Devlin v. Scardelletti

PETITIONER: Devlin
RESPONDENT: Scardelletti
LOCATION: Los Angeles City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 01-417
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 536 US 1 (2002)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 2002
DECIDED: Jun 10, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Christopher R. Lipsett - for Citibank, N
Edward C. DuMont - for Citibank, N
Laurence E. Gold - Argued the cause for the respondents
Laurence Stephen Gold - argued the cause for respondents
Patricia A. Millett - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Seth P. Waxman - for Citibank, N
Thomas C. Goldstein - Argued the case for the petitioner
Thaddeus Holt - for Charles L

Facts of the case

Robert Devlin, a retired worker represented by the Transportation Communications International Union, participates in a defined benefits pension plan (Plan) administered by the Union. In 1991, the Plan was amended to add a cost of living increase (COLA). In 1997, the Plan's trustees eliminated the COLA because the Plan could not support such a large benefits increase. The trustees also filed a class action in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the 1997 elimination was binding on all Plan members or that the 1991 COLA was void. After the District Court conditionally certified a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1) and the trustees asked the court to approve their settlement with the class representatives, Devlin moved to intervene. The court denied his motion as untimely. The court then heard objections to the settlement, including those advanced by Devlin, and approved the settlement. In affirming the District Court's denial of Devlins's intervention, the Court of Appeals held that, because Devlin was not a named class representative and because he had been properly denied the right to intervene, he lacked standing to challenge the settlement.

Question

Does a nonnamed member of a class certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1) have the power to appeal the approval of a settlement over objections he stated at the fairness hearing?

Media for Devlin v. Scardelletti

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 2002 in Devlin v. Scardelletti

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 10, 2002 in Devlin v. Scardelletti

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 01-417 Devlin versus Scardelletti will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The question before us is whether the petitioner, a member of the plaintiff’s class, certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1) who objected to the approval of a settlement at the fairness hearing may subsequently bring an appeal despite the fact that he is neither a named class representative, nor a successful intervener in the action.

Reversing the Fourth Circuit, we hold that he can.

This Court has held that only parties may properly bring an appeal.

We have never restricted this rule however, to named parties.

Petitioner’s interest is similar to those of non-parties we have allowed to appeal in the past.

He objected in the District Court and most importantly, he is bound by the District Court’s approval of the settlement.

This should be sufficient to trigger his right to appeal.

That right cannot be effectively accomplished through the named class representative.

Once the class representative reaches a settlement with which another class member does not agree, their interest necessarily diverge.

Allowing an appeal is necessary to protect petitioner’s interests in the settlement by which he has bound despite his expressed objections before the District Court.

We also reject the government’s suggestion that non-named class members should be required to first intervene for purposes of appeal.

The government admits such intervention should be freely granted.

We therefore, see little advantage to requiring the class members to go through the additional steps of seeking District Court approval of their right to appeal.

As no statute or rule of civil procedure requires such intervention, we decline to require it here.

Justice Scalia has filed a descending opinion which Justices Kennedy and Thomas have joined.