Class Action Settlement Cases–In re Touch America: Ninth Circuit Dismisses Appeal Seeking Review Of District Court Order Rejecting Proposed Class Action Settlement Holding Circuit Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Appeal
District Court Order Rejecting Proposed Class Action Settlement of ERISA Class Action as Unfair not Appealable Ninth Circuit Holds
Plaintiffs, employees of Montana Power and participants in the company’s retirement plan (the “Plan”), filed a class action against the Plan’s trustee and against directors of Montana Power alleging violations of ERISA; the class action complaint asserted that defendants breached fiduciary duties owed to Plan participants and mismanaged the Plan. In re Touch America Holdings, Inc. ERISA Litig., 563 F.3d 903 (9th Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 4713, 4717]. The defendant-directors entered into a proposed class action settlement with plaintiffs; under the terms of the class action settlement the directors would make a payment “of nearly all the funds remaining in the directors’ fiduciary liability insurance policy.” Id., at 4717. The proposed class action settlement also contained two conditions – (1) directors cooperation in the class action claims against the Plan trustee, and (2) obtaining a district court order that “bar[red] suits for contribution or indemnity against the directors.” Id. The district court rejected the proposed class action settlement, id.; in part, the court found the settlement was not fair to the class because the monetary contribution represented only “three cents on the dollar” which it found was “not good in terms of recovery” and characterized as “a pittance…of the total amount of loss,” id., at 4719. The parties appealed, id., at 4717. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal.
The Ninth Circuit noted that the parties did not dispute that the order rejecting the proposed class action settlement was not a “final decision.” In re Touch America, at 4718. The Circuit Court noted also the general rule that, in order to avoid “piecemeal appeals,” only final decisions are reviewable on appeal, id. The parties, therefore, sought interlocutory review of the district court’s order, id. The Ninth Circuit explained that “some disapprovals of class settlements are appealable under the section as orders refusing an injunction.” Id. (citation omitted). And the Court set forth the rule at page 4718 as follows: “To be immediately appealable, orders disapproving class settlements must satisfy three requirements: ‘First, the interlocutory order must have the practical effect of denying an injunction. Second, the order must have “serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence[s].” Finally, the order must be one that can be “effectively challenged” only by immediate appeal.’” (Citation omitted). The Circuit Court dismissed the appeal because it found that the second requirement had not been satisfied – that is, the Court concluded that the district court order would not cause “serious, perhaps irreparable, consequences.”