Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The case involves M&T Farms, a California general partnership between two farmers, who purchased crop insurance under the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Pilot Policy (the “WFRP Policy”) from Producers Agriculture Insurance Company (“ProAg”), an insurer approved and reinsured by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). M&T Farms and a third farmer sell farm commodities through a storefront, B&T Farms, which owns their business name and goodwill and is also a California general partnership. M&T Farms filed a claim seeking the full policy amount, which ProAg denied. The FCIC concluded that the WFRP Policy does not allow a partner who files taxes on a fractional share of farming activity conducted by a partnership to be eligible for WFRP coverage for the fractional share of that farming activity.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the FCIC. M&T Farms challenged the FCIC’s decision that a partnership “holding the business name and good will of [others] (i.e., marketing and selling the commodities produced)” is engaged in “farming activity” under section 3(a)(4) of the WFRP Policy, and that therefore, any entity reporting a fractional share of the partnership’s activity on its tax returns is ineligible for WFRP Policy coverage.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that the WFRP Policy contained an ambiguity regarding the definition of “farming activity.” The FCIC’s conclusion that a partnership selling its partners’ products and holding their goodwill and business name was engaged in “farming activity” under section 3(a)(4) of the policy had a reasonable basis and was also reasonable as a matter of policy. Because the FCIC’s interpretation of “farming activity” in the WFRP Policy was reasonable, it survived APA arbitrary and capricious review. The court also held that the term “farming activity” in the WFRP policy was genuinely ambiguous, the FCIC’s conclusion had a reasonable basis, and the FCIC’s conclusion was entitled to controlling weight. View "M & T FARMS V. FEDERAL CROP INSURANCE CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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The case involves Bristol SL Holdings, Inc., the successor-in-interest to Sure Haven, Inc., a defunct drug rehabilitation and mental health treatment center, and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company and Cigna Behavioral Health, Inc. Bristol alleged that Sure Haven's calls to Cigna verifying out-of-network coverage and seeking authorization to provide health services created independent contractual obligations. Cigna, however, denied payment based on fee-forgiving, a practice prohibited by the health plans. Bristol brought state law claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel against Cigna.The district court initially dismissed Bristol’s claims, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, holding that Bristol had derivative standing to sue for unpaid benefits as Sure Haven’s successor-in-interest. On remand, the district court granted Cigna’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) preempted Bristol’s state law claims.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Bristol’s state law claims were preempted by ERISA because they had both a “reference to” and an “impermissible connection with” the ERISA plans that Cigna administered. The court reasoned that Bristol’s claims were not independent of an ERISA plan because they concerned the denial of reimbursement to patients who were covered under such plans. The court also held that allowing liability on Bristol’s state law claims would interfere with nationally uniform plan administration, a central matter of plan administration. View "Bristol SL Holdings, Inc. v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between Lexington Insurance Company ("Lexington") and the Suquamish Tribe ("Tribe"), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the Tribe. The dispute arose from several insurance companies and underwriters refusing to compensate the Tribe for its insurance claims for lost business and tax revenue and other expenses resulting from the suspension of business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court held that the Suquamish Tribal Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the Tribe’s claim against nonmember off-reservation insurance companies that participated in an insurance program tailored to and offered exclusively to tribes. The court concluded that the insurers' conduct occurred not only on the Suquamish reservation but also on tribal lands. The court further concluded that, under the Tribe’s sovereign authority over “consensual relationships,” as recognized under the first Montana exception to the general rule restricting tribes’ inherent sovereign authority over nonmembers on reservation lands, the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over the Tribe’s suit. View "LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY V. SMITH" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court's default judgment entered against defendants Akop and Anahit Arutyunyan. The defendants were accused by Transamerica Life Insurance Company of engaging in insurance fraud. The district court found that the defendants persistently failed to obey court orders related to discovery and entered a default judgment against them. In the course of the legal proceedings, the court applied escalating sanctions against the defendants for their repeated non-compliance with court orders, eventually leading to the entry of a default judgment. The defendants contested this decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court found that their appeal was frivolous. The court held that the district court had not abused its discretion in entering a default judgment as a sanction for the defendants' violations of court orders. The Ninth Circuit also ordered the defendants and their counsel to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed under various provisions given the frivolous nature of the appeal and multiple misstatements made by counsel during oral argument. View "TRANSAMERICA LIFE INSURANCE CO V. ARUTYUNYAN" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on January 30, 2020, alleging disability since March 1, 2017,due to PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and a right knee injury. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A medical expert confirmed that Plaintiff would be markedly limited when interacting with others. The medical expert suggested that Plaintiff’s Residual Function Capacity (RFC) includes “some limitations in terms of his work situation.” Once the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision, Plaintiff sought judicial review. The district court affirmed the agency’s denial of benefits. On appeal, Plaintiff only challenged the ALJ’s finding that his mental impairments were not disabling.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that the ALJ did not err in excluding Plaintiff's VA disability rating from her analysis. McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that an ALJ is required to address the Veterans Administration disability rating) is no longer good law for claims filed after March 27, 2017. The 2017 regulations removed any requirement for an ALJ to discuss another agency’s rating. The panel held that the ALJ gave specific, clear, and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony about the severity of his symptoms by enumerating the objective evidence that undermined Plaintiff’s testimony. The panel rejected Plaintiff's contention that the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff’s experts. The panel held that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff’s mental impairments did not meet all of the specified medical criteria or equal the severity of a listed impairment. View "JEREMY KITCHEN V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI" on Justia Law

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Saloojas, Inc. (“Saloojas”) filed five actions against Aetna Health of California, Inc. (“Aetna”), seeking to recover the difference in cost between its posted cash price for COVID-19 testing and the amount of reimbursement it received from Aetna. Saloojas argues that Section 3202 of the CARES Act requires Aetna to reimburse out-of-network providers like Saloojas for the cash price of diagnostic tests listed on their websites. The district court dismissed this action on the ground that the CARES Act does not provide a private right of action to enforce violations of Section 3202.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that the CARES Act does not provide a private right of action to enforce violations of Section 3202. Saloojas correctly conceded that the CARES Act did not create an express private right of action. The panel held that there is not an implied private right of action for providers to sue insurers. The use of mandatory language requiring reimbursement at the cash price does not demonstrate Congress’s intent to create such a right. The statute does not use “rights-creating language” that places “an unmistakable focus” on the individuals protected as opposed to the party regulated. View "SALOOJAS, INC. V. AETNA HEALTH OF CALIFORNIA, INC." on Justia Law

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The Estate of Josiah Wheeler and Josiah’s parents, Keith and Rhetta Wheeler (collectively, “the Wheelers”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Garrison”).   The Ninth Circuit explained that because this case involves an issue of first impression under Alaska law, it respectfully asks the Alaska Supreme Court to exercise its discretion to decide the following certified question: Does a total pollution exclusion in a homeowners’ insurance policy exclude coverage of claims arising from carbon monoxide exposure? View "THE ESTATE OF JOSIAH WHEELER, ET AL V. GARRISON PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law

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United Behavioral Health (“UBH”) appeals from the district court’s judgment finding it liable to classes of Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Section 1001 et seq. (“ERISA”) Plaintiffs under 29 U.S.C. Sections 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3), as well as several pre- and posttrial orders, including class certification, summary judgment, and a remedies order. UBH contends on appeal that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing and that the district court erred at class certification and trial in several respect.   The Ninth Circuit reversed in part. The panel held that Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring their claims. Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a concrete injury as to their fiduciary duty claim because UBH’s alleged violation presented a material risk of harm to plaintiffs’ interest in their contractual benefits. Plaintiffs also alleged a concrete injury as to the denial of benefits claim. Further, plaintiffs alleged a particularized injury as to both claims because UBH’s Level of Care Guidelines and Coverage Determination Guidelines for making medical necessity or coverage determinations materially affected each Plaintiff. And Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries were “fairly traceable” to UBH’s conduct. The panel held that the district court did not err in certifying the three classes to pursue the fiduciary duty claim, but the panel reversed the district court’s certification of the denial of benefits classes. The panel held that, on the merits, the district court erred to the extent it determined that the ERISA plans required the Guidelines to be coextensive with generally accepted standards of care. View "DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises out of a commercial property insurance policy (“Policy”) that Oregon Clinic, P.C. (“Oregon Clinic”) purchased from Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (“Fireman’s Fund”). The Policy provides Oregon Clinic, a medical provider with more than fifty locations in Oregon, with coverage for a reduction of business income only if its insured property suffers “direct physical loss or damage.” In March 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Oregon Clinic, like hundreds of other insured businesses nationwide, sought coverage under its Policy. It alleged that it suffered “direct physical loss or damage” because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related governmental orders that prevented it from fully making use of its insured property. Fireman’s Fund denied coverage. Oregon Clinic then sued Fireman’s Fund in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. At Oregon Clinic’s request, the Ninth Circuit certified to the Oregon Supreme Court the interpretation of “direct physical loss or damage” under Oregon law and stayed proceedings. The Oregon Supreme Court declined the certification request.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that the Oregon Supreme Court would interpret “direct physical loss or damage” to require physical alteration of property, consistent with the interpretation reached by most courts nationwide. Because Oregon Clinic failed to state a claim under this interpretation and because the amendment would be futile, the panel affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "THE OREGON CLINIC, PC V. FIREMAN'S FUND INS. CO." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed individual and class claims in Montana state court against GEICO after GEICO failed to advance pay Plaintiff’s medical bills and lost wages following a car accident caused by GEICO’s insured. GEICO removed the lawsuit to federal court, asserting jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Neither Plaintiff nor the district court questioned whether CAFA jurisdiction was proper.   The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for the district court to conduct the necessary evidentiary inquiry and determine whether GEICO can sufficiently establish that more than $5 million is in dispute. The panel held that it could sua sponte question a defendant’s allegation of CAFA jurisdiction. The panel further concluded that the current record did not sufficiently demonstrate that CAFA’s amount-in-controversy requirement was met because it was not evident from the face of the complaint and the nature of the class claims that this controversy involved more than $5 million, nor did GEICO’s notice of removal and supporting declaration satisfactorily establish that more than $5 million was in dispute. View "BRANDON MOE V. GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY, ET AL" on Justia Law