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Dewhurst v. Century Aluminum Co.

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

May 31, 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 for preliminary approval of class action Settlement Agreement; approval of proposed class action notice; preliminary approval of enhancement awards; and an order setting the dates for objections to the proposed settlement and the fairness hearing.[1]

         I. Summary of Proposed Settlement

         The court has reviewed the proposed Settlement Agreement and exhibits thereto, as well as the submissions of the parties. The proposed Settlement Agreement provides that Century Aluminum of West Virginia, Inc. (“CAWV”), will contribute $23 million to the VEBA Trust to be used for some of class members' health care expenses. Within fifteen days of the effective date of the Agreement, CAWV will make a $5 million payment to the VEBA Trust, and CAWV will thereafter make a $2 million payment to the VEBA Trust annually, for nine years. See Proposed Settlement Agreement at 4.2. The payments made into the VEBA Trust will be used to reimburse some pre-settlement medical expenses and will additionally provide annual contributions to Healthcare Reimbursement Accounts that will be established in each class member's name to be used for future medical costs. See Proposed Notice to Class at 5.B.

         The class, as modified in the court's memorandum opinion and order dated May 23, 2017, is defined as:

all current or former employees (including laid off employees) of CAWV's Ravenswood facility (“Ravenswood Plant”) and 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, 2012 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, 2012 and who may be currently receiving medical benefits from CAWV, or (3) retired or will retire from CAWV after the layoff at the Ravenswood Plant in February 2009 after losing their active medical coverage while on layoff and as to whom CAWV has denied or asserted that it will deny retiree medical coverage due to their not being enrolled in the active medical plan at the time of their retirement. Employees who break service after November 1, 2012 without immediate pension eligibility are not Class Members.

         Memorandum Opinion & Order May 23, 2017 (ECF Doc. No. 212) at 12-13.

         In order to maximize recovery for class members, class counsel is not asking the court to award any attorneys' fees or expenses. See Proposed Settlement at 14.2. Each party will bear its own fees and costs. Id.

         Plaintiffs are seeking enhancement awards totaling $31, 000 for the surviving class representative, David Bryan, and the members of the Retiree Committee. Id. Karen Gorrell will receive $5, 000; Mr. Bryan, Ronald Dixon, Luther Gibson, John Morris, Lesley Shockey and James Weltner will each receive $4, 000; and Clarence Lawrence will receive $2, 000. See Memo. in Supp. of Joint Mot. for Preliminary Approval of Settlement at 18-19.

         II. Analysis

         a. Preliminary Approval

         In the preliminary approval stage, the court “should make a preliminary determination that the proposed class satisfies the criteria set out in Rule 23(a) and at least one of the subsections of Rule 23(b). . . . The judge must make a preliminary determination on the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement terms and must direct the preparation of notice of the certification, proposed settlement, and date of the final fairness hearing.” Manual For Complex Litigation, 2004 WL 258821, § 21.632 (4th Ed.).

         As noted in the court's memorandum opinion and order amending the class definition, dated May 23, 2017, the requirements of 23(a) continue to be satisfied in this case. Moreover, the class meets the ...


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