Anita Lee reports on the Rigsby qui tam Status Hearing

Although I wished to have been a “fly on the wall”, I don’t think I could have held on for four hours – and Anita Lee reports that’s just how long the attorneys argued:

Judge L.T. Senter Jr. is weighing whether to dismiss a whistle-blower lawsuit against State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. or expand its scope beyond one policyholder’s Katrina claim.

Attorneys spent four hours in federal court Wednesday presenting their arguments to Senter, who is presiding over his last major Hurricane Katrina case, Rigsby vs. State Farm.

State Farm attorneys argue the case should be dismissed because sisters and former insurance adjusters Cori and Kerri Rigsby have turned up no evidence of fraud during extensive pre-trial investigation, called discovery. Senter limited the scope of discovery to one policyholder claim, McIntosh, because the Rigsbys have firsthand knowledge of how it was adjusted.

Attorneys for the Rigsbys argue they have discovered a pattern of fraud by State Farm and should be allowed to expand discovery beyond the McIntosh claim. The Rigsbys maintain State Farm minimized its costs for wind-damage claims by overcharging the National Flood Insurance Program for losses caused by storm surge.

It takes two to tango but you can’t dance around the fact that an “exemplar case” alone is not the widespread scheme alleged in the Rigsbys’ complaint. In that regard, Judge Vance’s related decision in the Branch Consultants qui tam case is insightful: Continue reading “Anita Lee reports on the Rigsby qui tam Status Hearing”

Judge Vance plays trump card on ESI Depositions in Branch qui tam

This can only be one of those “SLABBED reports, you decide” posts – assuming, of course, I’ve not outgrown yet another pair of reading glasses.

Yesterday’s docket in the Branch Consultants’ qui tam case noted, “the motion to stay the the Branch defendants’ Motion to Adjourn ESI Depositions for Forty-Five Days…was set for hearing…and would be decided by the magistrate judge”.  As I recall, the hearing was set for the 15th of December.

Needless to say, I was surprised to find a related Order from Judge Vance when I checked the docket tonight:

Defendants Liberty Mutual, Standard Fire, Allstate, and Pilot move to adjourn the scheduled ESI depositions for forty-five days. The motion is DENIED. The Court has already considered this issue and sees no reason to change its previous order. Defendants’ motion to expedite is DENIED AS MOOT. (emphasis added)

I gather the first sentence in the defendant’s motion to adjourn the ESI depositions got on Judge Vance’s last nerve:

Defendants Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“Liberty Mutual”), The Standard Fire Insurance Company (“Standard Fire”), Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”), and Pilot Catastrophe Services, Inc. (“Pilot”) move the Court to adjourn the ESI depositions for forty-five days to allow the Court to consider whether it has jurisdiction over this matter.

Something certainly prompted her to make it clear that she had jurisdiction unless  she decided otherwise – and, clearly, that she won’t decided until after the date of the last deposition on the schedule.

In short Order – Judge Vance issues Order and Reasons with a few suggestions for Branch qui tam defendants

While Liberty Mutual’s and Standard Fire’s motions to sever have been pending, the Branch docket has had a severe case motion sickness.  Judge Vance offered the cure in short order in what is a really short Order denying both motions as “premature”.

A typical Sarah Vance Order is detailed and lengthy – and this one is neither.  When I read it the first time, I thought it would just take a few minutes to compose this post; but, then, I read it again and that was hours ago and this is my fourth sentence.  Obviously, I’ve done more thinking than writing.  Is it short and lacking in detail because it would be “premature” to say more or is she deliberately guarded?

She gives only one reason for denying the two motions to sever:

There appear to be at least one or more common issues of law or fact in this action that warrant consolidation under Rule 42 of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, at least in the pretrial phase of this case. See FED. R. CIV. P. 42(a) (“If actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may . . . consolidate the actions.”).

The reason is followed by what I’d call “passing mention” of several “common issues of law or fact”: Continue reading “In short Order – Judge Vance issues Order and Reasons with a few suggestions for Branch qui tam defendants”

chain, chain, chain of fools – Liberty Mutual’s and Standard Fire’s motions to break chain and sever from Branch defendants

Aretha I’m not but a chain of fools I can spot –  and, despite their claims to the contrary, there’s no weak link between either Liberty Mutual or Standard Fire and the other Branch defendants.  I will concede, however, both companies rattle the chain more than most.  In fact, they make so much noise that I would have missed the motions to sever each filed in January had the two defendants not recently filed motions for leave to Reply to the Branch Response in Opposition to their motions..

Apparently, I’m not the only one who ignored the rattling and moved on.  While both argue against being joined with other defendants, the two companies are obviously joined in a defense strategy to sever.  Each requested a hearing on its motion on the same day, the 3nd of February, a date that passed without a response from the Court.  Perhaps, I’m not the only one these two links in the “chain” didn’t fool.

The WYO Accounting Procedures Manual, Exhibit 1 to the Branch Opposition brief, documents the link. Liberty Mutual makes a foolish attempt to fool the Count by claiming Branch “espouses a new theory of liability” by arguing “the defendants’ unauthorized/fraudulent use of the DHHS PMS” as sufficient to “satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2)’s requirement that the right to relief against joined defendants must arise out of the same series of transactions or occurrences”.

Surely, neither defendant expects the Court to believe its company does not have to use the established NFIP procedures and system to file flood claims!  The word games these two companies are playing is based on the same flawed analysis of policyholder claims data used to justify streamlined or steamrolled procedures.

Granted, each claim represents a different property and all that claim handling entails. However, the Feldman procedures erred because the number one insurer’s claims are to the total number of claims is a reliable indicator of nothing other than the calculated percentage.  Likewise, the number of exemplary claims Branch cited for a single defendant insurer is not a statistically reliable indicator of the extent of the alleged fraud.  The Branch opposition brief picks up from there: Continue reading “chain, chain, chain of fools – Liberty Mutual’s and Standard Fire’s motions to break chain and sever from Branch defendants”