The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODY
Defendant Prudential Insurance Company of America challenges plaintiff's right to a jury in this case, arguing that in the Third Circuit this action is equitable and therefore that plaintiff has no constitutional entitlement to a jury. Plaintiff argues in response: (1) that defendant is collaterally estopped from bringing this challenge because another court ruled against defendant on the identical issue; (2) that the Third Circuit has never ruled definitively on this issue; (3) that this is essentially a breach of contract action, which is an action at law for which he is entitled to a jury; and (4) that pursuant to the terms of his insurance contract, this court is bound to follow decisions of the Second Circuit which have upheld the jury demands of other ERISA claimants. I reject all four arguments and will grant defendant's motion to strike the jury demand.
Plaintiff Lawrence Zinman is a former employee of Prudential Securities, Inc. ("PSI"). During the course of his employment with PSI, Zinman was insured by the Prudential Insurance Company of America ("PICOA") pursuant to a Group Insurance Contract between PSI and PICOA.
In 1992, Zinman allegedly became disabled and as a result left his employment with PSI. PICOA initially paid Zinman disability benefits in accordance with his insurance policy, but then discontinued the payments on the ground that Zinman was not "totally disabled." Plaintiff Zinman is now suing both PSI and PICOA under § 502(a)(1)(B)
of ERISA to enforce his rights under his insurance policy and to recover the disability benefits allegedly owed to him. (Pl.'s 2d Am. Compl.)
Plaintiff has demanded a jury trial. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to a jury trial in "suits at common law." U.S. Const. amend. VII. In other words, there is a constitutional right to a jury only with claims to enforce legal rights, and not with claims to enforce equitable rights. Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers, Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 564, 110 S. Ct. 1339, 108 L. Ed. 2d 519 (1990).
The Third Circuit has held that claims pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA are equitable. Pane v. RCA Corp., 868 F.2d 631, 636 (3d Cir. 1989); Turner v. CF & I Steel Corp., 770 F.2d 43, 47 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1058, 106 S. Ct. 800, 88 L. Ed. 2d 776 (1986). Therefore, under the law as interpreted by the Third Circuit, plaintiff has no constitutionally protected right to a jury trial.
Plaintiff claims that defendant is collaterally estopped from bringing this challenge because a district court in the Western District of Arkansas rejected an identical challenge by PICOA in a different case. (Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. to Strike at 5.) See Brasher v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 771 F. Supp. 280 (W.D. Ark. 1991).
Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, once an issue of fact or law is resolved by the final judgment of a court, then it is conclusively resolved in subsequent actions between the parties. See Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., Ltd., 63 F.3d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1995). Plaintiff argues that the issue of his right to a jury was conclusively determined by the Brasher court and therefore may not be relitigated in this jurisdiction.