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LUCJAN ZLOTNICKI v. HARSCO CORP.

October 23, 1987

Lucjan Zlotnicki, Plaintiff
v.
Harsco Corporation, and BMY, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CALDWELL

 William W. Caldwell, United States District Judge

 Introduction

 Before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff initiated this action to recover damages resulting from an allegedly wrongful termination of employment. The defendants, by way of counterclaim, seek to enforce two interim agreements entered into by the parties. For the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied and the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

 Background

 The following facts are not in dispute. In November, 1981, Bowen-McLaughlin-York ("BMY"), a division of Harsco, hired Zlotnicki as a staff engineer. Harsco generally required each new employee to sign an agreement assigning to Harsco patent rights to any inventions conceived by the employee during and within the scope of employment. At the time BMY hired Zlotnicki, the parties did not discuss the execution of such an agreement, but on at least three occasions, in January and May of 1982 and on February 11, 1983, Harsco representatives requested Zlotnicki to sign one. He refused, objecting to several provisions, including the assignment of rights to inventions without any additional compensation. Zlotnicki eventually signed the agreement on February 18, 1983 under circumstances that led to two lawsuits, this one and Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, C.A. No. 83-0384.

 In July, 1982 BMY decided to develop a proposal for an assault bridge as requested by the United States Army. Zlotnicki worked on this project and invented a "four-bar bridge launcher" which was incorporated into BMY's proposal. In early February, 1983 Zlotnicki objected to BMY's planned public circulation of the illustrations of his invention claiming that such circulation would invalidate his patent application. On February 11, 1983, BMY officials met with Zlotnicki and told him that they would terminate his employment if he did not sign the standard employment agreement. He reluctantly did so on February 18, 1983.

 In March, 1983, Zlotnicki filed a patent application for the launch mechanism and BMY terminated his employment. On March 31, 1983, Harsco filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment as to the ownership of the invention. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, C.A. No. 83-0384. At that time, the parties executed an interim agreement that purported to conditionally assign to Harsco all right, title and interest that Zlotnicki might have in the bridge launcher, pending final adjudication of C.A. No. 83-0384. By memorandum and order of November 27, 1984, we held that the standard employment agreement was valid and granted Harsco's motion for summary judgment. On February 13, 1985, we denied Zlotnicki's motion for reconsideration. Zlotnicki appealed and the parties executed a second interim agreement similar to the first. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed in Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1171, 106 S. Ct. 2895, 90 L. Ed. 2d 982 (1986).

 Meanwhile, on March 23, 1984, Zlotnicki initiated this action in which he asserts that he was wrongfully discharged by the defendants. On May 31, 1984, and again on April 8, 1985, we stayed proceedings in this case pending final resolution of C.A. No. 83-0384. On October 15, 1986, after his Petition for Writ of Certiorari was denied, Zlotnicki filed an amended complaint that alleges: (1) the defendants terminated Zlotnicki's employment in violation of Pennsylvania common law and public policy; (2) the defendants breached a contract; and (3) the defendant's actions constituted a willful, wanton and reckless deprivation of employment. The defendants have filed an answer and a counterclaim based on Zlotnicki's alleged breach of the two interim agreements. Discovery is now complete and we granted the parties leave to file motions for summary judgment. These motions are now ripe for disposition.

 In addition to these actions, on February 3, 1986, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided BMY v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 94 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 579, 504 A.2d 946 (1986), which concerned Zlotnicki's entitlement to receive unemployment compensation. The court held that Zlotnicki's behavior did not constitute willful misconduct and he was entitled to receive unemployment benefits.

 The parties' motions will be assessed under the following, well established standard:

 
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Adickes v. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970) and must resolve all reasonable doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact against the movant.

 Hersh v. Allen Products Company, Inc., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). We find there to be no genuine issue as to any material fact. The question before us is which party, if any, is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

 A. Plaintiff's Claims

 The parties agree that one of the main reasons for Zlotnicki's dismissal from employment was his filing of a patent application for the four bar bridge launcher. The defendants contend that Zlotnicki's act constituted a breach of the February 18, 1983 employee agreement, and thus they had good cause for terminating his employment. Zlotnicki claims, on various grounds, that he did not breach any valid agreements and that the filing of the patent application did not amount to good cause for discharge.

 A substantial portion of Zlotnicki's argument is devoted to the validity and enforceability of the February 18, 1983 employee agreement. This matter was resolved in C.A. No. 83-0384 and need not be discussed at length now. The agreement is valid and Zlotnicki's restatement of the issues already litigated is irrelevant to the resolution of the motions presently before the court.

 Zlotnicki contends that the question of breach has been decided in the state unemployment compensation proceedings and that the court is bound by res judicata to grant summary judgment in his favor. Zlotnicki's argument misses the mark, for as the Commonwealth Court wrote in the very case on which he relies:

 
The doctrine of res judicata applies only when there is a concurrence of (1) identity of the thing sued upon; (2) identity of the cause of action; (3) identity of the persons and parties to the action; and (4) identity of the quality or capacity of the parties suing or sued. Likewise a plea of collateral estoppel may only be entertained if: (1) the issue decided in the prior adjudication was identical with the one presented in the later actions; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom the plea is asserted was a party or in privity with the party to the prior ...

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