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Court reverses class certification in hail-damage action

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the class certification granted by the District Court in a suit brought by unsatisfied homeowners following a 2006 hailstorm in central Indiana.

Policy holders with three different State Farm insurance companies brought a proposed class-action suit in state court, which was later moved to federal court, alleging breach of contract, bad-faith denial of insurance benefits, and unjust enrichment. The homeowners sought damages and an injunction requiring State Farm to re-inspect all the class members’ roofs pursuant to a “uniform, reasonable and objective” standard for evaluating hail damage.

U.S. District Judge William Lawrence denied certification of class under Rule 23(b)(3) under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, noting that each plaintiff’s claim of underpayment required an individualized factual inquiry on the merits.

The case should have ended there, the 7th Circuit concluded today, but Judge Lawrence did grant the plaintiffs’ class claim for injunctive relief under Rule 23(b)(2). The District Court certified a class to determine whether State Farm should have to re-inspect the roofs with a uniform and object standard.

But the case is not appropriate for class certification under Rule 23(b)(2), the judges decided in Cynthia Kartman, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., et al., No. 09-1725. The Circuit Court concluded that the lower court order “misconceptualizes” the claims in the case, and this is simply an action for damages and only suitable for class certification under Rule 23(b)(3).

The plaintiffs claimed to have suffered two separate injuries – underpayment of their hail-damage claims and a violation of the distinct right to have their roofs evaluated under a uniform and objective standard. But State Farm had no independent duty – whether sounding in contract or tort – to use a particular method to evaluate hail-damage claims, wrote Judge Diane Sykes.

The plaintiffs’ argument, that even if State Farm lacked a contractual duty to inspect their roofs pursuant to a uniform and object standard, the duty of good faith required it do so, reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the tort of bad faith, the judge continued.

“Thus, to prove State Farm committed the tort of bad faith, the plaintiffs must establish that their claims were underpaid — or wrongfully denied — in the first place,” she wrote. “This requirement alone bars class certification because it cannot be established on a class-wide basis.”

A case may be certified as a class action under Rule 23(b)(2) where the “party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” In this rule, there are two independent requirements: the equitable relief must be appropriate regarding the class as a whole and be final. In this case, the contemplated injunction doesn’t provide appropriate or final relief of the alleged underpayment of the plaintiffs’ hail-damage claims, wrote the judge.

The Circuit Court remanded with instructions to decertify the Rule 23(b)(2) class.

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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