Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County at No. GD 84-17962.
Michael P. Malakoff, Pittsburgh, for appellants.
Robert Weinheimer, Pittsburgh, for appellees.
Rowley, Wieand and Del Sole, JJ.
In this appeal from an Order denying class certification, a single issue is presented for review: whether class certification may be denied under Pa.R.C.P. 1708(a)(7) solely because the average individual claim is for a small dollar amount where the potential costs and expenses of the litigation are not disproportionate to the total class claims aggregating over $150,000 with interest.*fn1 Because the record reveals that the trial court abused its discretion in denying certification, we reverse.
Appellants allege that in 1979, 1980 and 1981, the appellees (County) erroneously deducted Social Security contributions from sick pay benefits paid to appellants, employees of the County during the relevant time period. After the error was discovered, the County contracted with CTA, Ltd. to obtain a refund (or credit) of the Social Security payments. The County agreed to pay CTA 25% of the amount collected in exchange for CTA's services. After CTA recovered the payments, the County refunded to appellants the amounts previously withheld, less the 25% fee paid to CTA.
Appellants filed a class action complaint against the County on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated to recover the amount deducted by the County from their refund and paid to CTA. They alleged that the County's payment to CTA constituted a breach of the
contract embodied in an Employee Benefit Plan Booklet and summarized in an Employee Benefits Summary Sheet.*fn2 R.R. 12a-19a. Appellants filed a motion for class certification, Pa. R.C.P. 1710(a), and an evidentiary hearing was held on the motion. Pa. R.C.P. 1707(c). By subsequent order, the trial court denied appellants' motion. This appeal followed.
In an opinion accompanying its order, the trial court considered the five prerequisites to a class action set forth in rule 1702 and, because appellants sought money damages only, the seven criteria set forth in rule 1708(a). The trial court determined that appellants had satisfied all the requirements for certifying the class except the requirement of 1708(a)(7). That section provides
In determining whether a class action is a fair and efficient method of adjudicating the controversy, the court shall consider among other matters the criteria ...