Miller Shah LLP Secures $3.5 Million Settlement in Coca-Cola ERISA Suit

On August 2, 2022, United States District Judge Frank D. Whitney granted final approval of a proposed $3.5 million settlement (the “Settlement”) in a class action lawsuit brought pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) against Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. (“Coca-Cola”), formerly known as Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. Board of Directors, and the Corporate Benefits Committee of Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”). The Settlement resolves allegations that Defendants mismanaged the Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. 401(k) defined contribution retirement plan (the “Plan”), to the detriment of over 10,000 Plan participants.

The Settlement amount covers monetary relief to the class members, awards to the lead plaintiffs, and attorneys’ fees and expenses.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, was vigorously litigated for approximately fourteen months. After Plaintiffs initiated the action on behalf of the Plan and Plan participants, Coca-Cola filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not plausibly alleged concrete injury and that the challenges to the Plan’s investment options and recordkeeping fees did not meet the pleading standard.

On March 31, 2021, the Court denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss entirely, explaining that plaintiffs sufficiently allege an injury-in-fact—and thus satisfy the standing requirement—by claiming that their retirement accounts were negatively impacted by a defendant’s breach of fiduciary duty. Additionally, the Court ruled that Plaintiffs sufficiently stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, failure to monitor co-fiduciaries, and knowing breach of trust under ERISA.

Following the Court’s decision, both parties retained experts and exchanged expert reports. After lengthy negotiations in front of a reputable neutral mediator, the parties reached an agreement-in-principle to settle the lawsuit in January 2022, which was commemorated in a written agreement on February 22, 2022. The Court granted preliminary approval of the Settlement on March 7, 2022, and conditionally certified the class for settlement purposes.

At the August 2, 2022 final approval hearing, the Court affirmed the reasonableness of the Settlement, attorneys’ fees of 33% of the Settlement plus approximately $216,000 in litigation expenses, and lead plaintiff awards of $15,000 for each of the two individuals who represented the Class members.

Plaintiffs are represented by Miller Shah LLP and Capozzi Adler PC. The case caption is Jones et al v. Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. et al., No. 3:20-cv-00654-FDW-DSC, filed in the Western District of North Carolina.

The legal team at Miller Shah LLP has extensive experience representing class action matters. If you have any questions regarding this subject or this post, please contact Jacob Levin (jrlevin@millershah.com) or Alec Berin (ajberin@millershah.com). The firm can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

Miller Shah LLP is a law firm with offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The firm is an active member of the International Advisory Group (IAG Global), which provides clients access to excellent legal and accounting resources across the globe. For more information about the firm, please visit www.millershah.com.

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