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PERGOSKY v. PENNSYLVANIA POWER & LIGHT COMPANY

March 2, 2004.

JOHN PERGOSKY, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA POWER & LIGHT COMPANY and the RETIREMENT PLAN OF PENNSYLVANIA POWER & LIGHT COMPANY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKLIN VAN ANTWERPEN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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. ยง 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.

I. Procedural History

  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, para. 4.)

  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.

  II. Standard of Review

  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. Id.

  III. Discussion

  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 instant case

  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 ...

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