Authorship credit: Paul S. Enockson
ERISA class certification motions routinely cite cases for the proposition that ERISA cases are the paradigmatic example of cases that are appropriate for class certification. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s recent decision in Adams v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, Case No. 2:10-cv-826, provides continuing support for this oft-cited proposition even after the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart-Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.
In Adams, the named plaintiffs, former employees of an Anheuser-Busch subsidiary, sought to pursue claims on behalf of a class of former employees for denial of benefits under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) , 29 U.S.C. Sec. § 1132(a)(1)(B), and for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA § 502(a)(2), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2). The claims at issue were based on plaintiffs’ claim that when their AB subsidiary was sold, they had been “involuntarily terminated” under the AB Pension Plan. The plaintiffs’ claims for benefits were denied and, after the named plaintiffs exhausted their plan remedies, they filed a class action lawsuit.
The District Court in Adams certified the class. In discussing commonality, the District Court cited without any significant discussion the Supreme Court’s Dukes opinion. According to the District Court, common questions of law existed because the meaning of the AB Pension Plan’s provisions regarding change of control and involuntary termination were at issue. The Adams Court also concluded that common questions of fact existed because the class was comprised of former employees impacted by the same fiduciary decision, and the same denial of benefits determination.
Despite suggestions of the demise of class actions following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dukes, the Adams decision is an indication that little has likely changed in ERISA class actions. For cases that involve challenges to fiduciary decisions that impact an ERISA governed plan, it will likely remain the case that certification will continue to be the de facto result.
The Bottom Line: Successful challenges to class in ERISA cases on commonality will continue to be left to those cases where questions of law or fact are so individualized that commonality can be defeated by showing the unique and individualized nature of the claims for which certification is being sought—the same challenges that were common before Dukes.
Editor’s Note: This post is a joint article for the Baker Hostetler Class Action Lawsuit Defense and Employment Class Action Blogs. Be sure to visit the Class Action Lawsuit Defense Blog for additional content regarding class action news and developments.