Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory retirees, who are suing to regain University of California healthcare, are a “class” once again following a decision last week in the Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The Appeals Court ruled that Oakland Superior Court Judge George Hernandez “relied on erroneous legal standards” last November when he decertified the retirees as a class.

Last week’s ruling grew out of the retirees’ appeal of that decertification order. In the near term, the new ruling allows them to proceed as a class in seeking restoration of the University health benefits that they claim are owed.

In the longer term, observers familiar with the case said, the ruling is significant in accepting the retirees’ argument that they need not establish a monetary loss in order to claim “impairment” of their implied contract for health care benefits.

“We agree with Retirees that…actual economic damages are not necessary to show impairment of contract,” the Appeals Court ruling stated. “Therefore, class members need not prove actual economic damages in order to prove a claim for impairment.”

The loss in this case “was not actual economic damage to the affected individuals, but rather the loss of a security or assurance for a future entitlement,” the ruling said.

While most appeals court rulings are not published, this one was, suggesting recognition that it may establish a legal precedent for other cases, observers suggested.

UC healthcare benefits were available to the LLNL retirees from 1961, when the University’s Board of Regents authorized them for both employees and retirees, until 2008, shortly after a for-profit consortium took over as manager.

The retirees considered the loss of UC healthcare to be a violation of promises made during their careers at the Laboratory -- promises on which some of them based career decisions. They filed suit in 2010, and the suit became a class action four years later.

Last November’s decertification ruling came as a surprise to the retirees, not least because it was Superior Court Judge Hernandez himself who had certified them as a class in 2014.

After being certified as a class, the retirees spent many thousands of dollars compiling lists of those eligible for UC healthcare as well as their survivors, sparring with University counsel and representatives of Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLNL’s manager, over the completeness of records provided by those institutions.

Regarding the Appeals Court ruling restoring class status to the retirees, a University spokesperson commented that UC is “disappointed” and is “considering our options as we review the court’s ruling.”

The next scheduled activity in the retiree lawsuit is a case management conference in trial court at the end of this month.