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HAMAS v. BECKETT AVIATION CORP.

September 29, 1992

MARGARET E. HAMAS, individually and as administratrix of the Estate of MICHAEL HAMAS, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
BECKETT AVIATION CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.


Lewis


The opinion of the court was delivered by: TIMOTHY K. LEWIS

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEWIS, District J.

 Michael Hamas was a pilot working out of West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, until 1981, then he took disability retirement. He died in 1988. This case concerns the issue of whether his estate is entitled to a $ 50,000 death benefit pursuant to the terms of life insurance provided by his employer. In attempting to collect the death benefit to which they believe they are entitled, however, the plaintiffs have encountered an unusual problem: determining the identity of Mr. Hamas' employer. In fact, confusion surrounding that seemingly easily proven fact, among others, will result in this court's partially denying the motions for summary judgment pending before it. Even a life insurance company which is not directly affected by the corporate changes that have taken place is so caught up in the factual disputes that resolution of the claims against it must await trial also.

 Plaintiffs' five-count complaint asserts four claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.,, and one state-law breach of contract claim. Although plaintiffs name thirty-one defendants, only nine have responded to the complaint. *fn1" Plaintiffs have dismissed the claims asserted against four other defendants. *fn2" The court is in the dark about the status of the plaintiffs' case against the remaining eighteen defendants. These defendants have not responded to the complaint, and plaintiffs have neither provided proofs of service with respect to them nor filed requests for default and default judgment. *fn3"

 Three defendants -- CSX Corporation ("CSX"), Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("Metropolitan") and Aero Services International, Inc. ("Aero Services") -- have filed motions for summary judgment, and plaintiffs have responded with cross-motions for summary judgment against each of those defendants. The court will deny all parties' motions, except that it will grant summary judgment to the defendants with regard to plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages and it will grant summary judgment to CSX on its crossclaim against Aero Services.

 I. Summary Judgment Standard

 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When confronted with a motion for summary judgment, it is not the court's function to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather simply to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

 The moving party bears the burden of identifying those portions of pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The nomoving party then must go beyond the pleadings and by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

 For example, if a defendant identifies portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a factual dispute as to an essential element of a plaintiff's case, a plaintiff must come forward with evidence beyond the pleadings which creates a genuine issue as to that element. Id. See also Anderson, 477 U.S. 242. The court must view the facts, the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).

 Applying these standards, the factual disputes between the parties preclude the issuance of summary judgment on the substantive issues, except to the extent Aero Services consents to the entry of judgment against it on CSX's crossclaim against it.

 II. Punitive Damages

 At Count IV, however, plaintiffs seek punitive damages under ERISA. The moving defendants seek summary judgment on the plaintiffs' requests for punitive damages. Their motion will be granted.

 In their complaint, plaintiffs allege violations of ERISA sections 101(a), 104(b)(1), 104(b)(4), 404(a)(1)(A) and (B), and 503. *fn4" Complaint PP 44, 46, 51, 58. Although plaintiffs request relief pursuant to section 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132, they have not specified the subsections thereof upon which they rely for the major relief they seek. Rather, the court is left to assume which subsections of ERISA section 502 might apply.

 Normally, a court should not attempt to decide for a plaintiff which statutory sections that plaintiff is relying upon in bringing suit. It is a plaintiff's obligation to identify his or her cause of action for the court. In this case, however, a further parsing of the statutory bases of plaintiffs' claims both advances understanding of the case ...


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