The Eastern District of Michigan has certified a class of ERISA plan participants challenging an amendment which, in attempt to address the plan’s underfunded status, reduced their monthly disability payments.  The Court certified a class of recipients of disability retirement benefits under the plan, rejecting challenges to numerosity, adequacy, and commonality. 

Under the numerosity analysis, the Court did not agree with defendants that joinder was practicable simply because all of the class members were identifiable as plan participants.  The Court also found plaintiff’s counsel’s representation that fifty-eight plan members had contacted counsel regarding the litigation sufficient to show numerosity, given that only defendant could quantify the exact number of participants whose benefits were impacted by the plan amendment.  Under the adequacy analysis, the Court rejected defendants’ suggestion of a class conflict because some class members might prefer to see the plan’s funding status improved rather than their disability amounts restored.  The Court found that defendants – by opposing the class claims – would adequately represent the interests those class members who preferred eliminating the plan’s underfunded status at the expense of a reduction in disability status.  The Court found that defendants’ other assertions of class conflict went to the issue of damages, not liability.  And although defendants did not brief the issue of commonality, the court found that the requirement was met where the lawfulness of the plan amendment was the essential question of liability in the case; only after that issue was decided would individualized determinations of the benefits due each member become necessary.

Underwood v. Carpenters Pension Trust Fund-Detroit & Vicinity, No. 13-cv-14464 (E.D. Mich. Sep. 15, 2014).