Last week I noted that there have been a relatively large number of recent opinions in insurance class actions, and provided updates on a number of significant recent P&C decisions. Now I’ll focus on significant recent life insurance cases. The first involves the Social Security Death Master File, a hotbed of recent regulatory and class action activity. The second case involves the sale of annuities to senior citizens, another hot area.
Range v. Cincinnati Life Ins. Co., Case No. 1:11-CV-1367, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41520 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 27, 2012): The plaintiff alleged that Cincinnati Life fails to take adequate steps to determine which of its policyholders have died, such as by checking the Social Security Death Master File, so that benefits are timely paid to beneficiaries. This type of issue has been the subject of a number of class action filings against life insurers and regulatory activity by insurance departments – see my June 2, 2011 and July 13, 2011 blog posts for more on this. The Ohio federal court granted the insurer’s motion to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. The named plaintiff conceded that her husband and children were familiar with her policy’s existence and its location, and she was confident they would make a claim when she dies. Thus, “by Range’s own admission, Cincinnati Life’s failure to check the DMF [Death Master File] – even if it is a violation of Ohio law – will not cause her or her beneficiary or his heirs any injury. For this reason, Range’s dispute with Cincinnati Life is nothing more than an intellectual exercise – a theoretical dispute about the Ohio-law rights and duties of insurers and insureds in circumstances not likely to occur in this case. Article III precludes the Court from providing a forum for that discussion.” Id. at *9-10. The court remanded the case to state court, suggesting, however, that standing might be proper in state court. States have concepts of standing that often differ somewhat from Article III of the federal constitution. An interesting point here worth keeping in mind is that a removal to federal court, followed by a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, may not be the best strategy where it will simply result in another battle over standing in state court under different state law standards.
Rowe v. Bankers Life & Casualty Company, Case No. 09-cv-491, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43198 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 2012): The allegations here are that Bankers Life hires inexperienced sales agents, fails to properly train them, and allows them to sell annuities to senior citizens that are unsuitable for them. The named plaintiff and her late husband purchased an equity-indexed deferred annuity in 2007, when they were both over 65. The maturity date was in 2025, when her husband would have been 99-years-old. The plaintiff sought certification of a nationwide class. Prior to ruling on certification, the court excluded expert testimony proffered by the plaintiff attempting to establish that equity-indexed deferred annuities are always unsuitable for persons over 65, on the grounds that the testimony was inadequately supported. (I wonder here how you could ever have an absolute age cutoff for something like that, why would it be acceptable for a 64-year-old but not a 65-year old?) The court found certification improper under Rule 23(b)(2) because no “single order granting declaratory or injunctive relief would end this case,” and the case would require individualized monetary relief that would not be incidental. The court also found certification improper under Rule 23(b)(3). This part of the decision focused on the evidence to support the plaintiff’s RICO claim, which was premised on an allegedly misleading disclosure form and sales literature provided to purchasers of annuities. The court found that the evidence failed to show that all class members received the disclosure form or the sales literature. Individualized issues predominated in light of the discretion given to agents in making their sales presentations. The court also noted that there are logical reasons for some senior citizens to buy this type of annuity, including keeping money safe to be passed on to heirs. The court, however, allowed the plaintiff an opportunity to file a renewed motion to certify only a California subclass.