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SSM Health Care Corp. Settlement

Welcome to the Feather v. SSM Health Care Corp. Settlement website. This website is intended to keep Settlement Class Members informed regarding the Class Action Settlement. The content of this website is the responsibility of Class Counsel and has not been approved by the Court.

On January 17, 2019, the Honorable Henry Edward Autrey granted preliminary approval of the Settlement. An amended preliminary approval order was entered on January 18, 2019.

Information regarding the Settlement can be found in the Court-approved Class Notice and by reading the following:

Background

Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants denied ERISA protections to the participants and beneficiaries of the Plans, which are defined benefit pension plans sponsored by SSM, by claiming that the Plans qualify as ERISA exempt “church plans.” The Complaint further alleges that asserting this exemption caused Defendants to deny the Plans’ participants the protections of ERISA. These include, among other violations: underfunding the Plans, failing to furnish Plaintiffs or any member of the class with Plan information to participants as required by ERISA and making lower lump sum payments to participants than ERISA would require.

Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint, and on April 23, 2018, the Court issued an Order dismissing Count IX of the Amended Complaint and finding that the church plan exemption did not violate the Establishment Clause. However, on July 23, 2018, the Court vacated its April 23, 2018, Order and dismissed the Amended Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiffs lacked standing.

On August 21, 2018, Plaintiffs timely filed a Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit regarding the Court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss. Following Notice of Appeal and before returning to litigation, the Parties agreed to attempt to settle the Action through mediation. On September 24, 2018, the Parties retained Robert Meyer, an independent JAMS mediator who had successfully mediated several other cases involving ERISA’s “church plan” exemption. The Parties held an in-person mediation session on October 19, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. With the assistance of Mr. Meyer, the Parties were able to agree to the terms of a settlement during the mediation which took all-day, and signed a Term Sheet containing the primary terms resolving this Action. The Settlement Agreement is a comprehensive agreement based on the Term Sheet and was executed by all parties on January 14, 2019.

The Settlement Class

On January 18, 2019, the amended preliminary approval of the Settlement was granted on behalf of the following Settlement Class:

All vested or non-vested present or past participants of the Plans (and their beneficiaries) as of September 6, 2017.

The Settlement Class shall be certified as a non-opt out class action for settlement purposes only, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23 (b)(1) and/or (b)(2).

Settlement FAQs

Q: What does the Settlement provide?

The Settlement provides that Named Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and the Settlement Class, have agreed to settle all Released Claims (as defined in the Settlement Agreement) against Defendants and other Releasees (as defined in the Settlement Agreement) in exchange for, a contribution of a minimum of $15 million per year to the Plans during the calendar years of 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, for a total of $60 million. Any amount paid in excess of $15 million during the calendar years of 2019, 2020, and 2021 may be used to reduce subsequent contributions. SSM may satisfy its obligation by making payments to the Plans totaling $50 million before December 31, 2020.

The Settlement also provides a different form of relief to certain Settlement Class Members who received a lump-sum distribution of their retirement benefits from the Plans (“Lump-Sum Class Members”). Within 30 days of the Effective Date of Settlement, Defendants shall pay or cause a $115.00 payment to be made from the Plans to the Lump-Sum Class Members. Payments shall be made by check, and any checks may be voided and a stop-pay order may be placed on such checks if they have not been cashed within 120 days of the date of their issuance, and the expiration date shall be clearly printed on the checks. Checks voided in accordance with this provision shall revert to the Plans. Lump-Sum Class Members whose checks are voided shall be deemed to have waived irrevocably any right in or claim to any lump-sum payment under this Settlement Agreement, but the Settlement Agreement shall in all other respects, including the release of claims, remain binding on them.

Additionally, the Settlement provides certain equitable guarantees of payment of participants’ benefits for a period of ten (10) years, commencing on October 19, 2018, and protection of participants’ benefits from cutbacks during the same time period.

The above description of the operation of the Settlement is only a summary. The governing provisions are set forth in the Settlement Agreement.

Q: What rights am I giving up in the Settlement?

If the Settlement is approved, the Court will enter a judgment. This judgment will fully, finally, and forever release, relinquish, and discharge any and all actual or potential claims, actions, causes of action, demands, obligations, liabilities, attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs under federal or state laws arising out of the allegations of the Complaint that were brought or could have been brought as of the date the Settlement Agreement becomes effective, including any current or prospective challenge to the “church plan” status of the Plans, whether or not such claims are accrued, whether already acquired or subsequently acquired, whether known or unknown, in law or equity, brought by way of demand, complaint, cross-claim, counterclaim, third-party claim, or otherwise.

For Settlement Class Members only, Released Claims are not intended to include the release of any of the following:

a. Any rights or duties arising out of the Settlement Agreement, including the express warranties and covenants in the Settlement Agreement;
b. Individual claims for benefits brought pursuant to the applicable Plan’s documents that do not arise out of the allegations of the Complaint, provided that in such an individual claim for benefits no Settlement Class Member shall challenge any of the Plans’ status as a church plan exempt from ERISA or claim that ERISA’s requirements relating to lump-sum calculations apply to past or future lump-sum distributions from the Plans;
c. Claims related to any other plan that is merged, adopted or consolidated into any of the Plans after the Effective Date of the Settlement; or
d. Any claim arising under ERISA with respect to a Plan after: (1) the Internal Revenue Service issues a written ruling that the particular Plan does not qualify as a Church Plan; (2) The Plan’s sponsor elects for the particular Plan to be governed by ERISA; (3) A court of law issues a definitive and final ruling that the particular Plan is not a Church Plan; (4) The Roman Catholic Church no longer claims an association with the particular Plan’s sponsor; or (5) An amendment to ERISA is enacted and becomes effective as a law of the United States eliminating the Church Plan exemption.

Q: How do I know whether I am part of the Settlement?

The Court has certified the Action as a class action preliminarily. You are a member of the Settlement Class if, you are a vested or non-vested present or past participant of any of the Plans (or one of their beneficiaries) as of September 6, 2017.

Q: Can I exclude myself from the Settlement?

You do not have the right to exclude yourself from the Settlement. For settlement purposes, the Action was preliminarily certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1) and/or 23(b)(2) (non-opt-out class) because the Court determined the requirements of those rules were satisfied. Thus, it is not possible for any of the members of the Settlement Class to exclude themselves from the Settlement. As a member of the Settlement Class, you will be bound by any judgments or orders that are entered in the Action for all claims that were or could have been asserted in the Action against Defendants or are otherwise included in the release under the Settlement. The Court resolves the issues for all members of the Settlement Class.

Although members of the Settlement Class cannot opt-out of the Settlement, they can object to the Settlement and ask the Court not to approve the Settlement.

Q: Do I have a lawyer in the Action?

The law firms of Keller Rohrback L.L.P., Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, LLP, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and Izard, Kindall & Raabe, LLP represent the Named Plaintiffs and the Settlement Class (“Settlement Class Counsel”). Keller Rohrback and Kessler Topaz have been appointed as Settlement Class Counsel Co-Chairs. You will not be charged directly by these lawyers. If you want to be represented by your own lawyer, you may hire one at your own expense.

Q: How will the lawyers be paid?

Prior to the Fairness Hearing, Class Counsel will apply for an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses, and incentive awards for the Named Plaintiffs. The total amount that Class Counsel will seek for attorneys’ fees, expenses, and incentive awards will not exceed $500,000. SSM will be responsible for payment of this amount. Any payment of attorneys’ fees, expenses, and incentive awards to Named Plaintiffs will not reduce the amount of the payments to the Plans or the one-time payments to be made to the Lump-Sum Class Members.

To date, Class Counsel has not received any payment for their services in prosecuting this Action on behalf of the Settlement Class, nor have Class Counsel been reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses. The fee requested by Class Counsel would compensate all of Plaintiffs’ counsel for their efforts in achieving the Settlement for the benefit of the Settlement Class and for their risk in undertaking this representation on a contingency basis. The Court will determine the actual amount of the award.

Q: How do I tell the Court if I don’t like the Settlement?

Any member of the Settlement Class who wishes to object to the fairness, reasonableness, or adequacy of the Settlement, to any term of the Settlement Agreement, to the application for payment of attorneys’ fees and expenses, or to the application for incentive awards for the Named Plaintiffs, may file an Objection in writing.

All written objections and supporting papers must: (1) clearly identify the case name and number “Feather v. SSM Health Care Corp., Case No. 16-cv-01669;” (2) be filed with the Court and either postmarked and mailed or faxed to Class Counsel and Defendants’ Counsel at the addresses below on or before May 23, 2019; (3) set forth your full name, current address, and telephone number; (4) set forth a statement of the objection you wish to assert, including the factual and legal support for the objection; (5) set forth the names and a summary of testimony of any witnesses that you might want to call in connection with the objection; (6) provide copies of all documents that you wish to submit in support of your objection; (7) provide the name(s), address(es) and phone number(s) of any attorney(s) representing you; (8) state the name, court, and docket number of any class action litigation in which you and/or your attorney(s) has previously appeared as an objector or provided legal assistance with respect to an objection; and (9) include your signature.

The addresses for filing objections with the Court and service on counsel are listed below. Your written objection must be filed with the Court by no later than May 23, 2019, and mailed or faxed to the counsel listed below so that it is received by no later than May 23, 2019:

File with the Clerk of the Court:

Clerk of the Court
United States District Court
Eastern District of Missouri
Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse
111 South 10th Street
Suite 3.300
St. Louis, MO 63102

Re: Feather v. SSM Health et al., No. 4:16-cv-01669-HEA

And, by the same date, serve copies of all such papers by mail or fax to each of the following:

CLASS COUNSEL:

Lynn Lincoln Sarko
Laura R. Gerber
KELLER ROHRBACK L.L.P.
1201 Third Avenue, Suite 3200
Seattle, WA 98101
Fax: (206) 623-3384

Ron Kilgard
KELLER ROHRBACK L.L.P.
3101 North Central Avenue, Suite 1400
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Fax: (602) 248-2822

Mark K. Gyandoh
KESSLER TOPAZ MELTZER &
CHECK, LLP
280 King of Prussia Road
Radnor, PA 19087
Fax: (610) 667-7056

DEFENDANTS’ COUNSEL:

Amy L. Blaisdell
GREENSFELDER, HEMKER & GALE, P.C.
10 South Broadway, Suite 2000
St. Louis, Missouri 63102
Fax: (314) 345-4792

UNLESS OTHERWISE ORDERED BY THE COURT, ANY MEMBER OF THE SETTLEMENT CLASS WHO DOES NOT OBJECT IN THE MANNER DESCRIBED HEREIN WILL BE DEEMED TO HAVE WAIVED ANY OBJECTION AND SHALL BE FOREVER FORECLOSED FROM MAKING ANY OBJECTION TO THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT AND THE APPLICATION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES AND EXPENSES AND INCENTIVE AWARDS TO THE NAMED PLAINTIFFS.

Q: When and where will the Court decide whether to approve the Settlement?
The Court will hold a Fairness Hearing on June 6, 2019, at 11:00 A.M. CDT, at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, 111 South 10th Street, St. Louis, MO, Courtroom 10 North.

IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO OBJECT TO THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OR
THE APPLICATION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES AND EXPENSES AND INCENTIVE AWARDS
TO THE NAMED PLAINTIFFS,
YOU NEED NOT ATTEND THE FAIRNESS HEARING.

At the hearing, the Court will consider whether the Settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. If there are objections, the Court will consider them. After the Fairness Hearing, the Court will decide whether to approve the Settlement. The Court will also rule on the motions for attorneys’ fees and expenses and incentive awards to the Named Plaintiffs. We do not know how long these decisions will take.

Q: Do I have to come to the hearing?

Class Counsel will answer questions Judge Autrey may have. You are welcome to come at your own expense. If you send an objection, you do not have to come to Court to talk about it. As long as you mailed or filed your written objection on time, it will be before the Court when the Court considers whether to approve the Settlement as fair, reasonable and adequate. You may also have your own lawyer attend the Fairness Hearing at your expense, but such attendance is not necessary.

Q: May I speak at the hearing? 

If you are a member of the Settlement Class and you have filed a timely objection, you may ask the Court for permission to speak at the Fairness Hearing. To do so, you must send a letter or other paper called a “Notice of Intention to Appear at Fairness Hearing in Feather v. SSM Health Care Corp., Case No. 16-cv-01669.” Be sure to include your name, address, telephone number, and your signature. Your Notice of Intention to Appear must be served on the attorneys listed above, postmarked and mailed or sent via facsimile no later than May 23, 2019, and must be filed with the Clerk of the Court, postmarked no later than May 23, 2019.

The Fairness Hearing may be delayed by the Court without further notice to the Settlement Class. If you wish to attend the Fairness Hearing, you should confirm the date and time with a member of Class Counsel.

Q: What happens if I do nothing at all?

If you do nothing and you are a member of the Settlement Class, you will participate in the Settlement as described above in this Class Notice if the Settlement is approved.

Contact

If you are a Settlement Class Member and you have questions regarding the Settlement, please contact Class Counsel at (888) 687-4741 or via .

Please do not contact the Court. The Court personnel will not be able to answer your questions.