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United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
April 24, 1997, Argued ; August 14, 1997, Decided ; August 14, 1997, Filed
[***2] [*879] OPINION
MERRITT, Circuit Judge.
In this ERISA and Labor-Management Relations Act class action, the plaintiff class, made up of former hourly workers at the Tecumseh Products Company, appeals the district court's dismissal of its claims based on the doctrine of res judicata. The plaintiffs also appeal the district [***3] court's rejection of their jury trial request. [**2] The defendants cross-appeal on the theory that the district court should not have certified the plaintiff class. We decide in order the questions of (1) whether under the doctrine of "virtual representation" res judicata should be expanded to cover plaintiffs who were not parties or in "privity" with a party in a previous action; (2) whether the plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trial in an action for a declaration and award of retirement benefits; and (3) whether certification of a class action is proper under Rule 23 when the overall question of entitlement to retirement benefits is common to all class members but the availability of defenses and the amount of benefits may vary.
Charles Bittinger and the other members of the plaintiff class are retired hourly workers of the defendant, Tecumseh Products Company. A series of collective bargaining agreements governed the relationship between Tecumseh and the plaintiffs' former union, the United Product Workers Union. In June of 1991, after a collective bargaining period in which the union declared that it would no longer represent the interests of the retirees, Tecumseh notified the retirees that their insurance [**3] benefits would be terminated upon the expiration of the 1988-1991 collective bargaining agreement. The company simultaneously offered them life and health insurance under a new group plan, only partially funded by the company. In order to participate in the new, partially funded plan, they were required to sign releases of claims against the company. Some but not all of the eventual class members signed the releases.
The retirees soon organized in response to the company's actions. On June 5, 1991, they called a mass meeting attended by 500 retirees. A formal organization, the Unified Tecumseh Products Hourly Retirees, grew out of this meeting. The organization became a Michigan nonprofit corporation. Its Articles of Incorporation state [***4] as the organization's purpose "the unification of approximately 1200 hourly retirees from [the company] to seek legal advice for the reinstatement of promised benefits." Articles of Incorporation (J.A. 1428). Eventually, three of its members, Spaulding, Carroll, and Bishop, brought a lawsuit against Tecumseh. During this litigation, the Unified Retirees created mailing lists, held meetings, and collected money from its members -- including [**4] Bittinger, the named plaintiff in the instant case, who contributed $ 20 several times -- to support the activities of the group, including the suit. The group had attorneys come speak to its members and authorized the inclusion of its members as a class in the suit. It sent a newsletter to its members announcing that a suit had been filed and requesting money and affidavits. In early 1993, however, the district court in the Spaulding litigation granted Tecumseh's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action without a trial. Because it dismissed the case, the district court did not reach the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, and the class of retirees was never certified.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
123 F.3d 877 *; 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 21487 **; 1997 FED App. 0242P (6th Cir.) ***; 38 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 685; 21 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 1873
CHARLES BITTINGER, Individually and as a Representative of those Similarly Situated, a Class, Plaintiff-Appellant (96-1231/1233)/ Cross-Appellee, v. TECUMSEH PRODUCTS COMPANY; TECUMSEH DIVISION GROUP INSURANCE PLAN FOR RETIREES, Defendants-Appellees/ Cross-Appellants (96-1234/1260).
Subsequent History: [**1] Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied October 21, 1997, Reported at: 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 31852.
Prior History: Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 94-72283. Patrick J. Duggan, District Judge.
Disposition: Judgement of the district court is AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.
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