Articles Posted in Class Action

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Georgia Urology, P.A., and several of its member physicians filed objections to challenge a $124 million attorney fee awarded by the Jefferson Alabama Circuit Court to class counsel as part of the settlement of Johnson v. Caremark Rx, LLC ("the Caremark class action). After the trial court overruled their objections and its judgment approving the settlement became final, the objectors appealed the attorney fee to this Court. Caremark Rx bought MedPartners; MedPartners was the subject of dozens of securities-fraud lawsuits alleging that it had made false statements regarding its financial condition and anticipated future performance. Many of those lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a class action. In 1999, the MedPartners class action was settled for $56 million based on MedPartners' assertions that the negotiated settlement exhausted its available insurance coverage and that it possessed limited other assets it could use to pay a larger award or settlement. Post-settlement, however, it was revealed in unrelated litigation that MedPartners actually held an excess-insurance policy providing unlimited coverage during the period in which the alleged fraud had been committed. In 2003, the Caremark class action was initiated against MedPartners' corporate successor Caremark Rx, and its previous insurer asserting fraud and suppression claims based on the $56 million settlement agreed to in the MedPartners class action. The objectors appealed the fee award to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that they had been given insufficient opportunity to object to class counsel's requested attorney fee inasmuch as their objections were due before class counsel's attorney-fee application was filed, and that the attorney fee ultimately awarded was excessive. The Supreme Court vacated the order entered by the trial court awarding class counsel an attorney fee of $124 million. On remand, class counsel may file a new attorney-fee application, including more detailed information regarding the time expended in this case and how that time was spent. The objectors would then be given a reasonable opportunity to review that application and may, if they still have objections to class counsel's new application, file those objections with the trial court. After the trial court considers those objections and enters a new order making an award of attorney fees, any party with a grievance may file a new appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. View "Walker v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Mary Hall, as personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, as personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the dismissal of their class-action claims against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. ("ELG"). Plaintiffs alleged ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including their respective decedents. Plaintiffs alleged ELG charged its clients an excessive fee above and beyond the amount listed in their respective contracts. The trial court dismissed their case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s judgment, reversed and remanded. On remand, the trial court appointed a special master, who again recommended dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court held that the attorney-employment agreement was ambiguous and that this ambiguity was fatal to the plaintiffs' class-allegation claims. Thus, the trial court dismissed the class claims before the class-certification process began. At this point in the proceedings and under the standard of review, the Supreme Court saw no ambiguity in the attorney-employment agreements, negating the trial court's contrary conclusion as to the individualized inquiry necessary with regard to the plaintiffs' contract claims. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for class-based relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C." on Justia Law

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In June 2000, the Franklin Circuit Court entered a final judgment approving a settlement agreement in “Taff v. Caremark, Inc.,” a class-action lawsuit against the corporate predecessor of the petitioner, Caremark Rx, LLC ("Caremark). Approximately 16 years later, in July 2016, Taff class counsel moved the trial court to enter an order requiring Caremark to produce for them certain information regarding the members of the Taff class so that Taff class counsel could notify those members of a proposed settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit pending against Caremark at the Jefferson Circuit Court, “Johnson v. Caremark Rx, LLC,” in which some of the members of the Taff class might be able to file claims. The trial court ultimately granted Taff class counsel's request and ordered Caremark to produce the requested information. Caremark petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate that order. “The jurisdiction retained by the trial court after it entered its final judgment in Taff is limited to interpreting or enforcing that final judgment; the trial court could not extend its jurisdiction over any matter somehow related to the June 2000 final judgment in perpetuity by simply declaring it so.” The Court therefore granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Caremark Rx, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority ("ACIFA") and its ex officio vice president Kim Thomas appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding $5 million in compensatory damages to Albert Wilson, Donald Simmons, Rufus Barnes, Bryan Gavins, Joseph Danzey, and a class of current and former nonexempt correctional officers employed by the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC"). The correctional officers sued ADOC and its commissioner alleging ADOC was violating its own regulations and state law in the manner in which it: (1) compensated correctional officers for overtime; (2) restricted the way correctional officers were allowed to use earned leave; and (3) paid correctional officers the daily subsistence allowance provided by law. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in favor of the correctional officers, finding that there was a lack of substantial evidence in support of the officers' claims against ACIFA and against Thomas as ex officio vice president of ACIFA. As such, defendants were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. View "Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority v. Wilson et al." on Justia Law

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Michael Howard appealed the grant of summary judgment entered against him in the action he commenced on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated taxpayers in Cullman County against Cullman County and its Revenue Commissioner Barry Willingham, in his official capacity. Howard sought a refund of property taxes he and other taxpayers paid in 2013. Howard sought a judgment declaring that, pursuant to former section 40-7-42, the Commission's levy of property taxes for October 1, 2012, through September 30, 2013, was invalid because it was done in May 2013 rather than at the Commission's first regular meeting in February 2013. He also sought the return of property taxes collected in 2013. The Supreme Court found that the trial court correctly concluded that the Commission's failure to follow the timing provision of former 40-7-42 did not invalidate its subsequent levy in 2013 of property taxes upon Howard and other property owners in Cullman County. Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment on all of Howard's claims in favor of Cullman County and the revenue commissioner. View "Howard v. Cullman County" on Justia Law

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In connection with a 1998 nationwide, securities-fraud class action initiated against MedPartners, Inc., a physician-practice-management/pharmacy-benefits-management corporation and the predecessor in interest to CVS Caremark Corporation, the Jefferson Circuit Court certified a class that included the plaintiffs in this case. Based on the alleged financial distress and limited insurance resources of MedPartners, the 1998 litigation was concluded in 1999 by means of a negotiated "global settlement," pursuant to which the claims of all class members were settled for an amount that purportedly exhausted its available insurance coverage. Based on representations of counsel that MedPartners lacked the financial means to pay any judgment in excess of the negotiated settlement and that the settlement amount was thus the best potential recovery for the class, the trial court, after a hearing, approved the settlement and entered a judgment in accordance therewith. Thereafter, MedPartners (now Caremark) allegedly disclosed, in unrelated litigation, that it had actually obtained (and thus had available during the 1998 litigation) an excess-insurance policy providing alleged "unlimited coverage" with regard to its potential-damages exposure in the 1998 litigation. In 2003, John Lauriello, seeking to be named as class representative, again sued Caremark and insurers American International Group, Inc.; National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA; AIG Technical Services, Inc.; and American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company in the Jefferson Circuit Court, pursuant to a class-action complaint alleging misrepresentation and suppression, specifically, that Caremark and the insurers had misrepresented the amount of insurance coverage available to settle the 1998 litigation and that they also had suppressed the existence of the purportedly unlimited excess policy. In case no. 1120010, Caremark and the insurers appealed the circuit court's order certifying as a class action the fraud claims asserted by Lauriello, James Finney, Jr.; Sam Johnson; and the City of Birmingham Retirement and Relief System. In case no. 1120114, the plaintiffs cross-appealed the same class-certification order, alleging that, though class treatment was appropriate, the trial court erred in certifying the class as an "opt-out" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., rather than a "mandatory" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court in both cases. View "CVS Caremark Corporation et al. v. Lauriello et al." on Justia Law

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Baldwin Mutual Insurance Company appealed a circuit court order certifying the action filed against it by Gloria McCain as a class action. McCain owned a house in Montgomery on which she held a homeowner's insurance policy issued by Baldwin Mutual. That 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." In July 2005, McCain's house was damaged as the result of a windstorm. She filed a claim with Baldwin Mutual, and Baldwin Mutual thereafter retained an independent adjuster to examine McCain's damaged property and to prepare an estimate to repair the damage. Baldwin Mutual paid McCain's claim in accordance with the estimate prepared by the adjuster. Pursuant to a work-authorization form signed by McCain, Baldwin Mutual paid the funds directly to McCain's contractor. In June 2006, McCain filed another claim after her house suffered damage as a result of a lightning strike. After the same adjuster prepared an estimate, Baldwin Mutual paid the new claim in accordance with the adjuster's estimate. The genesis of the claims underlying this suit was that Baldwin Mutual had wrongfully been reducing the amount paid on claims made on actual-cash-value polices 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. It was improper and impossible to depreciate those labor costs, McCain argued, because they had not previously been incurred at some defined time in the past; rather, they were being incurred at the time of the current repair. Noting that hundreds or thousands of Baldwin Mutual policyholders were likely negatively affected by Baldwin Mutual's practices in this regard, McCain sought class action certification of her claims. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the class certification, finding that the trial court here exceeded its discretion with a definition proposed by McCain without giving Baldwin Mutual the opportunity to oppose the certification of the proposed class at a hearing conducted for that purpose pursuant to statute. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Baldwin Mutual Ins. Co. v. McCain" on Justia Law

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In case no. 1120010, CVS Caremark Corporation; American International Group, Inc.; National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA; AIG Technical Services, Inc.; and American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company appealed a trial court order certifying as a class action the fraud claims asserted by plaintiffs John Lauriello; James O. Finney, Jr.; Sam Johnson; and the City of Birmingham Retirement and Relief System. In case no. 1120114, the plaintiffs cross-appealed the same class-certification order, alleging that, though class treatment was appropriate, the trial court erred in certifying the class as an "opt-out" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., rather than a "mandatory" class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. Finding no reversible error in either case, the Supreme Court affirmed in both. View "John Lauriello et al. v. CVS Caremark Corporation et al. " on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Mary Hall, the personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, the personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the Jefferson Circuit Court's order dismissing their complaint filed against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a law firm ("ELG"). The plaintiffs filed a complaint in against ELG, requesting a declaratory judgment and alleging one count of unjust enrichment and one count of breach of contract. The plaintiffs asserted those claims on behalf of the estates they represented and on behalf of "others similarly situated as a class action pursuant to Rule 23," Ala. R. Civ. P. In the 1990s, ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including Adolphus Hall and Bowman; ELG entered into an attorney-employment agreement with each client; pursuant to that agreement, ELG agreed to "take all legal steps necessary to enforce the said tort claim," and in return ELG would receive 40% of amounts collected from any settlement or judgment as its fee; the agreement also permitted ELG to reimburse itself for reasonable expenses related to the clients' claims. The "crux" of the plaintiffs' claims is that ELG breached the attorney-employment agreement by allegedly taking as an attorney fee more than 40% of the settlement proceeds. ELG filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' appeal, arguing that the Supreme Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' appeal because "[o]nly the Alabama State Bar has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute between the parties." The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' complaint, and affirmed the denial of ELG's motion to dismiss. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. " on Justia Law

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Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Inc. ("NRS"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding PEBCO,Inc. over a million dollars in attorney fees and $29,132.01 in expenses. In 2007, participants in the State of Alabama Public Employees Deferred Compensation Plan filed a class action against Nationwide Life Insurance Company ("NL"), NRS, the Alabama State Employees Association ("ASEA"), and PEBCO, Inc., alleging breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and breach of contract in the administration of the Plan. The parties filed a "Stipulation of Settlement," which the trial court approved in its final order entered in 2011. Pursuant to the settlement, NL and NRS paid $15.5 million to the participants in the Plan and $2.9 million in attorney fees to settle class claims against all defendants, including ASEA and PEBCO. In its findings of fact, the trial court stated: "ASEA is being permitted to retain more than $12 million in sponsorship payments that it allegedly received unlawfully, and ASEA is receiving full release from any liability." A day before the parties filed their "Stipulation of Settlement," Nationwide moved for an order barring ASEA and PEBCO from filing any indemnification claims. The trial court granted the order except for claims for attorney fees and costs. "[I]n light of Nationwide's substantial contributions to the settlement," the court wrote that it was "fair and reasonable that ASEA and PEBCO be barred from pursuing any claims against Nationwide for reimbursement, indemnification, or contribution other than claims for attorney fees and costs ...." A month before entering its final order in the class action, the trial court ordered severance of ASEA and PEBCO's claim for fees and directed the Circuit Court clerk to docket that claim as "a separate and independent action," with ASEA and PEBCO as plaintiffs and NL and NRS as defendants. The trial court found that the indemnification clause in the agreement required that NRS pay the fees and costs incurred by ASEA and PEBCO in defending the class action. Noting that NRS "has contended, and still contends, that indemnification is improper based on the language of the agreement and the attending facts," the trial court stated that it "has held hearings on that issue and by prior order has ruled that indemnification is appropriate. The instant action was filed to enforce indemnification." The court ordered NRS to pay PEBCO $863,988.50 in attorney fees and $15,297.54 in expenses for the class-action litigation, and $210,039 in attorney fees and $13,834.47 in expenses for litigating the severed cross-claim. NRS timely appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "[b]ecause NRS did not fail to perform those duties under the agreement that ultimately gave rise to the class action, it did not, as a matter of law, breach the indemnification clause in the agreement. . . . Alabama does not permit a party to seek indemnification for defending against its own allegedly wrongful acts." View "Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Inc. v. PEBCO,Inc. " on Justia Law