Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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This appeal involved the South Carolina Home Builders Self Insurers Fund (Fund), which was created by the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, Inc. "for the purpose of meeting and fulfilling an employer's obligations and liabilities under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act." The dispute arose after the Fund's Board of Trustees announced plans to wind down the Fund and use the Fund's remaining assets to finance a new mutual insurance company. Petitioners, who were members of the Fund, disagreed with that decision and challenged the Board's authority to use the Fund's assets in such a way. The trial court twice dismissed Petitioners' suit, first on the basis that it involved the internal affairs of a trust and therefore should have been filed in probate court, then in a subsequent proceeding, on the basis that the lawsuit was a shareholder derivative action and that the complaint failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), SCRCP. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of Petitioners' complaint, finding the trial court properly concluded (1) the Fund was not a trust; (2) Petitioners' claims were derivative in nature; and (3) that Petitioners' complaint was properly dismissed as it did not properly allege a pre-suit demand as required by Rule 23(b)(1). The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding Petitioners satisfied the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), irrespective of whether the Fund was properly characterized as a trust. View "Patterson v. Witter" on Justia Law

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At issue here was national assets stolen by President Ferdinand Marcos. Victims of Marcos' human rights abuses ("Pimentel class") obtained a judgment against Marcos' estate and, in enforcing the judgment, sought to obtain assets also sought by the Republic of the Philippines and its commission organized to retrieve the assets (collectively, Republic). In dispute was the assets of Arelma, a Panamanian corporation, which were held in a brokerage account. The brokerage firm commenced an interpleader action in federal court. The district court awarded ownership of the Arelma assets to the Pimentel claimants. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that the assertion of sovereign immunity by the Republic required dismissal for lack of a required party. Petitioner then commenced this turnover proceeding seeking to execute the Pimental judgment against the Arelma account. Meanwhile, a Philippine court determined the assets had been forfeited to the Republic. PNB and Arelma moved to intervene, requesting dismissal. Supreme Court denied the motion. The appellate division reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the appellate division did not err in concluding that dismissal was required under N.Y.C.P.L.R. 1001, as the Republic was a necessary party but could not be subject to joinder in light of the assertion of sovereign immunity. View "Swezey v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc." on Justia Law

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This was an appeal from the approval of a class action settlement agreement related to the Secretary of the Interior's breach of duty to account for funds held in trust for individual Native Americans. The court concluded that the record failed to confirm either the existence of a purported intra-class conflict or a violation of due process. Rather, the record confirmed that the two plaintiff classes possess the necessary commonality and adequate representation to warrant certification, and that the district court, therefore, did not abuse its discretion in certifying the two plaintiff classes in the settlement or in approving the terms of the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate pursuant to Rule 23(e). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment approving the class settlement agreement. View "Cobell, et al. v. Salazar, et al." on Justia Law

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Three appellate proceedings were consolidated for a single Supreme Court opinion. All three cases appealed the dismissal of their respective cases from the Etowah Circuit Court. The Appellants all sued Donald Stewart individually and as the trustee of the Abernathy Trust and the Abernathy Trust Foundation, in a line of cases arising out of a toxic tort action against Monsanto Company, its parent corporation and a spin-off. The Monsanto Corporations manufactured and disposed of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A jury found the corporations liable on claims of wantonness, outrage, "suppression of the truth," negligence and public nuisance. After 500 trials on damages, the parties reached a settlement in 2003. $21 million was placed into a trust (the Abernathy Trust) established to pay health and education benefits for those Plaintiffs who qualified for assistance. Each plaintiff signed a retainer agreement and received and cashed his or her settlement check. Plaintiffs in this case challenged the settlement agreement and the award of attorneys fees. Further, they asked for a trust accounting regarding the use of the settlement funds. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the cases that asked for an accounting of the use of the trust's funds; one case was dismissed as moot; in the third case, the Court granted a writ of mandamus as to all portions of a circuit court order that sought review of the Abernathy trust document as compared to the terms of the settlement agreement. The circuit court was directed to lift any freeze of distributions from the trust. View "Bates v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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The Bank of New York Mellon, acting in its capacity as trustee of trusts established to hold residential mortgage-backed securities, settled claims that the originator and servicer breached obligations owed to the trusts. Then, as a condition precedent to the settlement, the Bank initiated an Article 77 proceeding in New York Supreme Court to confirm that it had the authority to enter into the settlement under the governing trust documents and that entry into the settlement did not violate its duties under the governing trust agreements. On appeal from an order of the district court denying petitioners' motion to remand the proceeding to New York Supreme Court, the court considered the application of 28 U.S.C. 1453(d)(3) and 1332(d)(9)(C), exceptions to the federal jurisdiction conferred by the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), Pub.L. No. 109-2, 119 Stat. 4. The court held that the case fell within CAFA's securities exception as one that solely involved a claim that "related to the rights, duties (including fiduciary duties), and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to" a security. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, reversed the order of the district court, and instructed it to vacate its decision and order and remanded the matter to state court. View "The Bank of New York Mellon v. Walnut Place LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved a proposed class action settlement between AOL and plaintiffs where the parties agreed that AOL would make a series of charitable donations. At issue was whether the district court abused its discretion in approving the proposed class action settlement, including a proposed cy pres settlement distribution. The court held that the cy pres distributions here did not comport with the court's cy pres standards. While the donations were made on behalf of a nationwide plaintiff class, they were distributed to geographically isolated and substantively unrelated charities. The court concluded that the district court judge did not have to recuse herself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 455(a) or (b)(4), 5(iii). The court declined to address the issue of whether the class notice was sufficient. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. View "Nachshin, et al. v. AOL, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the settlement of a class action where defendant paid substantial sums for res judicata protection from the claims of persons assertedly injured by the toxic emissions of an industrial plant. The monies were allocated among three subclasses, one of which was to receive medical monitoring. Upon the monitoring program's completion, substantial sums remained unused. The district court denied the settlement administrator's request to distribute the unused medical-monitoring funds to another subclass of persons suffering serious injuries. Instead, the district court repaired to the doctrine of cy pres and ordered that the money be given to three charities suggested by defendant and one selected by the district court. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by ordering a cy pres distribution in the teeth of the bargained-for-terms of the settlement agreement, which required residual funds to be distributed within the class. The court reversed the district court's order distributing the unused medical-monitoring funds to third-party charities and remanded with instructions that the district court order that the funds be distributed to the subclass comprising the most seriously injured class members.

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This case stemmed from Reliance Group Holdings, Inc.'s ("RGH") and Reliance Financial Services Corporation's ("RFS") voluntary petitions in Bankruptcy Court seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the trust that was established as a result. The trust subsequently filed an amended complaint alleging actuarial fraud and accounting fraud against respondents. At issue was whether the trust qualified for the so-called single-entity exemption that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 ("SLUSA"), 15 U.S.C. 77p(f)(2)(C); 78bb(f)(5)(D), afforded certain entities. The court held that the trust, established under the bankruptcy reorganization plan of RGH as the debtor's successor, was "one person" within the meaning of the single-entity exemption in SLUSA. As a result, SLUSA did not preclude the Supreme Court from adjudicating the state common law fraud claims that the trust had brought against respondents for the benefit of RGH's and RFS's bondholders. Accordingly, the court reversed and reinstated the order of the Supreme Court.