Legal Alert: SCC OK’s Retirees’ Class Action Against Health Plan Sponsor
January 17, 2014
By Peter Driscoll, at McInnes Cooper
On January 16, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada certified a class action initiated on behalf of a group of retirees and their surviving spouses about their post-retirement health benefits.
In Vivendi Canada Inc. v. Dell’Aniello, Seagrams, the class members’ former employer, sponsored a post-retirement health benefit in which the proposed class members participated. Vivendi purchased Seagrams, and subsequently informed the class members that it would be unilaterally reducing their plan benefits. One retiree made a claim against Vivendi challenging the benefit reduction, and applied for certification of his claim as a class action on behalf of all of the similarly affected plan beneficiaries.
To be certified as a class action, a claim must satisfy several criteria. A central one is: does the claim raise a common question that, once the court answers it, would resolve the claim for all of the proposed class members? In Vivendi, the SCC decided the group’s claim does raise a “common question”- and the action should be certified as a class action:
- Questions Not Answers. There only needs to be a common question(s) for all the group members – it doesn’t have to lead to a common answer(s) for them.
- “Common”. A question is a common one if its answer advances the resolution of the litigation for all group members.
- Screening Only. The certification stage is only a screening one and the judge is limited to a procedural question: does the proposed class meet the class certification criteria? The proposed group only needs to show it has an arguable case – and the judge shouldn’t consider the group’s actual claim at this point.
- Group Members Across Canada. That group members live in different Canadian provinces is not a bar: the Quebec Civil Code applied, but the legislative scheme in each Province is not substantially different so the class action will not lose its collective nature.
This decision is consistent with the SCC’s previous decisions emphasizing that class actions provide individual litigants with access to justice and promote judicial economy by resolving group claims in a single proceeding. Pension and benefit claims are especially suited for class action proceedings because of their “group benefit” nature.
The Vivendi decision is based on the Quebec Civil Code, which applies only in Quebec, but it’s relevant across Canada:
- The SCC noted the “commonality requirement” exists in all Canadian Provinces and Territories, with some variation in its flexibility.
- The SCC also noted that the law in Quebec reflects a more flexible – and more favourable – approach to class actions as compared to elsewhere in Canada. However, courts in other Provinces and Territories will certainly refer to this decision – and note both similarities and differences in the wording of class action laws in their locations – to inform their interpretation of their class action laws.
Click here to read the SCC’s decision in Vivendi Canada Inc. v. Dell’Aniello.
Please contact your McInnes Cooper lawyer or any member of our McInnes Cooper Class Actions Team to discuss this topic or any other legal issue.
McInnes Cooper has prepared this document for information only; it is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult McInnes Cooper about your unique circumstances before acting on this information. McInnes Cooper excludes all liability for anything contained in this document and any use you make of it.
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