Jackson County

New SRHS lawsuit claims fraud and conspiracy

PASCAGOULA -- Attorneys for about 200 retirees and employees at Singing River Health System have filed a new lawsuit in Circuit Court asking for a jury trial.

Their civil claim is that administrators, lawyers and elected officials overseeing the county hospital system perpetrated fraud, breached their contract with employees or failed in their fiduciary duty.

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The lawsuit asks for damages and compensation for one client, but attorney Earl Denham confirmed they expect to file 200 or more similar civil lawsuits on behalf of employees and retirees he represents.

Empty assurances

At issue is SRHS' failure to pay into its employee defined benefit plan, even though employees continued to make their monthly contributions for years. In addition, the suits says the hospital administration assured employees for years that the pension fund was healthy and funded.

The 48-page suit outlines where the hospital administrator and its attorney Roy Williams met "in secret" with the bond company that insures the hospital's bond debt and came up with a plan to terminate the employee pension.

It says the group gave SRHS' trustees and pension officials "inaccurate information" that led to their vote to terminate the plan last year.

The plan has been put on hold until the courts can decide what to do with it.

Alternate proposals

One group of attorneys, which includes Jim Reeves, has proposed a settlement whereby employees get a high percentage of benefits and county taxpayers help fix the pension. However, they can't have a global settlement without a first establishing a federal class. And before federal courts can establish a class, it would hold a fairness hearing.

Another group, which includes Denham, is fighting for requirements that would ensure the pensioners are fully paid until death.

It also lists as reasons for the suit unjust enrichment by officials, bad faith, gross negligence and disregard for the retirees' rights, fraudulent concealment, deceit and conspiracy to conceal.

The suit said, "As a result of the breach of fiduciary duty to the fund and the Plaintiff (the retirees), mismanagement, failure to follow the plan guidelines and a series of poor decisions based upon ill-advised and self-serving advice, the plaintiff herein as a plan participant is entitled to full recovery.

"No one act or omission can be viewed in isolation, because all individual acts and omissions were all components of the Defendants' failed strategy to secretly terminate the Pension Plan each conspirator for reasons of their own, irrespective of damage to the plaintiff."

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