ERISA Class Action Claims Satisfied Requirements for Class Action Treatment because “Federal Courts have Overwhelmingly Held that ERISA Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims are Appropriate for Class Action Treatment” Ohio Federal Court Holds
Plaintiffs, former employees of Fifth Third Bancorp and participants in the company’s profit sharing plan, filed a class action against various defendants alleging breach of fiduciary duties under ERISA; specifically, the class action complaint asserted that the company’s stock was an “imprudent investment” during the proposed class period. Shirk v. Fifth Third Bancorp, ___ F.R.D. ___ (S.D. Ohio September 30, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the class action, defendants “knew or should have known that the merger of Fifth Third with Old Kent Financial Corp. severely strained Fifth Third’s infrastructure and exposed a widespread breakdown in Fifth Third’s internal controls, … [which] ultimately led Fifth Third to take an $81 million dollar pre-tax charge for its erroneous accounting reconciliation.” Id., at 2. Thus, the district court explained at page 2 that “[t]he quintessential claim is that Fifth Third stock was an imprudent investment for the Plan throughout the class period.” Plaintiff filed a motion with the federal court for certification of the litigation as a class action; the district court granted the motion.
Preliminarily, the federal court stated that “federal courts have overwhelmingly held that ERISA breach of fiduciary duty claims are appropriate for class action treatment.” Shirk, at 3 (footnote omitted). The district court readily found the class action numerosity requirement had been met because the proposed class contained 20,000 people. Id., at 3-4. The court also found that the commonality and typicality requirements for class action treatment had been satisfied, id., at 4-5, and that plaintiff was an adequate class representative, id., at 5-6. Finally, analyzing the class action requirements of Rule 23(b), the federal court concluded that ERISA breach of fiduciary duty class actions are properly certified under Rule 23(b)(1)(B), which states that courts may certify a lawsuit as a class action if “the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of * * * adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the adjudications or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests.” Id., at 7. Accordingly, the district court granted plaintiff’s class action certification motion. Id., at 9.
NOTE: The district court noted that it was “taken aback by the suggestion that [plaintiffs] believe continued investment in Fifth Third stock by the Plan was prudent – a position that would run counter to the quintessential claim of this case,” but added that “analyzing the merits of Plaintiffs’ claims is not properly considered at the time of certification.” Shirk, at 6 n.15.