Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court partially denying Appellant's motion for attorney fees, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its determination of whether attorney fees awarded to class counsel were reasonable.Appellant filed individual and class action claims against Montana University System (MUS). The parties reached a partial settlement. The district court approved the settlement and appointed Appellant the class representative and her attorneys as class counsel. The court's order provided that class counsel were entitled to attorneys' fees and costs, but the parties were unable to agree to a total attorney fees and costs award. The district court declined to award class counsel their requested fees under a percentage-based calculation and, instead, calculated the fee award by multiplying the hours worked on the case by hourly rates of $275 and $375, respectively. The Supreme Court affirmed but remanded the case for a determination of the interest to which Appellant was entitled, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining whether the attorney fees awarded to class counsel were reasonable; and (2) Appellant was entitled to interest in accordance with Mont. Code Ann. 25-9-205. View "Gendron v. Montana University System" on Justia Law

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The term "Actual Cash Value" is ambiguous with respect to the withholding of labor depreciation in Mississippi homeowners insurance policies that provide no further definition of ACV. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of State Farm's motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiff's breach of contract claim. The court found that, in the context of a Mississippi homeowners policy that refers to "Actual Cash Value" without further definition, both interpretations are reasonable. Therefore, the court held that the contract was ambiguous and the court applied Mississippi's interpretive canons, which provides that an ambiguous insurance contract is interpreted against the insurance company.The court reversed the district court's denial of State Farm's motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiff's tort claims. The court explained that, because the law on this question of interpreting "Actual Cash Value" in Mississippi was unsettled, State Farm had an arguable basis to depreciate labor costs. The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying a class of Mississippi State Farm policyholders similarly situated to plaintiff, who received "Actual Cash Value" payments in which labor was depreciated and whose contracts similarly did not define "Actual Cash Value." View "Mitchell v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and other Texas residents filed a putative class action against a life insurance company that sells annuities, alleging that the company overcharged them by miscalculating early-withdrawal fees in breach of the annuities contracts.The Fifth Circuit vacated the class certification order and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the company did not waive its personal jurisdiction as to any non-Texas class members. The court also held that the district court erred in its predominance analysis by failing to assess how state-law variations may impact adjudication of the breach question and also by failing to consider the individualized evidence relevant to the company's affirmative defenses of waiver and ratification. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to offer a damages model adequate to support class treatment, an issue they virtually conceded at oral argument. View "Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance, Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Barnes filed a putative class action against defendant Security Life of Denver Insurance Company (SLD) alleging that SLD, in the course of administering life insurance policies purchased by Barnes and other similarly-situated class members, breached its contractual duties and committed the tort of conversion by imposing certain administrative costs that were not authorized under the terms of the policies. Jackson National Life Insurance Company (Jackson) moved to intervene, asserting that, as a result of reinsurance agreements entered into by SLD, Jackson was actually the entity responsible for administering Barnes’s policy and numerous other policies listed within the putative class. The district court denied Jackson’s motion. After reviewing the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded Jackson established the requirements for intervention as of right, and accordingly reversed the decision of the district court and remanded with directions to grant Jackson’s motion to intervene. View "Barnes v. Security Life of Denver" on Justia Law

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Two auto body collision repair shops filed a class action against dozens of insurance defendants, alleging claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state law fraud and unjust enrichment theories.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss each of plaintiffs' claims. The court held that plaintiffs failed to allege at least two predicate acts of racketeering activity, fraud or extortion. The court also held that plaintiffs have not sufficiently pleaded their state law fraud and unjust enrichment claims; the district court did not err by excluding exhibits E1-E7; and the district court did not err by dismissing the complaint with prejudice. View "Crawford's Auto Center, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Krista Peoples and Joel Stedman filed Washington Consumer Protection Act ("CPA") suits against their insurance carriers for violating Washington claims-handling regulations and wrongfully denying them personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. The federal district court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law relating to whether Peoples and Stedman alleged an injury to "business or property" to invoke their respective policies' PIP benefits. Peoples alleged her insurance carrier refused, without any individualized assessment, to pay medical provider bills whenever a computerized review process determined the bill exceeded a predetermined limit, and that the insurance company's failure to investigate or make individualized determinations violated WAC 284-30-330(4) and WAC 284-30-395(1). Due to this practice of algorithmic review, the insurance carrier failed to pay all reasonable medical expenses arising from a covered event, in violation or RCW 48.22.005(7). Stedman alleged his carrier terminate PIP benefits whenever an insured reached "Maximum Medical Improvement," which he alleged violated WAC 284-30-395(1). The Washington Supreme Court held an insurance carrier's wrongful withholding of PIP benefits injures the insured in their "business or property." An insured in these circumstances may recover actual damages, if proved, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that should have been covered, and could seek injunctive relief, such as compelling payment of the benefits to medical providers. Other business or property injuries, apart from wrongful denial of benefits, that are caused by an insurer's mishandling of PIP claims are also cognizable under the CPA. View "Peoples v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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John Teets, a participant in an employer retirement plan, invested money in Great-West Life Annuity and Insurance Company’s investment fund which guaranteed investors would never lose their principal or the interest they accrued. The investment fund was offered to employers as an investment option for their employees’ retirement savings plans, which were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Teets later sued Great-West under ERISA, alleging Great-West breached a fiduciary duty to participants in the fund or that Great-West was a nonfiduciary party in interest that benefitted from prohibited transactions with his plan’s assets. After certifying a class of 270,000 plan participants like Mr. Teets, the district court granted summary judgment for Great-West, holding that: (1) Great-West was not a fiduciary; and (2) Mr. Teets had not adduced sufficient evidence to impose liability on Great-West as a non-fiduciary party in interest. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Teets v. Great-West Life" on Justia Law

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Favero’s car struck Alpizar-Fallas's car, causing Alpizar-Fallas serious injuries. Both drivers were insured by Progressive. The next day, Barbosa, a Progressive claims adjuster, went to Alpizar-Fallas's home to inspect her car and have her sign “paperwork” that would “expedite the processing of the property damage claim.” Alpizar-Fallas alleges that he stated that her signature was “necessary” for Progressive to advance her payment. Alpizar-Fallas signed the document. The document was actually a broadly written comprehensive general release of all claims. Barbosa failed to advise Alpizar-Fallas to seek legal counsel and did not communicate with her in Spanish, her native language. Alpizar-Fallas sought damages for the personal injuries she sustained in the accident and amended her complaint to include a class action claim against Progressive and Barbosa under the New Jersey Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (UCSPR) and the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). The district court dismissed Alpizar-Fallas’s class action claim to the extent it alleged a violation of the UCSPR because those regulations do not provide a private right of action, then dismissed Alpizar-Fallas’s CFA claim, as a claim for denial of insurance benefits, and construing the CFA to only apply to the “sale or marketing” of insurance policies. The Third Circuit vacated, finding that Alpizar-Fallas’s complaint alleged deception that would be covered by the CFA. View "Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action, alleging that defendants (insurance providers, banks, and credit card companies) targeted credit card holders with fraudulent solicitations for illegal accidental disability and medical expense insurance policies. Plaintiffs were among the cardholders who purchased those policies, which plaintiffs allege were void ab initio because they violated New York insurance law. Although plaintiffs did not suffer qualifying losses or make claims for coverage, they argued that they are nevertheless entitled to reimbursement of the premiums and fees they paid defendants, plus enhanced damages, based on quasi‐contract, civil fraud, and statutory claims. The district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that plaintiffs could not establish the injury‐in‐fact element of Article III standing. The court concluded the policies were not void ab initio because under a New York savings statute, plaintiffs would have received coverage had they filed claims for qualifying losses, N.Y. Ins. Law 3103. The Second Circuit vacated, stating that an Article III court must resolve the threshold jurisdictional standing inquiry before it addresses the claim's merits. The district court’s analysis conflated the requirement for an injury in fact with the underlying validity of plaintiffs’ arguments, and engaged a question of New York state law that the state courts have yet to answer. View "DuBuisson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Baldwin Mutual Insurance Company ("Baldwin Mutual") appealed a circuit court’s class certification in a suit filed by Gloria McCain. McCain owned a house insured by Baldwin Mutual. The policy provided that any covered property losses would be settled “at actual cash value at the time of loss but not exceeding the amount necessary to repair or replace the damaged property.” McCain's house was damaged twice, she filed claims and was reimbursed by Baldwin Mutual. In each incident, an independent adjuster examined McCain's damaged property and prepared an estimate. Baldwin Mutual paid McCain's claim in accordance with the estimate prepared by the adjuster. The record contained no allegation or evidence indicating that McCain sought more money from Baldwin Mutual in connection with those claims or that she was unhappy in any way. Nevertheless, McCain’s complaint alleged Baldwin Mutual had wrongfully been reducing the amount paid on claims made on actual-cash-value policies inasmuch as its practice was to deduct some amount for depreciation not only of the damaged materials and the labor costs of initially installing those damaged materials (based on their condition prior to the covered damage and their expected life span), but also of the labor costs associated with the removal of the damaged materials. The trial court certified a class based on McCain's claims, and Baldwin Mutual appealed the certification order. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the certification order because "the class definition proposed by McCain in her brief submitted after the class-certification hearing was materially different from the class definition offered by McCain in her original complaint." Upon remand, McCain filed a second amended complaint that retained the allegations in her first amended complaint and amended the definition of the proposed class. In response to the amended complaint, Baldwin Mutual moved for motion for a summary judgment, contending that McCain's claims were barred by res judicata based on a final judgment of the trial court in "the Adair litigation," which allegedly involved the same claims and same parties. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in certifying McCain's action for class treatment because the claims of the purported class representative were subject to res judicata. View "Baldwin Mutual Insurance Company v. McCain" on Justia Law