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Dewhurst v. Century Aluminum Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston

May 23, 2017

HAROLD DEWHURST, and DAVID BRYAN, on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly Situated, and UNITED STEEL, PAPER AND FORESTRY, RUBBER, MANUFACTURING, ENERGY, ALLIED INDUSTRIAL AND SERVICE WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO/CLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
CENTURY ALUMINUM COMPANY, and CENTURY ALUMINUM OF WEST VIRGINIA, INC., AND CENTURY ALUMINUM MASTER WELFARE BENEFIT PLAN, and DOES 1 THROUGH 20 Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER.

          John T. Copenhaver, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Pending is the joint motion to modify the class definition contained in the class certification order, filed February 9, 2017, in order to accommodate the $23 million proposed settlement in this case.

         I. Background

         The history of this case is long and not directly relevant to the pending motion, so it will only be discussed briefly. On November 13, 2009, the individual plaintiffs, who are retired employees from a facility operated by one or more of the defendants, instituted this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. They were joined by the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO/CLC. On December 23, 2009, the action was transferred to the Southern District of West Virginia.

         The class action complaint alleged that Century Aluminum Company's (“Century”) decision to unilaterally modify or cancel medical benefits that it provides to retirees, spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents of retirees contravened the applicable collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”) in violation of section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and violated sections 502(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3).

         On June 24, 2010, the court certified a class consisting of approximately 437 individuals. See Plaintiff-Participants' Am. Memo. in Supp. of Mot. for Class Certification (ECF Doc. No. 32) at 2. The class definition in the class certification order consisted of all persons:

who (1) are or were employee-participants in the Kaiser Aluminum Corporation and/or Ravenswood Aluminum and/or Century Aluminum of West Virginia, Inc. employee benefits plans which provide for retiree medical benefits, and (2) as to whom the USW had been the participants' collective bargaining representative, and who worked at the Ravenswood, West Virginia plant at the time of their retirement, and (3) who retired from Ravenswood Aluminum Corporation or Century Aluminum of West Virginia, Inc. after February 6, 1989 and before June 1, 2006, and (4) who are affected by Century Aluminum of West Virginia Inc.'s modification to or termination of retiree health benefits announced on or about October 19, 2009. In addition, all dependents of participants, or spouses or surviving spouses of participants who meet criteria 1-4.

         Class Certification Order (ECF Doc. No. 78) at 4.

         The same day the court certified the above class, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on the merits of their claims. See Dewhurst v. Century Aluminum Co., 731 F.Supp.2d 506 (S.D. W.Va. 2010). On June 30, 2010, plaintiffs noticed their appeal of that ruling. On August 24, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. See Dewhurst v. Century Aluminum Co., 649 F.3d 287 (4th Cir. 2011).

         After motion practice and discovery, including a stay for purposes of permitting the parties to continue their attempts to settle the case, the court granted Century's motion for summary judgment on September 9, 2015, finding that the language in the applicable collective bargaining agreements provided that the retirees' healthcare benefits only remained in effect for the terms of those agreements, and that those benefits did not vest beyond the terms of the agreements. See Dewhurst v. Century Aluminum Co., No. 2:09-cv-1546, 2015 WL 5304616 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 9. 2015). The court entered judgment for Century and dismissed the case.

         Plaintiffs filed a timely appeal to the Fourth Circuit on October 7, 2015. After briefing was completed, the parties renewed their settlement discussions and reached an agreement in September 2016. On January 13, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Limited Remand in the Fourth Circuit, requesting remand so that this court could conduct settlement approval proceedings. The Fourth Circuit granted the motion on February 7, 2017.

         On February 9, 2017, the parties filed a joint motion in this court for: (1) modification of the class definition; (2) preliminary approval of the settlement agreement; (3) approval of the proposed class action notice; (4) preliminary approval of the enhancement awards; and (5) an order setting the dates for objections to the proposed settlement and for the fairness hearing.

         Plaintiffs filed the third amended complaint on June 26, 2012, which was the operative pleading when the court granted summary judgment. The third amended complaint undertook to change the class definition to:

all current or former employees of Century, along with their spouses, dependents and surviving spouses who either (1) retired (other than with a deferred vested pension) from RAC or CAWV after February 6, 1989 and prior to November 1, 2010 and who are not currently receiving medical benefits from CAWV, (2) retired or retire (other than with a deferred vested pension) from CAWV on or after November 1, 2010 and prior to the effective date of a new CBA and who may be currently receiving medical benefits from CAWV, or (3) retired or retire from CAWV after the layoff at the Ravenswood Plant in February 2009 and prior to the effective date of a New CBA after losing their active medical coverage while on layoff ...

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