PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Federal cases against Singing River Health System over its struggling pension plan now have preliminary approval to move forward as a class action lawsuit.
The judge said Wednesday he's satisfied enough with what's been done to work out a settlement deal to move forward with a fairness hearing. May 16 is the day when a federal judge said he will let those arguing for and against a $149 million pension settlement with Singing River Health System have their say.
Jim Reeves and Matthew Mestayer believe wholeheartedly the deal is a good deal for retirees. On Wednesday, the attorneys left the federal courthouse in Gulfport with preliminary approval to settle year long litigation.
They say the $149 million accounts for money that should have been deposited into the pension fund between 2009 and 2014, as well as what is believed any interest would have yielded had that money been invested.
"Experts have really gone over the vast amount of documents in the case and have come to the conclusion, as have we," said Mestayer. "Other people that have looked at it; that's the correct number."
A federal judge ruled to move forward to a fairness hearing. Singing River attorneys also asked the judge to put dozens of lawsuits filed in state courts on hold.
SRHS Attorney Kelly Sessoms noted, "Since we have a limited pension fund here if one of these other cases, for example, happen to proceed to a judgment that would adversely or be a detriment to the other members who didn't get that judgment. So that's the other reason we wanted to stop these other cases."
Jim Reeves said although his team didn't file the motion, the plaintiffs do support it.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense to have those cases continue. People spend a lot of money and a lot of time involved in those cases, Then to have a hearing in May that gets rid of all of them," said Reeves. "So what happens in these types of cases is other cases are stayed, and the court has the fairness hearing. If the court doesn't approve the settlement, then those cases start back. If the court approves it, then that's it."
The judge says he'd take the motion for a stay under advisement. In the meantime, the judge notified all parties he wants settlement details made public and put into layman's terms.
"We look forward to working with the other parties to get the information out to the plan participants as to what this settlement will mean to them," said Sessoms. "We feel the federal court settlement is the best way to proceed."
Reeves said, "What will happen in short order is a settlement administrator will put out a website where everybody will have access to all the documents in the litigation. What people need to remember is if the judge, the federal judge here says it's not fair, then he won't approve it. "
Judge Guirola said he would take the motion for a stay under advisement, and that since none of the Jackson County Circuit Court cases have been assigned to a judge at this time, he doesn't see those suits as a threat to the class or the money that would fund the settlement.
However, if anything were to change, Guirola is prepared to act to protect the class.
The fairness hearing scheduled for May 16, 2016 at 10 a.m. will determine whether the class settlement should be given final approval. Reeves said that the settlement does not exempt other defendants from being sued and he expects there to be money collected from other parties.