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WINTERS v. INVESTMENT SAVINGS PLAN OF KNIGHY-RIDDER INC

August 13, 2001

SUSAN F. WINTERS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE INVESTMENT SAVINGS PLAN FOR EMPLOYEES OF KNIGHT-RIDDER, INC. AND CERTAIN SUBSIDIARIES OF KNIGHT RIDDER, INC., WALTER J. KUTRIP, PHILADELPHIA NEWSPAPERS, INC., MARYAGNES FRANGIPANNI PATEL, DECHERT, JENNIFER R. CLARKE, AND GARY L. BORGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Clarence C. Newcomer, S. Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Currently before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss and plaintiff's response thereto.

I. BACKGROUND

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 relevant provision:

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.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal ...


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