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Posts Tagged ‘erisa’

This is the third of what will be six posts summarizing my notes of the six presentations at the ABA’s 16th Annual Class Actions Institute held last month in Chicago.  For more on this excellent conference, see my October 31 and November 5 CAB posts.

Session 3 examined the conceptual issues and practical challenges that litigants and courts face in cases seeking certification under the different subparts of Rule 23(b), a question that took on increased importance following the Supreme Court’s Decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.   The panel presentation was titled “Don’t Blame Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow!” Rule 23(b)(3) Classes Under Fire and Rule 23(b)(2)’s Emerging Importance.  Jeffrey A. Leon moderated the panel, which consisted of Robert J. Axelrod, E.K. Cottrell, Professor Francis McGovern, and David S. Stellings.  

Unfortunately, due to a computer crash, I lost some of my notes from this presentation, but I have summarized some of the highlights below:

  • The courts are facing an ever-increasing tension between principle and pragmatism in deciding whether to certify class actions and under what procedure they should be certified.
  • Despite significant hurdles to class certification that have been imposed by the Supreme Court and other federal courts in recent years, the plaintiffs’ bar has a creative “gene” that keeps them pushing the envelope and experimenting on new methods of seeking aggregate redress.  This can be seen in many of the decisions in the lower courts over the past year, and is likely to continue into the future.
  • In the near future, we are likely to see mixed results, as some courts become more restrictive in granting class certification, while others are more receptive to creative ways of certifying classes.
  • Discovery and resolution of substantive issues and Daubert challenges are likely to come at an earlier stage in the process, regardless of the procedural vehicle under which certification is sought.
  • There is likely to be much more of a mixture of the subsections of Rule 23 used to certify classes, including combinations of classes in the same trial.
  • ERISA class actions are an area where the Rule 23(b)(2) class actions for monetary relief remain viable after Dukes.  Pennsylvania Chiropractic Ass’n v. Blue Cross Blue Shield Ass’n, No. 09 C 5619 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 28, 2011) provides a textbook list of reasons why courts may continue to refuse to certify ERISA claims for monetary relief after Dukes under Rules 23(b)(1), (2) and (3). 
  • But the Supreme Court’s decision in Cigna Corp. v. Amara, No. 09-804 (S. Ct. May 16, 2011) may have breathed new life into the argument that monetary relief may be available to plan members as part of the equitable relief that courts can provide, especially when a trustee is involved.  Among the equitable remedies  that may be available in a particular case is the “surcharge remedy”, which allows plan members to recover money as an equitable remedy for a trustee’s breach of fiduciary duty.  Amara may pave the way to arguments by plaintiffs that claims against a trustee for payment may be characterized as injunctions, for which certification under Rule 23(b)(2) may be appropriate notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dukes.   However, in February, the Second Circuit rejected the argument that claims for disgorgement made on behalf of a putative class of trustees of thousands of ERISA plans, holding that the necessity to determine how to divide any disgorged amount among the plaintiffs meant that the monetary relief was not “incidental” to any equitable relief as required under Dukes.  Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Haddock, 10-4237-cv, 2012 WL 360633 (2d Cir. Feb. 6, 2012).

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Alison Frankel, whose On the Case blog is featured in the Thomson Reuters News and Insight section, posted this interesting article today discussing a novel alternative to the class action as a device to resolve mass disputes.  The procedural device in question is Article 77 of the New York State Code, which allows a trustee to seek court approval of decisions relating to a trust.  Frankel’s article today offers an update on proceedings brought under Article 77 seeking approval of an agreement between institutional investors and the trustee of hundreds of residential mortgage-securitization trusts, which had created in order to allow banks to raise funds in order to offer residential mortgages to consumers.  If approved, the settlement would resolve the claims of not only the institutional investors who reached the settlement with the trustee, but also potential claims of other investors in the trusts.  Thus, Article 77 essentially provides a means of creating a global settlement of all investor’s claims, without allowing the opportunity to opt out, which would have been available if the agreement had been presented as a proposed class action settlement. 

Frankel has done an excellent job of summarizing the issues in the case as well as today’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over the case under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) as a result of the securities exception in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(9)(C) and 1453(d)(3), so I won’t re-summarize the article here but simply commend it to your reading.  The case is BlackRock Fin. Mgmt. Inc. v. The Segregated Account of Ambac Assur. Corp., 11-5309-cv(L), (2d Cir., Feb. 27, 2012).

Although the use of Article 77 to create a binding settlement that does not require an opportunity to opt out may be a novel strategy, the case highlights an often-overlooked option that may be available in any class action litigation involving a trust, benefits plan, or other fund with a custodian or trustee.  This would include certain banking and securities cases or class actions filed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against a party other than the trustee.  Rather than having to negotiate with class action lawyers, it may be possible in these contexts to come to a global resolution of a dispute by negotiating with the trustee and then seeking court approval of that agreement.  Even if a class action is pending, resolution of the dispute with the trustee may provide grounds to defeat class certification on superiority grounds, since a settlement with a party having a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of the fund can be an adequate and significantly more efficient means of resolving any dispute.

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