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Frommert v. Conkright

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 10, 2017

PAUL J. FROMMERT, et al., Plaintiffs,
SALLY L. CONKRIGHT, et al., Defendants.


          DAVID G. LARIMER United States District Judge.

         This case arises under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. The case has a lengthy history, familiarity with which is assumed for purposes of this Decision and Order. But in general, this action deals with employees who worked for Xerox Corporation (“Xerox”), and who left Xerox’s employ at some point, at which time each of them took a lump-sum distribution of accrued pension benefits. Plaintiffs later returned to work for Xerox, for a second period of employment. The basic dispute arises out of Xerox’s treatment of the employees’ prior distributions when calculating plaintiffs’ subsequent pension benefits, following their second periods of employment.

         It is now established in this case that Xerox’s actions with respect to the plaintiffs’ pension benefits violated ERISA, specifically ERISA’s notice provisions. See Frommert v. Conkright, ___F.Supp.3d ___, 2016 WL 7186489, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2016) (“If nothing else, this litigation has established that defendants violated ERISA through [certain conduct], and that plaintiffs who were adversely affected by that inequitable conduct are entitled to relief”). For some time, the central question remaining in this case has been how best to provide plaintiffs with a remedy for that violation.

         On January 5, 2016, this Court issued a Decision and Order (Dkt. #283) (“Remedy Order”), pursuant to a remand from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, to decide on an appropriate remedy. The Court ordered defendants “to recalculate and pay plaintiffs’ retirement benefits, treating plaintiffs’ second periods of employment with Xerox as if plaintiffs had been newly hired and without regard for their prior periods of employment ... .” 153 F.Supp.3d 599, 616 (W.D.N.Y. 2016). The Court went on to set forth some details as to the specific treatment to be given to plaintiffs in different circumstances, such as those who had already retired, those who planned to retire in the future, and so on.

         Twenty days later, plaintiffs filed a motion for prejudgment interest. (Dkt. #284.) On November 3, 2016, the Court issued an order (Dkt. #319) granting in part and denying in part that motion (“PJI Order”). The Court directed defendants “to pay prejudgment interest to each plaintiff who has taken a distribution of benefits under the Plan, who received less than would have been due under the Court's new-hire remedy imposed on January 5, 2016.” The Court stated that “[t]he award should be calculated using the prime interest rate, as published by the Federal Reserve, as to each plaintiff, calculated from the date of the plaintiff’s distribution up to January 5, 2016.” ___F.Supp.3d ___, 2016 WL 6524250, at *6.

         Plaintiffs then moved for an award of attorney’s fees under ERISA’s fee-shifting provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). The Court issued an order (Dkt. #338) deciding that motion on December 12, 2016 (“Fees Order”). The Court granted plaintiffs attorney’s fees in the amount of $4,711,430.70, and costs in the amount of $174,174.

         Plaintiffs have now moved for “clarification and/or reconsideration” of the PJI Order (“C/R Motion”) (Dkt. #329). Plaintiffs ask the Court to “clarify” its decision regarding three issues, concerning the rate of prejudgment interest, the start date from which to calculate prejudgment interest, and the amount of interest owing to what defendants have described as “overpaid” plaintiffs. See Dkt. #329-1 at 3. Defendants have filed a response opposing that motion (Dkt. #340).

         Plaintiffs have also moved for “reconsideration or correction” (“Fees Motion”) of what they characterize as a mistake in the Fees Order (Dkt. #339). Specifically, plaintiffs contend that the Court mistakenly neglected to award fees for time spent on this case by one of plaintiffs’ attorneys, Victor O’Connell. The Court has not issued a scheduling order on that motion, and defendants have not responded to that motion.[1]

         After filing those two motions, however, and after defendants filed their response to the C/R Motion, plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals from the PJI Order, from the Fees Order, and from other decisions and orders of this Court. (Dkt. #341).[2]

         As the United States Supreme Court has stated, plaintiffs’ “filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance–it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.” Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982). See also N.Y. State Nat’l Org. for Women v. Terry, 886 F.2d 1339, 1350 (2d Cir. 1989) (the filing of an appeal “divest[s] the district court of jurisdiction respecting the questions raised and decided in the order that is on appeal”).

         Notwithstanding a pending appeal, a district court retains residual jurisdiction over purely “collateral matters,” in other words, matters that do not depend on, or will not affect, the outcome of the appeal. Tancredi v. Metro, Life Ins. Co., 378 F.3d 220, 225 (2d Cir. 2004). The district court may also “correct a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission whenever one is found in a judgment, order, or other part of the record,” but, “after an appeal has been docketed in the appellate court and while it is pending, such a mistake may be corrected only with the appellate court’s leave.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(a).

         In light of the pending appeal, I conclude that the Court lacks jurisdiction to decide the pending motions, and that even if the Court has jurisdiction, the wiser course would be to deny the motions pending the outcome of the appeal.

         For one thing, plaintiffs have appealed from the very orders that they are asking this Court to “reconsider” or “correct.” As to the Fees Order, I recognize that the requested relief is narrow in scope, and goes only to one attorney’s claimed hours and compensation, as a component of the fee award. But the fact remains that plaintiffs’ Fees Motion relates directly to an order of this Court that the plaintiffs themselves have appealed to the Second Circuit. Whatever the Court of Appeals does with respect to the pending appeal, it will be a simple enough matter to deal with the fees attributable to attorney O’Connell, if necessary, after the appeal has been decided.

         Regarding the C/R Motion, I note initially that “there is no Federal Rule of Civil Procedure specifically governing ‘motions for clarification.’” University of Colorado Health at Mem. Hosp. v. Burwell, 164 F.Supp.3d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2016) (internal quote omitted). Although so-called motions to “clarify” are not uncommonly filed, they are typically treated as motions for relief under Rule 54(b), see, e.g., In re Navy Chaplaincy, 170 F.Supp.3d 21, 29 ...

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