July 21, 2021

Fishkin Lucks Defeats Motion to Certify Putative Nationwide Classes

The Firm successfully opposed certification in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey of two nationwide classes of thousands of owners of universal life insurance policies administered by one of the Firm’s life insurance clients.  The named plaintiffs had filed suit on behalf of themselves and two putative classes, alleging that annual reports and illustrations the client issued to universal life insurance policyholders did not properly account for limitations on premium payments imposed by federal tax law.  The Firm opposed certification, after extensive discovery, arguing that both classes failed to meet the requirements for class certification for several reasons, most notably because of individualized issues that precluded class-wide adjudication of plaintiffs’ claims.  Plaintiffs responded by modifying their class definitions, and the Firm again opposed certification, arguing that plaintiffs’ re-defined classes failed certification for many of the same reasons as their previously defined classes.  In a detailed 54-page decision, the court (Hon. Noel Hillman) adopted many of the Firm’s arguments to deny certification of both classes.  First, it concluded that for several reasons, the Bucks were not “typical” representatives of their putative classes, as their claims would be subject to unique defenses.  Second, the court agreed that individualized inquiries would predominate as there is no way of proving on a class-wide basis whether individual class members suffered damage.  And third, the court agreed that determining membership in the damages class presented insurmountable “ascertainability” issues in that it would require (i) painstaking review of thousands of different contracts to understand their requirements and whether any had been breached in the manner plaintiffs claim, and (ii) determination of which policyholders “followed” the planned premiums and other features in their annual reports and illustrations in a way that would bring them within the class definition.