Court: Great Northern Paper Retirees' Claims Are Not Moot

June 3, 2003 ( - A federal judge has ruled that the former owner of Great Northern Paper Company, Bowater, cannot change the Great Northern retirees' pension plans.

>The decision by US District Judge Judge Margaret Kravchuk is a reversal of her earlier rulings that the plaintiffs’ case was moot.  The e arlier decision came after Bowater made changes to the plan, only to rescind the changes upon legal contention on grounds the company had initially agreed to keep the plan intact for almost 1,000 Great Northern Paper retirees, according to a Magic City (Maine) Morning Star Report.

>However, attorneys for the plaintiffs contended that Bowater’s intentions to modify the plan constitute an ERISA violation.   In this case then, it was necessary to obtain a court ruling that stops Bowater from making any changes to the pension plan in the future.

>Following a ruling by the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that the plaintiffs’ case had legal merit, Kravchuk agreed, stating that she now declares “that Bowater violated ERISA when it amended the subject plan in August 1999 to preclude plaintiffs from aging into their accrued benefits, and (that I) enjoin Bowater from again amending the plan in a manner that will decrease, reduce, or eliminate accrued benefits.”

Not surprisingly, Bowater seeks to renew its request to dismiss the lawsuit as moot. “The judge has reversed her original decisions of August 2001 and November 2001 that the plaintiffs’ case was moot,” said a Bowater spokesman. “We would expect to appeal her recommended decision of May 30.”