Brown v. UMWA 1985 Construction Worker's Pension Plan et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 10/18/12. (CVA)
2012 Oct-18 PM 02:28
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
UMWA 1985 CONSTRUCTION
WORKER’S PENSION PLAN, et
Civil Action Number
Despite the prohibition against litigating issues already decided by a court
of competent jurisdiction, pro se Plaintiff Marvin Brown attempts to do just that
by refiling the same case this court previously dismissed on a motion for summary
judgment. Mr. Brown takes issue with the earlier decision because “the court
dismissed [his] complaint without giving [him] a hearing or [his] day in court.”
Doc. 16 at 3. Accordingly, Mr. Brown brings the same claims against the same
parties and asks for a second review of his case. See docs. 1, 16, 22. The court
cannot do so. As to Mr. Brown’s contention that the court never gave him a “day
in court,” an opportunity to be heard does not necessarily involve a physical
appearance before a judge. Rather, it involves the court’s careful consideration of
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the parties claims. The court did so in this case. In fact, two judges reviewed Mr.
Brown’s claim - a magistrate who made a report and recommendation and a
district court who reviewed the report and made the final decision to dismiss Mr.
Brown’s claims. See Brown v. Trustees of the UMWA 1985 Construction Workers
Pension Plan, No. 2:10-cv-554-PWG, doc. 33 (magistrate judge’s findings and
recommendations April 22, 2011) and No. 2:10-cv-554-SLB, doc. 38 (N.D. Ala.
Sept. 12, 2011). In other words, contrary to Mr. Brown’s contentions, he indeed
had his day in court. See Olsen v. Muskegon Piston Ring Co., 117 F.2d 163, 165
(6th Cir. 1941) (“The right to a day in court means not the actual presentation of
the case, but the right to be duly cited to appear and to be afforded an opportunity
to be heard.”).
To no surprise since Mr. Brown had his day in court, Defendants, the
Trustees of the United Mine Workers Association (“UMWA”) 1985 Construction
Workers Pension Plan (“Pension Plan”) which include Robert E. Nagle, Elmo S.
Hurst, Donald T. Barnett, and the Pension Administrator, Becky Lanham,
(collectively, the “Defendants”) seek to dismiss Brown’s Second Amended
Complaint. Doc. 24. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. Docs. 25,
31. Because the doctrine of res judicata applies, the court GRANTS Defendants’
motions to dismiss.
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STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court construes Defendants’ motion to dismiss as a motion for summary
judgment.1 Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is
proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show 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). “Rule
56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery
and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which
that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to
the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish
that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson
In their motion, Defendants raised the defense of res judicata and supported their motion
with copies of record excerpts from the prior proceeding. In the context of res judicata, where
the court considers records from the prior proceeding, the court may treat a Rule 12(b) motion as
one for summary judgment. See Concordia v. Bendekovic, 693 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1982);
Jones v. Gann, 703 F.2d 513, 515 (11th Cir. 1983). Construing the motion as one for summary
judgment allows the court to consider matters outside the pleadings. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b); 56.
However, doing so is a mere formality in this case because “[d]ismissal by the court sua sponte
on res judicata grounds ... is permissible in the interest of judicial economy where both actions
were brought before the same court.” Boone v. Kurtz, 617 F.2d 435, 436 (5th Cir. 1980).
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v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court must construe the
evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. Id. However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual
allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v.
England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald
Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560,1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Brown proceeds in this case pro se – that is, without an attorney – thus the
court must construe his pleadings liberally. See Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249,
1252 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). However, “this leniency does not give a
court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an otherwise
deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” GJR Invs. v. Cnty. of Escambia,
Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998). Indeed, “[o]nce a pro se litigant is in
court, he is subject to the relevant laws and rules of court, including the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.” Smith v. Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 369 F. App’x 36, 38 (11th
Cir. 2010) (citing Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Therefore, while the court construes Brown’s pleadings liberally, the court may
not wholly disregard the federal pleading standards and standard of review. See
Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990); see also Smith, 369 F.
App’x at 38.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Brown filed this action against the Trustees of the 1985 Pension Plan and
Pension administrator, Becky Lanham, alleging breach of contract under the
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Pension Plan agreement. Doc. 1, 16. While Brown does not specifically say so,
this court construes Brown’s action to allege his claims under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. (“ERISA”), giving the
court subject matter jurisdiction over his case. Section 502 of ERISA creates a
civil cause of action for participants and beneficiaries of plans covered by ERISA
to recover benefits or enforce rights under the ERISA plan. Borrero v. United
Healthcare of N.Y., Inc., 610 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir. 2010). This section
“converts an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal
claim” over which a federal court may assume jurisdiction. Id. (quoting Aetna
Health, Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004)).
The UMWA 1985 Pension Plan at issue here is a multi-employer, defined
pension fund subject to ERISA. See ERISA §§ 3(37) and 4001(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. §
1102(37), 1301(a)(3); cf. Green v. Holland, 480 F.3d 1216, 1219 (11th Cir. 2007)
and Harrison v. United Mine Workers of Amer. 1974 Ben. Plan & Trust, 941 F.2d
1190, 1193 (11th Cir. 1991) (both recognizing that the 1974 Plan is subject to
ERISA). Brown seeks recovery of pension benefits he contends he is entitled to
under the 1985 Pension Plan. Specifically, Brown asserts that he is “due a refund
of $20,084.65 that the 1985 pension plan took from [him] in case 10 PWG 554-S,
without giving me my date in court,” and that “[e]ven after case 10 PWG 554-S,
[the pension administrator, Becky Lanham], still did not do the right thing and pay
me my right amount of money that I earned and give me my right amount of years
and pay me the right amount of back money I had coming.” Doc. 16 at 2. Brown
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also contends that the defendants owe him $67,830.00, and that the “money that is
being withheld is the same money that [Brown] filed a complaint on (pension
supplement money) in case 10 PWG-554-S on August 18, 2010. But the court
dismissed [Brown’s] complaint without giving [him] a hearing or [his] day in
court.” Id. at 3.
The “10 PWG-554-S” case Brown refers to is Brown v. Trustees of the
UMWA 1985 Construction Workers Pension Plan, No. 2:10-cv-554-PWG, doc. 33
(magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations April 22, 2011) and No. 2:10cv-554-SLB, doc. 38 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 12, 2011) (together, “Brown I”), which
Brown initiated against the Trustees of the UMWA 1985 Construction Workers
Pension Plan. In Brown I, Brown pursued breach of contract and negligence
claims in an attempt to restore his pension benefits under the 1985 pension plan.
Brown, No. 2:10-cv-554-PWG, doc. 33 at *12. The court granted the Defendants’
motion for summary judgment and denied Brown’s cross motion for summary
judgment and his motion for an injunction. Brown, No. 2:10-cv-554-SLB, doc. 38
While Brown has the right to disagree with the decision to grant summary
judgment in his first case, his proper course to voice his disagreement was to
challenge that decision on appeal. He simply cannot seek to relitigate the same
issue by filing another lawsuit because the doctrine of res judicata, or claim
preclusion, “‘will bar a subsequent action if: (1) the prior decision was rendered by
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a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3)
the parties were identical in both suits; and (4) the prior and present causes of
action are the same.’” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1187 (11th
Cir. 2003); Jang v. United Techs. Corp., 206 F.3d 1147, 1149 (11th Cir. 2000)
(quoting Israel Disc. Bank, Ltd. v. Entin, 951 F.2d 311, 314 (11th Cir. 1992)).
This bar pertains not only to claims that were raised in the prior action, see id., but
also to claims that could have been raised previously. Trustmark Ins. Co. v. ESLU,
Inc., 299 F.3d 1265, 1271 (11th Cir. 2002). In determining whether the prior and
present causes of action are the same, the court must decide whether the actions
arise “out of the same nucleus of operative fact, or [are] based upon the same
factual predicate.” In re Piper Aircraft Corp., 244 F.3d 1289, 1297 (11th Cir.
2001) (quotation omitted), cert. denied, TDY Indus., Inc. v. Kaiser Aerospace &
Elec. Corp., 534 U.S. 827, 122 S. Ct. 66, 151 L. Ed. 2d 33 (2001).
Defendants have established the necessary elements for res judicata. First,
this same court rendered the decision in Brown I, and the court’s jurisdiction was
proper because Brown raised the claims in that case under ERISA. Brown, No.
2:10-cv-554-PWG, doc. 33 at *16. Second, the decision in Brown I granting
summary judgment was a final judgment on the merits since it disposed of that
case in its entirety. Brown, No. 2:10-cv-554-SLB, doc. 38 at *4. Third, regarding
the “same parties” prong, in addition to the Trustees of the UMWA 1985
Construction Worker’s Pension Plan, who are the same Defendants in both suits,
here, Brown has also named the Pension Administrator, Becky Lanham. See doc.
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22; Brown, No. 2:10-cv-554-SLB. However, the allegations against Lanham are
in her capacity as the administrator of the Pension as related to the Pension’s
denial of additional benefits to Brown. See doc. 16, 22. In fact, Brown seeks no
specific recovery from Lanham, and instead seeks recovery from the Pension
itself. See id. Moreover, as administrator of the Pension, Lanham is in privity
with the Trustees of the Pension. Therefore, the court finds that the parties are
essentially the same in both suits. Finally, the court finds that the two causes of
action arise “out of the same nucleus of operative fact,” see In re Piper Aircraft
Corp., 244 F.3d 1289, 1297 (11th Cir. 2001), because in both cases Brown alleges
breach of contract and seeks recovery of pension money owed to him under the
Pension Plan. See doc. 22; Brown, No. 2:10-cv-554-SLB. Based on these
findings, the present action is barred by res judicata.
In short, Brown’s Amended Complaint maintains no viable right to relief
against Defendants. As a result, the court GRANTS the Defendants’ motions to
dismiss, doc. 24, and Brown’s Second Amended Complaint is hereby
DISMISSED with prejudice. The court will enter a separate Order, consistent
with this Memorandum Opinion, dismissing this action.
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Done the 18th day of October, 2012.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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