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Pierce v. Visteon Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 1, 2015

DARRYL PIERCE and SHARON PIERCE, on behalf of themselves and a class, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
VISTEON CORPORATION and VISTEON SYSTEMS, LLC, Defendants-Appellees

Argued, June 5, 2015

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:05-cv-1325-LJM-DKL -- Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

For DARRYL PIERCE, On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, SHARON PIERCE, On Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Ronald E. Weldy, Attorney, Weldy Law, Indianapolis, IN.

For Visteon Corporation, Visteon Systems, LLC, Defendants - Appellees: Hannesson I. Murphy, Attorney, Barnes & Thornburg Llp, Indianapolis, IN.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 783

Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.

Federal law requires employers to offer laid off or discharged workers an opportunity to continue health insurance (including dental

Page 784

and vision benefits) at their own expense. This is called COBRA coverage, after the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. An employer has 44 days after the end of a person's employment to provide notice and essential details. 29 U.S.C. § 1166(a)(2), (a)(4), (c). The penalty for delay can be as high as $110 a day. (The statute says $100, see 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1), but the Department of Labor has raised the cap to $110. 29 C.F.R. § 2575.502c-1. Visteon has not questioned the validity of this regulation, and we do not consider whether the Secretary was authorized to adopt it.)

Plaintiffs in this suit, which the district court certified as a class action, contend that Visteon Corp. failed to deliver timely notice to some of its ex-employees. The district court defined the class in a way that contains 1,593 persons. After a bench trial, the court found that Visteon had provided untimely notice to 741 of these former employees, and that the notice averaged 376 days late for those 741 persons (though most of the other class members had received timely notice). The court awarded $2,500 to each class member who had received untimely notice (a total of about $1.85 million), a sum that does not depend on how long the delay was for any given person. (S.D. Ind. June 25, 2013). While the suit was pending, Visteon was reorganized in bankruptcy. The plan provides that debts of this kind will be paid 50¢ on the dollar, so each of the 741 will receive $1,250. The court also ordered Visteon to pay class counsel $302,780 as attorneys' fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g), plus costs of about $11,000. (S.D. Ind. Mar. 11, 2014).

The class filed a notice of appeal on July 11, 2014, and contends that the penalties are too low, the class too small, and the attorneys' fees too modest. The notice of appeal is timely with respect to the award of fees, because the class had filed a timely motion for modification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, which suspended the decision's finality. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(4). The district court denied that motion on June 11, 2014, and the notice of appeal came 30 days later. But Visteon contends that the notice is not timely with respect to the decision on the merits, for the merits and awards of fees are separate subjects, independently appealable. Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund, 134 S.Ct. 773, 187 L.Ed.2d 669 (2014); Budinich v. Becton Dickinson & Co., 486 U.S. 196, 108 S.Ct. 1717, 100 L.Ed.2d 178 (1988).

The district judge resolved the merits on June 25, 2013, and Fed.R.Civ.P. 58(b)(2) provides that a court " must promptly enter" a judgment. The district court did not comply with that requirement. Appellate Rule 4(a)(7)(A)(ii) lays out what happens in this situation: 150 days after the date of the district court's decision, a judgment is deemed to be entered and the 30 days for appeal (60 if the United States is a party) starts to run. The total of 180 or 210 days gives litigants ample opportunity to protect their interests even when the district court neglects its paperwork. For this case, the 150th day was November 22, 2013. That gave the class until December 23, 2013, to file a notice of appeal, but none was filed until July 2014. (December 22, 2013, was a Sunday.)

There is one exception to the rule that decisions on the merits and decisions about attorneys' fees are separately ...


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