The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III
Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge William T. Prince filed on March 18, 2011 (Doc. 58). The R&R recommends that we grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 43) and Motion to Strike (Doc. 55), and dismiss the complaint. Objections to the R&R were filed by Plaintiff Kathryn Agnew ("Plaintiff") on April 1, 2011. (Doc. 61). Accordingly this matter is ripe for our review.
For the reasons that follow, the parts I, II, and IV-B of the R&R shall be adopted. The Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Strike shall be granted, and the complaint shall be dismissed.
A. Objection to Magistrate Judge's R&R
When objections are filed to the report of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).
Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).
In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).
Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
On November 28, 2008 Plaintiff and her now deceased husband Robert W. Keintz filed this action against Defendant Belron US Inc. and its former entity Safelite Glass Corp.*fn1 Mr. Keintz was the beneficiary of an employee benefits plan sponsored and administered by Defendant. The case arises out of certain alleged misrepresentations Defendant made to Plaintiff and her husband regarding the calculation of benefit payments. Plaintiff claims that she and her husband relied upon these statements to their financial detriment.The complaint alleges two violations of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3)(B): (1) equitable estoppel and (2) breach of fiduciary duties.
The facts that form the basis of this action are largely undisputed. Because Magistrate Judge Prince undertook a painstaking recitation of the facts within his R&R, we shall not endeavor to recite them herein but instead shall refer the reader to section II of the R&R for that summary. In short, the Plaintiff alleges that she and her husband relied on Defendant's repeated statements that Mr. Keintz's benefits base would increase automatically on January 1, 2008 regardless of when he began disability leave. Mr. Keintz began disability leave on November 8, 2007, but his benefits base did not increase as he had expected. On January 28, 2008, a Belron representative informed Plaintiff and her husband that the base did not increase because Mr. Keintz was on leave on January 1, 2008, the date the plan year changed. Plaintiff alleges that she and her husband relied on Defendant's interpretation of the plan, and, had they known that Mr. Keintz needed to work through January 1 to receive the increased benefits, they would have postponed his application for leave. Notably, however, Mr. Keintz's oncologist reported in November of 2007 that Mr. Keintz's health had already deteriorated such that he was unable to walk or preform the fine motor skills essential to his job. Furthermore, the misrepresentations made by Belron ...