Retirees Prevail Over Contra Costa County

     SAN FRANCISO (CN) — Contra Costa County must honor its promise to pay 80 percent of the cost of health benefits for which retirees sacrificed wage and cost-of-living increases, a federal judge told the county this week.
     The Retiree Support Group of Contra County sued in January 2012 after the county reneged on its promise.
     The Support Group, representing some 4,000 retirees, claimed the Board of Supervisors ratified the agreement through resolutions, Memoranda of Understanding, official statements. But the county capped its contribution to retirees’ health benefits at a flat dollar amount on Jan. 1, 2010, resulting in increased costs for retirees.
     The Support Group filed a class action alleging breach of contract, impairment of contract in violation of the state and federal constitutions, and violations of due process.
     U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White dismissed without prejudice, citing lack of evidence of an express or implied contract, and ordered that any amended complaint provide “all of the specific resolutions or ordinances that contain the 80 percent promise.”
     The Support Group filed a second amended complaint on Nov. 30, 2012, which the court refused to dismiss. The case was referred to mediation in early 2015, and the parties reached a settlement in August.
     The Support Group sought preliminary approval of the settlement in March this year. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, with consent of the county, granted the plaintiffs leave to file a third amended complaint to add class allegations and assign class representatives.
     “Because the opposing party agrees that leave to amend should be granted, and because it will facilitate the proposed settlement, the court grants plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file their TAC,” Tigar wrote in a 14-page order Tuesday.
     He granted preliminary approval to a settlement that gives retirees almost 72 percent of the promised 80 percent payment.
     “The court concludes that the settlement should be preliminarily approved,” Tigar wrote. “An agreement to provide 71.9 percent of the least expensive offered health plan is indeed of significant economic value to the class members, especially when the alleged claim is that the county originally promised to provide the 80 percent. As plaintiff explains, many retirees who are Medicare-eligible will continue to pay just one cent towards their monthly premiums, and these benefits will last for the retirees’ lifetimes.”
     Each party must pay its own attorneys’ fees.
     “(N)o attorneys’ fees or class representative awards will be apportioned from the economic benefits provided by the settlement,” Tigar wrote. “When compared with the costs, time and risks involved in litigation, this settlement is within the range of possible approval.”
     He set a final fairness hearing for Oct. 27.
     The seat of Contra Costa, inland from the Bay Area, is Martinez, at the foot of Mt. Diablo.

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