The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARY JOHNSON LOWE
Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the basis of res judicata and collateral estoppel. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted.
This is not the first suit Plaintiff has brought before this Court. In December 1989, Meagher commenced an action ("Action One") against the Cement and Concrete Workers District Counsel [sic] Pension Fund and Welfare Fund ("Pension Fund"), claiming that the Pension Fund denied him certain pension benefits in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"). The facts of Action One are catalogued at length in this Court's Opinion and Order, dated March 21, 1992 ("March 21 Order"), which disposes of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court recites these facts in summary form below. Meagher, for purposes of calculating his pension, had thirty years of credited service with the Pension Fund. He had two periods of credited service uninterrupted by a break in service: the first being a 19 year period from 1956-74, and the second, 1978-88. Until 1967, to earn a year of current service credit, an individual was required to earn at least $ 2,000 in the industry. Thereafter, the individual was required to work a minimum of four hundred hours in the industry each year to earn a year of current service credit. Plaintiff was unable to find employment "within the industry" during 1975 and 1976; thus, he could not satisfy the 400 hour requirement.
In August 1983, in response to a request by Meagher for a statement of his accumulated vested retirement benefits, the Pension Fund informed Meagher that he had: (1) a total of 25 years of credited service; (2) a three-year consecutive break in service in 1975-77; and (3) that he did not qualify for a pension benefit under § 201 of the Pension Plan due to his break in service.
In April 1984, Plaintiff appealed the calculation of his benefits to the Trustees of the Pension Fund ("Trustees"), arguing that his 1975-76 break in service was involuntary and due to depression in the industry, and, therefore, should not be considered a break in service affecting his pension status. The Trustees denied Plaintiff's appeal, and Plaintiff subsequently applied for pension benefits in 1989 with retirement effective August 1, 1989.
In December 1989, Plaintiff commenced Action One against the Pension Fund. Subsequently, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and Defendant cross-moved. The Court denied Plaintiff's motion and granted Defendant's motion. The Court noted that it had "limited authority to disturb decisions reached by administrators of pension plans that are subject to ERISA. Such determinations must be sustained absent a finding of arbitrary or capricious action . . . particularly . . . where, as here, the plan itself accords broad discretion to the fiduciaries." March 21 Order at 5 (citation omitted) (ellipses in original). The Court then held that "Plaintiff . . . failed to offer any support for his argument that the trustees have acted towards him in an arbitrary or capricious manner, that they have treated him differently from others similarly situated, or that he has been the target of some form of punishment by the trustees of the plan." Id.
On March 16, 1993, Plaintiff, by his new and current counsel, moved for relief from the March 21 Order pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff's Rule 60(b) motion raised "substantially the same claims" as the current action ("Action Two"). Pl.'s Mem. at 5. Plaintiff argued that "neither [his] former counsel nor defendants' counsel brought to the attention of this Court controlling statutory authority that would have required that summary judgment be granted to plaintiff." Bisceglie Aff. Ex. E at 1-2. By Order dated December 16, 1993 ("December 16 Order"), this Court denied Plaintiff's Rule 60(b) motion, holding that the purported error of Plaintiff's counsel did not constitute extreme circumstances or hardship justifying relief under Rule 60(b).
In Action Two, Plaintiff, as "a pensioner in receipt of a pension from, and a participant . . . in the Plan," Complaint P4, asserts thirteen claims against the Trustees. In sum, the Complaint alleges that the Trustees, "by adopting and continuing to enforce certain provisions of the Plan, by establishing certain 'practices' at odds with the terms of the Plan, and by failing to describe their non-conforming 'practices' in the Pension Plan [brochure] or its Summary, violated and continue to violate [ERISA], and their fiduciary duties to the Plan." Pl.'s Opp. Mem. at 4. Among the many claims asserted in the Complaint, Plaintiff contends that the Trustees' alleged creation of a "break in employment for any vested participant who is under the age of 60 and who works less than 400 hours in covered employment in each of two successive calendar years," Complaint 117 (emphasis supplied), and the Trustees "treating vested participants more harshly than [sic] non-vested ones," id. P20, violate ERISA (emphasis supplied).
Defendants contend that the Complaint should be dismissed on the grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel because it raises issues which "were, or should have been, litigated in [Action One]." Defs.' Mem. at 1. Plaintiff counters that he brings Action Two in a representative capacity -- on behalf of the Plan -- unlike Action One, which he brought individually. Plaintiff asserts that this distinction precludes application of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Plaintiff also contends that the two actions involve separate issues, therefore precluding the operation of res judicata and collateral estoppel. After reviewing the parties' arguments, ...