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Delphi retirees review options

Pension case may take route to US Supreme Court

Delphi salaried retirees are down to their last legal shot in their more than 11-year battle to restore pensions lost when the auto parts maker went bankrupt.

But will they take it?

“Our only legal option is to ask for cert (certiorari) at the (U.S.) Supreme Court so that we could get the Supreme Court to hear our case … We still have until the end of July, I believe, around the end of July to do that. So we’re working on what we are going to do right now,” Chuck Cunningham, legal liaison for the Delphi Salaried Retirees Association, said.

In common parlance, certiorari is the way for parties unsatisfied with a lower court’s decision to petition the high court to consider a case.

“We’re not saying we’re going to do one thing or another, but we are looking at it,” Cunningham said.

But the odds are long for that happening given, according to a U.S. judicial website, just 100 to 150 of the more than 7,000 cases the court is asked to review each year are accepted.

The latest blow dealt to the association was at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court rejected a request to review a decision it made in September that sided with a March 2019 decision by a Michigan federal court judge. That judge dismissed the group’s lawsuit over lost retirement funding against the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The court concluded the “issues raised in the petition were fully considered upon the original submission and decision of the case,” a ruling states.

Said Cunningham: “We continue to talk to folks on both sides of the aisle to try to get something done from a political standpoint, but from a legal standpoint, that is the only option we have, the Supreme Court. We would have the option to file a different type of suit, but quite honestly, we still believe we have what is a legitimate and substantial lawsuit that should have been ruled upon differently, so it would make the most sense for us to go to the Supreme Court.”

The association sued the PBGC in 2009 after it took over the employee pensions when Delphi declared bankruptcy. The move resulted in lower pension payments to retirees, some by as much as 70 percent. About 1,500 local salaried retirees were affected.

Delphi, formerly Packard Electric that at one time was part of General Motors’ parts division, filed for bankruptcy in October 2005 and emerged four years later. While Delphi was in bankruptcy protection it relinquished responsibility for all its employee pensions to the PBGC.

General Motors continued contributing to union-represented retirees, but salaried retirees were left with substantially reduced pensions. Those salaried retirees have argued the administration of former President Barack Obama ignored them while guiding GM through its own 2009 bankruptcy.

In October, former President Donald Trump took executive action to help the association by directing members of his Cabinet to report back to him within 90 days recommendations to remedy the reduced benefits.

Trump’s re-election loss in November, however, hasn’t dampened Cunningham’s outlook regarding Trump’s directive, which still is viable, according to Cunningham.

“Even if there is a different administration, there was a memorandum put forward by the then-president that technically never has been rescinded, so we would like to see something with that proceed and certainly have inquired about it,” he said.

“We’ll never quit as long as there is an avenue, and we’ve always believed there are two avenues. One is the legal avenue and the other is the political or, if you will, the legislative avenue. So we’ll continue to work on those,” Cunningham said. “When you’re right, you don’t quit.”

In March, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, spoke with President Joe Biden about the pension issue at an event in Columbus. Biden said he wanted to help, Ryan said at the time.

Ryan also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee in March on behalf of the association.

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