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McGuffey v. Brink's

January 20, 2009

JAMES MCGUFFEY, PLAINTIFF.
v.
BRINK'S, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 14, 2005, Plaintiff James McGuffey ("McGuffey") sued Brink's, Inc., and The Brinks Company Pension Retirement Plan ("Plan"). McGuffey asserted one claim against the Plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 26 U.S.C. §§ 4972-75, 29 U.S.C. §§ 401-15. On September 15, 2005, the Plan filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint (Doc. #12) that I denied without prejudice (Doc. #25). On October 10, 2006, the Plan filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. #75) that I granted (Doc. #111). On June 24, 2008, the Plan filed a motion for attorneys' fees and related expenses under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1) (Doc. #193). For the reasons stated below, I will deny this motion.

II. DISCUSSION

In Count II of his Complaint (Doc. #1), McGuffey claimed that the Plan violated ERISA by terminating him three months before his pension benefits would have increased. (Compl. ¶¶ 82-86.) ERISA makes it "unlawful for any person to discharge . a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan."

29 U.S.C. § 1140. On October 30, 2006, the Plan moved for summary judgment (Doc. #75), arguing that it was not a "person" under § 1140. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def. Brink's Co. Pension-Retirement Plan's Mot. for Summ. J. 6-8.) ERISA defines "person" to mean "an individual, partnership, joint venture, corporation, mutual company, joint-stock company, trust, estate, unincorporated organization, association, or employee organization." 29 U.S.C. § 1002(9). On January 11, 2008, I granted summary judgment on the ground that "person" in § 1002(9) does not include a pension plan (Doc. #111). I relied on two opinions from the Western District of Pennsylvania and Northern District of Iowa reaching this conclusion and two Third Circuit opinions indicating that Congress intended ERISA to prevent employer misconduct.

The Plan now requests that I award attorneys' fees and related costs incurred in defending McGuffey's claim. ERISA provides that "[i]n any action under this subchapter . by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary, the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either party." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). In Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670 (3d Cir.1983), the Third Circuit articulated five factors that must be considered in deciding a motion under § 1132(g)(1):

(1) the offending parties' culpability or bad faith;

(2) the ability of the offending parties to satisfy an award of attorneys' fees;

(3) the deterrent effect of an award of attorneys' fees against the offending parties;

(4) the benefit conferred on members of the pension plan as a whole; and

(5) the relative merits of the parties' position.

Id. at 673. While a district court may consider other factors as well, at minimum "it must articulate its considerations, its analysis, its reasons and its conclusions touching on each of the five factors delineated in Ursic." Anthuis v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 971 F.2d 999, 1012 (3d Cir. 1992). These five factors, however, "apply only to the question whether a fee should be awarded." Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 724 (3d Cir. 1989).

Regarding the first factor, the Plan argues that McGuffey and his attorney Carmen Matos ("Matos") showed culpability or bad faith by pursuing her legal theory despite the Plan's counsel assuring her that it was meritless. "[B]ad faith normally connotes an ulterior motive or sinister purpose." McPherson v. Employees' Pension Plan of Am. Re-Ins. Co., Inc., 33 F.3d 253, 256 (3d Cir. 1994). By contrast, "culpable conduct" means "conduct that is 'blameable; censurable; ... at fault; involving the breach of a legal duty or the commission of a fault.'" Id. at 256-57 ...


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