The opinion of the court was delivered by: Clarence C. Newcomer, S. Judge.
Currently before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss and plaintiff's
Plaintiff, Susan F. Winters, has filed this suit against defendants The
Savings Plan for Employees of Knight Ridder ("the Plan"),
Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. ("PNI"), Walter J. Kutrip ("Kutrip"), Mary
Agnes Frangipanni Patel ("Frangipanni"), Dechert, Jennifer R. Clarke
("Clarke"), and Gary L. Borger ("Borger") alleging that the Plan, PNI and
Kutrip unlawfully paid the late Ron Patel's ("Patel") 401(k) benefits to
Frangiapanni, with the assistance of Dechert attorney Clarke, in
violation of plaintiff's rights under a Judgment of Divorce and
Stipulation of Settlement between plaintiff and her ex-husband Patel and
29 U.S.C. § 1132 ("ERISA"). Plaintiff further alleges that the
defendants all committed a fraud upon her when they deliberately
concealed the ERISA violations.
Plaintiff Winters, a resident of Long Boat Key, Florida, married the
late Ron Patel on November 16, 1982. At all times relevant to this suit,
Patel was an editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper owned by
defendant PNI, and was a participant in PNI's 401k plan.
While married, Patel named plaintiff as the beneficiary of his 401(k)
plan. However, in March 1997, Patel told plaintiff that he was having an
extramarital affair with defendant Frangipanni, and wanted to divorce
plaintiff. Then, the Philadelphia Daily News, a newspaper also owned by
PNI, published an article about Patel's relationship with Frangipanni. As
a result of that article, plaintiff sued PNI for invasion of privacy in
the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Defendant Dechert represented PNI
in that suit, and defendant Clarke served as lead counsel.
Meanwhile, in March, 1997, Winters and Patel began divorce proceedings
where Winters was represented by Gary Borger, one of the defendants in
this case. Borger requested information from PNI about obtaining a
Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO"). With a QDRO, a portion of an
employee's interest in a 401k may be transferred for the benefit of a
former spouse and is governed by 29 U.S.C. § 1002.
On January 7, 1999, the divorce action concluded with a settlement and
the entry of a Judgment of Divorce and Stipulation of Settlement. That
Judgment required Patel to make the following payments to Winters: 1)
13,000 on or before January 30, 1999; 2) $10,000 on or before January
30, 2000; 3) $20,000 on or before January 30, 2001; and 4) $100,000 on or
before June 1, 2001. Further, the second, and fourth payments just listed
were secured by Patel's 401k plan, and he was required to keep a minimum
balance in his 401k plan of $100,000 until January 1, 2001 and $130,000
after that date. Additionally, the Judgment required Patel to provide and
pay for a life insurance policy with plaintiff named as a beneficiary. The
Judgment required the policy to be sufficient to satisfy the payments
Patel was obligated to pay plaintiff under the Judgment.
In March 1999, Patel and Frangipanni married. Soon thereafter, Patel
changed the beneficiary of his 401k to Frangipanni, allegedly in
violation of the divorce terms. On January 7, 2000, Patel died, and
Frangipani rolled the 401k benefits into her own account, also allegedly
in violation of the divorce terms.
Just over one year later, in May 2000, the parties to the invasion
of privacy action settled, and executed a settlement and release
agreement (the "agreement"). The agreement contains the following
Releases by Susan Winters. Susan Winters, and her heirs . . . do hereby
remise, release, and forever discharge Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., Stu
Bykofsky, Metroweek Corporation, Scott Farmelant, Metro Corp., Ben
Wallace, Ron Patel, and Mary Patel and each of their respective past,
present and future
heirs, executors, personal representatives,
administrators, general partners, limited partners, shareholders,
agents, directors, officers, employees, attorneys, insurers,
predecessors, successors, affiliates, divisions, subsidiaries, and
assigns, and all persons, partnerships, corporations and other entities
who might be claimed to be jointly and severally liable with them . . .
of and from all, and all manner of, claims actions and causes of action,
suits, debts, damages, costs, expenses, compensation, dues, accounts,
bonds, covenants, contracts, agreements, judgments, claims and demands
whatsoever whether arising in law or equity, in contract or tort,
including but not limited to, all claims set forth or which could have
been set forth arising from or with respect to. . . Susan Winters v.
Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., et al., [and several newspaper columns] .
. ., which she ever had, now has, or which her heirs, executors,
administrators, attorneys, successors or assigns, or any of them, or any
other person or entity claiming by, through or under he, hereafter can,
shall or may have, for, or by reason of any cause, matter or thing
whatsoever, whether known or unknown against Releases from the beginning
of the world to the date of these presents. The Releasing Parties agree
not to sue the Releasees at any time in the future on any of the claims
released in this paragraph.
Currently before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss, one filed by
defendants the Plan, Kutrip, PNI, Dechert and Clarke, and a second filed
by Frangipanni. Accordingly, the Court now turns to defendants' Motions.