United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
LYDIA M. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
WILLIAM JAMES DERRAH, SR., and LANEKO ENGINEERING COMPANY, Defendants.
J. PAPPERT, J.
the second lawsuit brought by Thomas E. Robinson, Jr. against
William Derrah and the Laneko Engineering Company. The first
time around, Thomas, Jr. unsuccessfully sued the Defendants
in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. See
Robinson v. Laneko Eng'g Co. et al., No. 14-5036,
ECF No. 1, at 10. In that case, he alleged that the
Defendants owed him benefits under his father Thomas
Sr.'s ERISA-governed pension plan (“the
Plan”). (Id. at 11-13.) The Defendants removed
the case and the Court eventually granted the Defendants'
motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Thomas, Jr.
lacked standing to pursue his father's benefits.
Robinson v. Laneko Eng'g Co. et al., No.
14-5036, 2015 WL 4000145, at 4-5 (E.D. Pa. July 1, 2015).
Because Thomas, Jr. was not the Plan participant, the Court
held that he would only have standing to recover his
father's benefits if he were a plan beneficiary.
Id. He failed, however, “to show that he [was]
‘a person designated by a participant, or by the terms
of an employee benefit plan, who is or may become entitled to
a benefit thereunder'” and therefore could not show
he was a plan beneficiary under ERISA. Id.
Court also noted that Thomas, Jr. failed to produce evidence
that could prove what type, if any, retirement distribution
his father selected. Robinson, 2015 WL 4000145, at
*1. Thomas, Jr. had produced his father's Participant
Election Form, which allowed participants of the Plan to
select one of four options to receive their retirement
benefits. See Id. The form, dated May 5, 1999,
indicated that “option four (the annuity) [was]
selected.” Id. The form, however, was
unsigned. Id. Thomas, Jr. appealed the Court's
decision and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
See Robinson v. Laneko Eng'g Co., 634 F.
App'x 355 (3d Cir. 2016) (Mem.).
Jr., who is not a lawyer, now purports to sue for the same
benefits on behalf of his mother, Lydia Robinson. Lydia
Robinson ostensibly filed the Complaint in this case on
November 22, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) On January 5, 2017, Lydia
purportedly made two additional filings: a motion requesting
appointment of counsel, (ECF No. 2), and a request for leave
to allow Thomas, Jr. to make all legal and litigation
decisions pertaining to the case, (ECF No. 3). The Court
denied Lydia's request to appoint her counsel,
see (ECF No. 10), and has not granted Lydia's
request to permit Thomas, Jr. to file on her behalf.
Defendants moved to dismiss Lydia's Complaint on February
6, 2017. (ECF No. 5.) Lydia did not respond to the motion. In
considering the Defendants' motion, the Court reviewed
Thomas, Jr.'s prior suit and Lydia's Complaint in the
present case. Attached to the Complaint in this case is the
same Participant Election Form the Court noted in Thomas,
Jr.'s 2014 suit. See (Compl., at App. A). The
form bears the identical, handwritten date of May 5, 1999,
the same annuity option selection and other markings.
See (id.) This time, however, the form also
conspicuously bears Lydia Robinson's signature.
April 7, 2017, the Court issued an order for Lydia and
Thomas, Jr. to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed
under either Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
or the Court's inherent powers. (ECF No. 10.) The Order
stated that the Court would consider monetary sanctions as
well as the sanction of dismissal with prejudice and
scheduled the hearing for May 8, 2017. (Id.) Lydia
contacted chambers for the first time on the morning of May 8
to request that the hearing be rescheduled because it was
difficult for her to get to the courthouse. The Court had
already arranged for Thomas, Jr. to appear via
videoconference from SCI-Graterford, so it declined to
reschedule. Lydia later called chambers again, this
time stating that she needed an attorney.
did not attend the hearing that afternoon. Thomas, Jr.,
appearing via videoconference from prison, explained that he
wrote the Complaint and signed it on Lydia's behalf after
she approved it. (Hr'g Tr., at 5:9-11.) Lydia, however,
personally filed the Complaint with the Court. See
(id. at 15:3-9.) Thomas, Jr. also explained that he
made the subsequent filings in the case, including the
request for appointment of counsel. (Id. at 5:21-24.)
Court then questioned Thomas, Jr. about the Participant
Election Form attached to Lydia's Complaint.
(Id. at 8:2-7.) He explained that the Participant
Election Form attached to his copy of the Complaint was
unsigned. (Id. at 8:8-17.) Defense counsel, also
present at the hearing, confirmed that the Participant
Election Form attached to his copy of the Complaint was also
unsigned. (Id. at 8:19-9:3.) Lydia apparently only
signed the copy of the form filed with the Court. Thomas, Jr.
was uncertain as to why she may have done so. See
(id. at 11:6-9).
light of the facts adduced at the hearing, the Court declines
to sanction Lydia for her conduct in this case. Before
sanctioning a party, the Court must consider six factors: (1)
the extent of the party's personal responsibility; (2)
prejudice to the adversary and damage to the integrity of the
federal courts; (3) a history of dilatoriness on the part of
the party; (4) whether the conduct was willful or in bad
faith; (5) effectiveness of sanctions other than dismissal;
and (6) the merits of the claim or defense. See Poulis v.
State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d
Cir. 1984); In re Theokary, 468 B.R. 729, 750 (E.D.
Pa. 2012) (explaining that where the conduct at issue is
fraud upon the court, “‘prejudice'
encompasses not only the prejudice to the litigants but also
the impact on the judicial system and the threat to the
integrity of the courts” (quoting Derzack v. Cty.
of Allegheny, 173 F.R.D. 400, 414 (W.D. Pa. 1996))).
factors are not a checklist but rather a balancing test. Bad
faith, however, is “almost always” necessary
(though not sufficient) to sanction a party. Spear v.
Comm'r, 41 F.3d 103, 111-12 (3d Cir. 1994). It is