The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKLIN VAN ANTWERPEN, District Judge
Plaintiff John Pergosky brings this action against Defendants
PPL Electric Utilities Corporation ("PPL"), improperly
denominated as Pennsylvania Power & Light Company in the
Complaint, and the PPL Retirement Plan ("the Plan"), improperly
denominated as Retirement Plan of Pennsylvania Power & Light
Company in the Complaint, pursuant to the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et. seq. Plaintiff
seeks to recover retirement benefits which he believes he was
wrongfully denied by Defendants. Before us now is Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss and Impose Sanctions on the grounds that
Plaintiff has previously litigated this matter and is now barred
from doing so under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. For the
reasons stated below, we grant Defendants' Motion in part and
deny it in part.
Plaintiff was a thirty year employee for PPL, prior to becoming
permanently disabled in 1992. In that same year, after going on
long term disability leave, Plaintiff was terminated for
misconduct. However, Plaintiff disputed the grounds for
termination and brought suit against PPL under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This
suit was settled in January 1994. Under the terms of the
Settlement Agreement, there was to be no "effect upon Mr.
Pergosky's right to receive disability or pension benefits, which
will be governed by the terms of those policies and plans."
(Settlement Agreement and Mutual Releases, filed Nov. 30, 1995,
Although Plaintiff apparently agreed to these terms during a
settlement conference held on the record by this court on January
25, 1994, he refused to sign the Agreement and instead filed a
motion to set it aside on April 22, 1994. This court denied that
motion on May 10, 1994. Plaintiff then filed a motion on July 21,
1994, to enforce the terms of the Agreement consistent with his
understanding that he would continue to accrue pension benefits
and be covered by the company's hospital/medical, dental and life
insurance plans. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Enforce the
Settlement Agreement at 1-2.) An evidentiary hearing was
subsequently held by Magistrate Judge Rapoport to determine
whether the Settlement Agreement provided Plaintiff with
continued pension accrual and continued life insurance, medical
insurance and sick leave benefits. Judge Rapoport concluded that
Plaintiff's position was unsupported and was, in actuality, an
attempt to renegotiate the terms of the settlement. (Report and
Recommendation at 9.) This court adopted Judge Rapoport's Report
and Recommendation on October 4, 1994, and the decision was
affirmed by the Third Circuit on July 20, 1995. See Pergosky
v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 65 F.3d 163 (3d Cir. 1995).
When Plaintiff still refused to sign the Agreement, this court
granted a motion by PPL for sanctions and appointed the Clerk of
Court to sign the settlement agreement on behalf of Plaintiff on
August 28, 1995.
On January 7, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the United
States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. In the Complaint, Plaintiff
sought damages for wrongful denial of pension benefits in
violation of ERISA, to estop Defendants from relying on plan
documents that are inconsistent with the Summary Plan Description
(SPD), and attorneys' fees and costs. Although Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss this Complaint was denied by the Middle District of
Florida, Defendants' Motion to Transfer this case back to the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania was granted on October 10, 2003.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to
dismiss a claim in whole or in part "for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted." In reviewing a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all
the allegations set forth in the complaint and must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs. See Ford v.
Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601, 604 (3d Cir. 1998).
Dismissal is proper only if plaintiffs can prove no set of facts
in support of their claims which would entitle them to relief.
Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint based on the
doctrine of collateral estoppel. Courts may invoke this doctrine
to bar relitigation of an issue that has already been adjudicated
by the courts on the merits. See Witkowski v. Welch,
173 F.3d 192, 198 (3d Cir. 1999). Application of the collateral estoppel
doctrine is appropriate where (1) the issue decided in the prior
adjudication is the same issue in the present case; (2) there was
final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom the plea
is asserted was a party or in privity to a party in the prior
adjudication; (4) the party against whom the doctrine is asserted
had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the
prior adjudication. See Temple Univ. v. White, 941 F.2d 201, 212 (3d Cir. 1991). Thus the first issue this court will
address is whether Plaintiff is seeking to argue the same issue
here as was argued in the prior case.
a. Whether the issue in the prior case is identical to the
Plaintiff's Complaint states that he has been wrongfully denied
pension benefits because, according to plan documents, he was
entitled to continued accrual of pension benefits while receiving
disability benefits from PPL. We now examine the record of
Plaintiff's previous case, No. 93-2400, in order to determine
whether this issue was already litigated. As stated above,
Plaintiff filed a Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement on
July 21, 1994. In that Motion, Plaintiff argued that
In violation of the terms of the Settlement
Agreement, the Defendant has failed and refused to
provide Plaintiff John Pergosky with the continued
accrual of his retirement benefits (emphasis added)
and continued coverage under the Defendant company's
hospital/medical, dental and life insurance plans,
and sick pay benefits.
Mot. to Enforce the Settlement Agreement, para. 5.
A hearing was then conducted by Magistrate Judge Rapoport on
August 18, 1994, in order to receive evidence as to the terms of
the Settlement Agreement. At the beginning of the hearing, Judge
Rapoport asked the following question, which was answered by
Plaintiff's then attorney, Sidney Gold:
THE COURT: Are we dealing with the language of ...