The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE
Presently before the Court for approval pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e) is the proposed consent decree governing Stage II damage awards between the plaintiff class and defendants Local 542, International Union of Operating Engineers ("Local 542") and the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee ("JATC"). Also before the Court is a joint motion for summary dismissal of certain Stage II claims.
In this employment discrimination class action the Court held that defendants Local 542 and the JATC intentionally discriminated against minorities in the operating engineers trade throughout the areas of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, 469 F. Supp. 329 (E.D. Pa. 1978), affirmed per curiam, 648 F.2d 922 (3d Cir. 1982).
Stage II, the individual relief phase of this litigation, began on March 24, 1982, with the issuance of Post Decree Order #50. That Order directed that Stage II notices and proof of claim forms be provided to all the members of the plaintiff class. Notices and proof of claim forms were sent by certified mail to all of the potential Stage II claimants at their last-known addresses. Additionally, newspaper notices were published and toll-free telephone access lines were made available. As a result of these notification efforts, five hundred ninety-nine (599) claimants have timely responded by filing proof of claim forms with the Clerk of Court.
Following the issuance of the Court's Memorandum Opinion of July 13, 1982, counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for Local 542 and the JATC entered into settlement discussions in an effort to resolve the issues presented by Stage II. On September 27, 1982, a settlement agreement having been reached, the parties filed a joint proposed consent decree governing Stage II damage awards with respect to Local 542 and the JATC. On October 5, 1982, a hearing was held on the joint motion for preliminary approval of the proposed consent decree. In Post Decree Order #58 issued on October 7, 1982, the Court granted the motion for preliminary approval and ordered that notice and copies of the proposed consent decree be sent to all plaintiff class members. Objections to the proposed consent decree were directed to be filed in writing with the Clerk of Court on or before November 12, 1982. On November 22, 1982, a hearing was held on the motion for final approval of the proposed consent decree. Objections by members of the plaintiff class were also heard at that time.
I. Joint Motion for Summary Dismissal of Certain Stage II Claims
Before the Court can address the issue of settlement, two preliminary matters must be resolved. First, class plaintiffs, Local 542 and the JATC have filed an amended joint motion for the summary dismissal of certain Stage II claims which do not meet criteria established by the Court for the recovery of Stage II relief. Twenty-nine (29) claimants have been identified to be the subject of the joint dismissal motion. See Report to the Court re Joint Motion for Summary Dismissal, at 3-4. Only three of these claimants have filed written objections to the proposed dismissal of their claims. The Court has reviewed each of these twenty-nine claims individually and finds that none allege facts, either in their proof of claim forms or through submitted objections, which would place them in a category within the definition of the plaintiff class for purposes of Stage II relief. These claims are, therefore, subject to summary dismissal. Thus, the amended joint motion for the summary dismissal of certain Stage II claims will be granted and the claims will be dismissed.
Second, twenty (20) claimants have filed objections to their categorical designation for purposes of the consent decree. See Plaintiffs' Report to the Court re Objections to Categorical Designations for Consent Decree, at 2-9. The Court has reviewed each of the objections and is satisfied that all twenty of the claimants were placed in the proper categories for purposes of Stage II relief.
The decision of whether to approve a proposed settlement of a class action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e) is left to the sound discretion of the district court. The accepted standard for approval is that the settlement agreement must be adequate, fair and reasonable. Girsh v. Jepson, 521 F.2d 153, 157 (3d Cir. 1975); Stotts v. Memphis Fire Department, 679 F.2d 541, 552 (6th Cir. 1982). Nine factors have been cited by the Third Circuit as relevant to the fairness determination:
". . . (1) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation . . .; (2) the reaction of the class to the settlement . . .; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed . . .; (4) the risks of establishing liability . . .; (5) the risks of establishing damages . . .; (6) the risks of maintaining the class action through the trial . . .; (7) the ability of the defendants to withstand a greater judgment; (8) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery . . .; (9) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund to a possible recovery in light of all the attendant risks of litigation . . . ."
Girsh v. Jepson, 521 F.2d at 157 (quoting City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 495 F.2d 448, 463 (2d Cir. 1974)). The Manual for Complex Litigation focuses on four considerations as relevant to the fairness and adequacy of a settlement:
(1) The most important factor is the strength of the case for plaintiffs on the merits, balanced against the ...