Posted February 6th, 2020.
By Emily Brill
Law360 (February 6, 2020, 10:24 PM EST) — Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP urged a Massachusetts federal judge Thursday to appoint it as head class counsel in an ERISA suit against General Electric Co., saying it has done more work in the proposed class action than the other firms that seek to lead the suit.
The firm’s reply brief reserved most of its ire for the firm Squitieri & Fearon LLP, though four firms have opposed Sanford Heisler’s bid to nab the lead role in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act suit alleging that GE loaded its 401(k) plan with underperforming company-affiliated funds.
Sanford Heisler accused Squitieri & Fearon and two other firms, Gardy & Notis LLP and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, of filing “copycat cases” after it sued GE in September 2017. Squitieri & Fearon, in particular, “liberally [lifted] from Sanford Heisler Sharp’s original complaint” in its lawsuit, and it listed the same class period in an online advertisement seeking GE workers and retirees to join the suit, according to Sanford Heisler.
“By doing so, Squitieri & Fearon not only plagiarized the Haskins allegations but attempted to peel off members of the proposed Haskins class by suggesting that they could ‘join’ up through Mr. Squitieri,” Sanford Heisler said.
The firm filed Thursday’s brief in response to a brief filed last week by Gardy & Notis, Robbins Geller, Squitieri & Fearon and Block & Leviton LLP attorneys, who are also representing members of a proposed class of GE workers and retirees.
That brief urged U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani to reject Sanford Heisler’s bid to serve as lead class counsel, saying the firm’s request “blindsided” other plaintiffs lawyers.
Earlier in January, Judge Talwani declined to certify a class of hundreds of thousands of GE workers and retirees in the lawsuit, saying that the motion — which was unopposed by GE — failed to specify which attorneys would be class counsel.
Attorneys at Robbins Geller, Gardy & Notis and Squitieri & Fearon then filed a renewed class certification bid that asked the court to appoint them as class counsel, according to court documents. Sanford Heisler filed its own bid to be class counsel, saying it has been the driving force of the litigation from the beginning and that its attorneys have the ability to successfully oversee the case.
The action alleges that GE breached its fiduciary duties under ERISA by using its 401(k) plan to generate business for GE Asset Management, which sold mutual funds. GE placed GE Asset Management’s mutual funds on its retirement plan’s lineup even though their investments underperformed, in order to inflate the company’s value before it was sold, the workers say.
Sanford Heisler attorneys told Law360 Thursday that they “look forward to prosecuting this case and to holding GE accountable for its actions and achieving a remedy for the employees affected by its conduct.” They did not comment on the conflict over who will serve as lead class counsel.
Counsel at Robbins Geller, Gardy & Notis, Squitieri & Fearon and Block & Leviton, as well as counsel for GE, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The workers are represented by David W. Sanford, Kevin Sharp, Paul Blankenstein and Charles Field of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, Jason M. Leviton and R. Joseph Barton of Block & Leviton LLP, Evan J. Kaufman, Samuel H. Rudman and Magdalene Economou of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Stephen J. Fearon Jr. and Lee Squitieri of Squitieri & Fearon LLP and James S. Notis and Orin Kurtz of Gardy & Notis LLP.
GE is represented by James O. Fleckner, Alison V. Douglass and Jaime A. Santos of Goodwin Procter LLP.
The case is In re: GE ERISA Litigation, case number 1:17-cv-12123, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.