Blind Pension UpdateJanuary 23, 2012
MCB News Wire
by Deborah Greider
Here is an update of the Class Action Litigation since the conference with Judge Joyce.
First, the Judge heard arguments from both sides regarding the damages issue. The State, as you might imagine, is arguing that it should be able to use the old and incorrect figures (DSS projections) to figure the damages for the time period 2001 to present.
We argued that actual figures should be used and the damages computations should be based upon these. We indicated to the Judge that Dr. LePage (who was present) had done much of the work to determine damages.
The State argued that his figures were wrong since they used the actual figures and the Plaintiffs did not get to start with the correct pension figures in determining the damages.
The Judge seemed to agree with me, but then said she would consider the issue from both perspectives and directed each side to submit formal briefs the damages issue, try to compute the damages, prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law, and submit all that to her by January 20, 2012. She has reserved January 23 to review the briefs and the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law that each side submits.
Second, the Judge was interested in getting the claims process going. She spoke about getting this all done in 2012 unless someone appeals something else. While that possibility exists depending on what Judge Joyce decides, there really would only be one issue—the starting amount for the damages. All else flows from that.
Regarding the claims process, we spoke of the different alternatives, what to do about deceased class members, and the issue of unclaimed monies.
We talked about the fact that the State should have most of the records going back to 2001—there should not be the huge gaps in data and inconsistencies in the records that we experienced going back to the early and mid-1990’s. We talked about, once we established month by month damages, preparing a statement of damages for each Blind Pension Fund recipient—or class member—as shown by the Roll of the Blind. We would, for each year (2001 through the present), multiply the monthly underpayment by the number of months a recipient was on the Roll of the Blind for a given year then add the damages up so that we would have a total of damages for each recipient for the time period at issue (February 16, 2001 through the present). The damages will include the prejudgment interest.
Then a statement explaining the computations and damages assessment would be sent to each recipient at the State’s last known address for him/her. The statement would say that the recipient, if satisfied with the damages assessment, need do nothing, and it would be deemed that he/she accepted the stated amount of damages. At the close of the claims period, checks would be issued or deposits made, possibly, to each class member who did not contest the statement of damages.
For individuals who believe that there was an error in the computation (and this would go to number of months only and the monthly underpayment amount), he/she could file an objection. A representative of the State and the Plaintiff class would try to sort through it and see if the objections could be addressed. If there was no satisfactory resolution that way, the individual could file an objection in Court.
At the claims point, the only issue ought to be how many months was someone on the Roll of the Blind for the time period Feb. 16, 2001 through the present, and, thus, is entitled to damages. The amounts of the monthly underpayment will have already been determined.
Judge Joyce asked that representatives of the State work with me toward developing proper notices for the claims process, figuring out how long we should keep the claims process open, and the mechanism for assisting persons who either do not understand what is happening or who think that they were on the Roll of the Blind longer than the State’s records indicate. We discussed how to let people know about the claims process and notices. Obviously, the idea of presenting individuals with a computed statement of damages that did not require them to take further action was for the express reason of making the claims process as simple as possible and to maximize the extent to which recipients of the Blind Pension Fund might receive payment. In the ordinary claims process, people who wish to assert a claim have to actively participate. This discourages a number of persons from filing claims—just confusion, inertia, etc. I want the process to be as self-executing as possible for my clients.
The Court ordered counsel for the Plaintiff and counsel for the State to give each other proposals on how we think the notice process should work, to cooperate, and to come up with something that works, if possible, by February 12 or so. She has ordered us back to Court on February 21 for a status conference.