WILLIAMS v. ROHN AND HAAS PENSION PLAN (September 2, 2011)

In 2002, Gary Williams filed a class action against the Rohm and Haas Pension Plan, alleging that his lump-sum distribution should include cost-of-living adjustments. The district court granted summary judgment to the class. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and remanded for a damages calculation. On remand, the Plan took the position that class members who took early retirement were entitled to no damages. The parties reached a settlement before the issue was adjudicated. One group of class members objected to the settlement on the ground that it discriminated against early retirees, who (they maintained) should have been given separate counsel. The group also objected to the amount of fees awarded. Another objector claimed that the settlement released his unrelated claims and that he should have been allowed to opt out. Judge Barker (S.D. Ind.) approved the settlement. The objectors appeal.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Bauer, Kanne, and Evans (who, as a result of his death, took no part in the decision) affirmed. First, the Court affirmed the district court's fairness finding with respect to the early retirees. The Court noted that the early retirees received $60 million as part of the settlement on a claim that rested on unsettled law. The district court had already heard arguments on the issue and was well positioned to assess the settlement's fairness. Her decision was not clearly erroneous. Likewise, her decision not to create a separately represented subclass was not an abuse of discretion. With respect to the individual objector, the Court concluded that the settlement only released pension plan related claims. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his opt out. Finally, with respect to the fee award, the Court stated that, given the district court's application of the correct methodology and intimate familiarity with the litigation, it did not abuse its discretion in the fee award.