monkelis v. Mobay Chemical

filed as amended october 29 1987: September 2, 1987.

MICHAEL R. MONKELIS, APPELLANT
v.
MOBAY CHEMICAL, APPELLEE



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA, D.C. Civil No. 86-00782.

Author: Gibbons

Before: GIBBONS, Chief Judge, and WEIS and SLOVITER, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

GIBBONS, Chief Judge:

Michael R. Monkelis appeals from an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing defendant in an ERISA case. Monkelis brought suit against his former employer, Mobay Chemical, seeking damages under 29 U.S.C. § 1140 and under Pennsylvania common law. The district court applied a borrowed six-year state law statute of limitations and concluded that Monkelis' ERISA claim was time barred. Having dismissed the ERISA action, the remaining state law claims were also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Mobay Chemical requested attorney's fees, and the district court, finding the Monkelis' claims were "frivolous and without legal merit or foundation in fact," awarded $5,167.75. Monkelis appealed contending that the district court erred both in its determination on the merits and on its award of an attorney's fee. In a companion appeal, docketed at No. 87-3095, we held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Mobay Chemical on statute of limitations grounds. In this appeal, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees and expenses.

Section 502(g)(1) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1), provides that "the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either to a prevailing party. See Iron Workers' Local No. 272 v. Bowen, 624 F.2d 1255, 1265 (5th Cir. 1980). In determining whether to make an award of fees under ERISA, this court has considered the following five policy factors:

(1) the offending parties' culpability or bad faith;

(2) the ability of the offending parties to satisfy an award of attorney's fees;

(3) the deterrent effect of an award of attorneys' fees against the offending parties;

(4) the benefit conferred on members of the pension plan as a whole; and

(5) the relative merits of the parties' position.

Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, 673 (3d Cir. 1983). Monkelis contends that Mobay Chemical failed to establish its right to attorney's fees under the factors set forth in Ursic.

First, we consider the first and fifth factors listed above, Monkelis' "culpability or bad faith" and the "relative merits of the parties' positions. These factors do support an award of fees to Mobay Chemical. The evidence demonstrates that Monkelis' ERISA claim was time barred and substantively without merit. Monkelis has failed to set forth any specific factors to support his claim that he was terminated to prevent his pension from vesting. This failure is particularly egregious since it was established that, at the time of his termination, Monkelis had only been employed by Mobay Chemical for approximately four years and had five years remaining before his pension would vest.

Moreover the facts in this case had been developed in extensive litigation in the state courts brought by Monkelis against Mobay. That law suit was also based on allegations of wrongful discharge and resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the defendant. Although brought under a different legal theory, the ERISA suit was basically a rehash of the same facts that had been found against Monkelis in the state proceeding. ...


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