7th Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification in Lockheed Martin Retirement Fund Case

Plaintiffs claim that Lockheed breached its fiduciary duty to its retirement savings plan, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2). The Plan is a defined-contribution plan, (401(k)); employees direct part of their earnings to a tax-deferred savings account. Participants may allocate funds as they choose. Among the investment options Lockheed offered was a “stable-value fund” (SVF). SVFs typically invest in a mix of short- and intermediate-term securities, such as Treasury securities, corporate bonds, and mortgage-backed securities. Holding longer-term instruments, SVFs generally outperform money market funds. For stability, SVFs are provided through “wrap” contracts with banks or insurance companies that guarantee the fund’s principal and shield it from interest-rate volatility. Plaintiffs allege that the Lockheed SVF was heavily invested in short-term money market investments, with a low rate of return that did “not beat inflation by a sufficient margin to provide a meaningful retirement asset.”
The district court granted Lockheed summary judgment with respect to some claims. The SVF claim survived.

The district court initially certified two classes under FRCP 23(b)(1)(A). On remand, the court declined to certify further narrowed classes. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that the plaintiffs carefully limited the class to plan participants who invested in the SVF during the class period and employed reasonable means to exclude from the class persons who did not experience injury. The Court held:

To conform to Spano’s warning that the class must not be “defined so broadly that some members will actually be harmed” by the relief sought, Plaintiffs limited their definition of the SVF class to those who suffered damages as a result of Lockheed’s purportedly prudent management of the fund. … [T]his court has never held, and Spano did not
imply, that the mere possibility that a trivial level of intra-class conflict may materialize as the litigation progresses forecloses class certification entirely. … We conclude both that
Spano poses no bar to the proposed SVF class and that the district court’s reservations about the class were unfounded.

You can view the full 7th Circuit opinion here

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