Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
Kramer v. Fergus Farm Mutual Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting class certification in this action alleging breach of contract and violation of Montana's Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), Mont. Code Ann. 33-18-101 et seq., holding that a sufficient factual basis was established to justify certification of the classes.Plaintiffs filed this action against Fergus Farm Mutual Insurance Company (FFM), alleging that FFM breached its insurance contract with Plaintiffs and all other insureds by failing to include general contractor overhead and profit in the cost to repair or replace Plaintiffs' property. The district court granted Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that common questions of law predominate the litigation and support certification of the class; but (2) certain conclusions reached by the district court were a "bridge too far" at this stage of litigation. View "Kramer v. Fergus Farm Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Gendron v. Montana University System
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
Knudsen v. University of Montana
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the orders of the district court certifying three classes to proceed in a lawsuit against the University of Montana, holding that the district court abused its discretion in certifying Class 3 to pursue the claims.Current and former students of the University brought this lawsuit as a class action complaint alleging that the University breached its fiduciary duty to students by entering into a contract with Higher One, Inc. to process student loan refunds through non-competitive financial accounts and by providing students' personal information to Higher One. In two orders, the district court certified three classes to proceed in the lawsuit. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the district court's certification of Class 3 under Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2) was an abuse of discretion; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in certifying Class 1 and Class 2 under Rule 23(b)(1) and (b)(2) but properly certified Class 1 and Class 2 under Rule 23(b)(3). View "Knudsen v. University of Montana" on Justia Law
Ascencio v. Orion International Corp.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part the district court’s denial of class certification on the basis that Plaintiff failed to satisfy the Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) element of superiority.Plaintiff was terminated at the conclusion of her six-month probationary period due in part to concerns with her background check and credit report. Plaintiff sued the organization that performed the background check, asserting claims in her individual capacity, as well as a claim for class action. The district court determined that Plaintiff met the four rule 23(a) prerequisites but failed to meet her burden regarding the two rule 23(b)(3) requirements of predominance and superiority. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff’s motion for class certification on grounds that she failed to satisfy the superiority requirement, and (2) therefore, there need be no discussion regarding the district court’s holding regarding the predominance requirement. View "Ascencio v. Orion International Corp." on Justia Law
Southwest Montana Building Industry Ass’n v. City of Bozeman
The Supreme Court affirmed three orders of the district court that directed Southwest Montana Building Industry Association (SWMBIA) to transfer funds from the impact fee payer class refund account (refund account) to the City of Bozeman, to submit an accounting of the refund account, and for contempt of court. The Court held (1) the district court did not exceed its authority when it ordered SWMBIA to transfer the funds remaining in the refund account to Bozeman; (2) the district court’s order regarding the transfer of the remaining refund account funds was enforceable; (3) the district court did not err when it did not dispose of the remaining refund account funds in accordance with Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(i)(3); (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered SWMBIA to provide an accounting of the refund account; and (5) SWMBIA cannot obtain relief from the district court’s contempt order. View "Southwest Montana Building Industry Ass’n v. City of Bozeman" on Justia Law
Byorth v. USAA Casualty Insurance Co.
Plaintiffs were both insured by USAA Casualty Insurance Company under auto insurance policies that provided medical payments coverage. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against USAA arguing that USAA’s practice of sending medical claims to Auto Injury Solutions (AIS) for review was an improper cost containment scheme designed to deprive Montana consumers of their first-party medical pay benefits. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to certify a proposed class. The district court issued its order certifying the class, concluding “all members of the proposed class were subject to the same claims processing procedure of outsourcing claims to AIS. USAA appealed from the certification order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion by certifying the class under Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(a) and under Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). Remanded. View "Byorth v. USAA Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Diaz v. State
The underlying claim in this case, which had been appealed on three previous occasions, concerned an exclusion in the State’s health benefit insurance plan, which allowed the State to coordinate benefits in violation of Montana’s made whole laws. Jeanette Diaz, Leah Hoffman-Bernhardt, and others similarly situated (collectively, Diaz) filed suit alleging that third-party administrators and the State (collectively, Defendants) had violated employees’ made whole rights under Montana law. During the various appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court certified and defined a class and that the district court correctly denied the State’s motion for summary judgment. In this, the fourth appeal, Diaz appealed a district court order determining the manner in which prejudgment interest on payments due to class members was to be calculated. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order declaring interest to begin thirty days following the Court’s decision in Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Montana v. Montana State Auditor. Remanded for the district court to correct the date to be applied for determining the calculation of prejudgment interest. View "Diaz v. State" on Justia Law
Pallister v. BCBS
This case arose out of claims asserted by multiple people against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, now known as Caring for Montanans, Inc. (CFM) and Montana Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA). The claimants asserted that while they were insured by CFM or MCHA, they submitted claims that the insurers denied based upon exclusions contained in their health insurance policies. These exclusions generally provided that the insurer would not pay for health care costs of the injured insureds if the insureds received, or were entitled to receive, benefits from any automobile liability policy. These exclusions were subsequently disapproved by the Montana Commissioner of Insurance, and the insureds sought the previously-denied benefits. The district court certified a class of claimants for settlement purposes only. The court then held a fairness hearing on a proposed settlement agreement and approved the settlement. Several class members objected to the settlement and appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, arguing they should have been allowed to conduct further discovery to ascertain the fairness of the settlement agreement. The Supreme Court agreed with the objectors and remanded the case to the district court for further discovery and a second fairness hearing. The district court allowed further discovery, held a second fairness hearing, and determined that the same settlement agreement was fair, reasonable, and adequate. The Objectors again appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pallister v. BCBS" on Justia Law
Roose v. Lincoln County Employee Group Health Plan
When Kent Roose was injured in an automobile crash his wife was an employee of Lincoln County, which provided health benefits via a group health plan (the Plan) that was part of Joint Powers Trust (JPT). Employee Benefit Management Services, Inc. (EBMS administered the Plan. The Plan contained an exclusion stating that medical benefits would not be paid when any automobile or third-party liability insurance was available to pay medical costs. EBMS denied Roose’s request for reimbursement for medical expenses he paid out of the liability insurance payment he received from the tortfeasors’ insurer. Roose subsequently brought suit against EBMS and JPT. The Supreme Court held that the exclusion violated Mont. Code Ann. 2- 18-902(4). Appellants subsequently reimbursed Roose the requested amount. In 2014, Roose filed a motion for partial summary judgment and class certification, arguing that Appellants violated section 2-18-902 through systematic practices that amounted to seeking subrogation against the tortfeasor’s liability carrier before Roose was made whole. Roose also sought class certification on behalf of every member of Appellants’ plans subject to Montana law that contained the coverage exclusion. The district court granted Roose’s motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class or in defining the class. View "Roose v. Lincoln County Employee Group Health Plan" on Justia Law
Pallister et al v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Montana
This case arose from claims asserted by multiple persons against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) and Montana Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA). Claimants asserted that while they were fully insured by BCBSMT or MCHA, they submitted claims that the insurers denied based upon exclusions contained in their insurance policies. These exclusions were subsequently disapproved by the Montana Commissioner of Insurance (Commissioner) and the insureds sought the previously-denied benefits. The matter evolved into a class action and three of the claimants, Krista Lucas, Brittany Smith, and Alice Speare, were named class representatives. Subsequently, a settlement was negotiated. Three other claimants, Tyson Pallister, Kevin Budd and Jessica Normandeau, objected to the settlement and sought review by the Second Judicial District Court. The District Court approved the settlement. Pallister, Budd and Normandeau appealed asserting numerous errors by the District Court including but not limited to the court’s error in denying Pallister’s motion to conduct discovery. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded on a discrete issue of discovery and vacated the District Court’s approval of the Settlement Agreement. View "Pallister et al v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Montana" on Justia Law