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7th Circuit: Stop using specialist jargon

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court ruling in a complex reinsurance case and asked attorneys to be mindful of the language they use in these types of cases.

In Indiana Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company v. Reinsurance Results, Inc., No. 07-1823, the federal appellate court dealt with the task of determining whether the District Court was correct in granting summary judgment in favor of Indiana Lumbermens. Reinsurance Results, Inc. - which reviews an insurance company's claims against its reinsurers to ensure the insurance company receives the benefits to which its reinsurance contracts entitle it - sought a third of $2.2 million dollars it claimed it obtained for Lumbermens as a result of a review.

Judge Richard Posner broke down the opinion into simpler terms compared to complicated industry terms the attorneys had used in their briefs. Lumbermens had changed the way it paid for its reinsurance premiums to increase the amount of surplus shown on its books. An increased surplus means Lumbermens would not have to pay its reinsurers a premium on certain policies. The accounting change affected the amount of money Lumbermens could bill its reinsurers for losses covered by policies. Lumbermens entered into a contract in 2004 with Reinsurance Results, which alerted Lumbermens that its accounting policy might be improper. Lumbermens' accounting firm advised the company to revert back to its pre-2000 ways of paying premiums.

As a result of the switch back, Reinsurance Results found Lumbermens was entitled to more than $2 million from its reinsurers. Reinsurance Results claimed according to its contract with Lumbermens, it was entitled to a third of that money.

The 7th Circuit agreed with the District Court that Reinsurance Results was not entitled to a portion of the $2.2 million because the benefit Lumbermens received as a result of Reinsurance Results discovering the accounting issue was not one that Lumbermens was contractually obligated to pay Reinsurance Results for discovering. Reinsurance Results could have tried to negotiate the contract to be broader, but under its current contract, it was seeking money in which it was not entitled.

Judge Posner also dedicated a portion of the opinion to reminding attorneys that most judges are not specialists but generalists and therefore will not understand complex jargon relating to a specific industry.

"Lawyers should understand the judges' limited knowledge of specialized fields and choose their vocabulary accordingly. Every esoteric term used by the reinsurance industry has a counterpart in ordinary English, as we hope this opinion has demonstrated," he wrote.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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