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Leuthner v. Blue cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania

July 27, 2006

FRANK W. LEUTHNER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BLUE CROSS OF NORTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS

Pending before the Court is a Second Motion for Summary Judgment ("the Motion") (doc. 266) filed by Defendant Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania ("Defendant" or "Blue Cross") on March 27, 2006. For the reasons that follow, the Motion shall be denied in all respects.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The factual background and procedural history of this case has been thoroughly set forth in prior orders and is well known to the parties. The following brief recitation of that history is sufficient for the purpose of reviewing the pending Motion.

The plaintiffs Frank W. Leuthner ("Leuthner") and William Reasner ("Reasner") (collectively "Plaintiffs") initiated this action on September 26, 2002, pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. and Pennsylvania state law. This suit was brought by Plaintiffs in their capacity as retired salaried employees of Blue Cross and as participants in the Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania Retiree Health Insurance Plan ("the Plan"), an employee welfare plan sponsored and administered by Blue Cross which is subject to ERISA.

On May 4, 2005 Defendant filed its First Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 220), asserting that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the six year statute of limitations found in § 413 of ERISA. This Court denied that Motion as per a September 8, 2005 Order (doc. 256) as we found that the statute of limitations had not expired prior to the filing of the complaint.

On January 27, 2006, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision in Ranke v. Sanofi-Synthelabo Inc., 436 F.3d 197 (3d Cir. 2006) (hereinafter "Ranke"). Blue Cross now brings a Second Motion for Summary Judgment before this Court, arguing that the precedent announced in Ranke conflicts with the rationale utilized by this Court in denying Blue Cross' First Motion for Summary Judgment.Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment maintains that the Ranke precedent binds this Court to grant summary judgment in the Defendant's favor. The Motion was filed on March 27, 2006, and has been briefed by the parties. Therefore, the Motion is ripe for disposition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW:

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED .R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing "there is no genuine issue for trial." Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 357 (3d Cir. 1992). Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences which a fact finder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Initially, the moving party has a burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This may be met by the moving party pointing out to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that, where such a motion is made and properly supported, the non-moving party must then show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). The United States Supreme Court has commented that this requirement is tantamount to the non-moving party making a sufficient showing as to the essential elements of their case that a reasonable jury could find in its favor. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

It is important to note that "the non-moving party cannot rely upon conclusory allegations in its pleadings or in memoranda and briefs to establish a genuine issue of material fact." Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 511 (3d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, all inferences "should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912 (1993) (citations omitted).

Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)(emphasis in original). "As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material." Id. at 248. A dispute is considered to be genuine only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

DISCUSSION:

Blue Cross contends that the Third Circuit's Ranke opinion conflicts with the rationale used by this Court in determining that the statute of limitations found in § 413 of ERISA (also referred to as "29 U.S.C. § 1113") does not bar Plaintiff's ...


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