Monday, August 31, 2015

No. 114: AIG's War Against Coventry and the Buergers Goes to Trial

In No. 67 (posted September 16, 2014) entitled "AIG Declares War against Coventry and the Buergers," I discussed a lawsuit by Lavastone Capital, a unit of American International Group (AIG), against Coventry First (Fort Washington, PA), an intermediary in the secondary market for life insurance. In that posting, I offered the 151-page text of the Lavastone complaint. Here I summarize the complaint briefly and mention some subsequent developments. (See Lavastone v. Coventry, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Case No. 1:14-cv-7139.)

The Complaint
Lavastone filed its complaint on September 5, 2014. The defendants were Coventry; four firms affiliated with Coventry (including the "LST Entities"); Alan Buerger, chief executive officer of Coventry; Constance Buerger, wife of Alan Buerger; Reid Buerger, son of Alan Buerger; and Krista Buerger, wife of Reid Buerger. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

Over a period of more than ten years, Coventry became a major player in the secondary market by acquiring thousands of policies and passing them along to Lavastone pursuant to the parties' agreements. In its complaint Lavastone made 13 claims and sought, among other items, compensatory damages, punitive damages, treble damages, injunctive relief, declaratory judgments, disgorgement, attorney fees, and prejudgment interest.

On November 4, 2014, Coventry filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. On February 3, 2015, Judge Rakoff denied the motion. He also dismissed three of Lavastone's claims. The remaining ten claims were violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, conspiracy to violate RICO, fraud, fraudulent inducement, breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment.

Recently Filed Documents
On May 18, 2015, Lavastone and Coventry filed cross motions for summary judgment. On the same day, Constance Buerger filed a separate motion for summary judgment.

On July 10, Judge Rakoff issued an Order, and on July 30 he issued a Memorandum explaining the reasoning behind the Order. He granted Lavastone's motion for summary judgment relating to breach of contract, but left for trial the matter of damages. He also said there were several other matters that needed to be resolved at trial. He denied Coventry's motion for summary judgment, granted Constance Buerger's motion for summary judgment, and dismissed her from the case.

On August 13, Coventry filed a motion for clarification, or, in the alternative, reconsideration, of Judge Rakoff's July 10 Order and July 30 Memorandum. Judge Rakoff denied the motion.

On August 20, Lavastone and Coventry jointly filed a Pretrial Consent Order. The document includes, among other things, a joint overview of the case, statements of the parties' claims and defenses, facts on which the parties agree, the plaintiff's statement of the relief sought, and the names of witnesses the parties intend to call at the trial. Attached to the document are lists of exhibits the parties intend to introduce at the trial. Two amendments to the document were filed later.

The Parties' Statements
The first paragraph below shows, from the Pretrial Consent Order, the plaintiff's statement prepared without input from the defendants. The second paragraph below shows the defendants' statement prepared without input from the plaintiff.
Plaintiff alleges that, over the course of the parties' relationship, Defendants exploited Lavastone's trust and confidence, violated the parties' agreements, and executed a scheme to defraud Lavastone, by, inter alia, systematically misusing Lavastone's proprietary and confidential information, including its maximum purchase price; misrepresenting the underlying purchase price and broker's fees incurred in the acquisition of Life Policies; artificially inflating the price of Life Policies; charging Lavastone for broker's fees that were not actually paid by Defendants to Life Policy brokers; laundering the Life Policies through affiliates to conceal the underlying purchase price; diverting irrevocable beneficiary interests that benefitted the Defendants and diminished the value of the Life Policies; and reselling Life Policies to Lavastone with hidden mark-ups. Defendants induced Lavastone to pay over $150 million in markups and broker's fee overcharges, in addition to the $1 billion in origination, incentive, and other fees Lavastone paid to Coventry First for its expertise and assistance in identifying, negotiating, and acquiring Life Policies in the secondary market. Defendants' conduct violated federal and state law.
Defendants contend that Lavastone's claims and factual allegations are without merit. In particular, Defendants believed that the Origination Agreements permitted Coventry First and the LST Entities to sell Life Policies that were not subject to the exclusivity provisions of the contracts ("nonexclusive Life Policies") to Lavastone at a price greater than acquisition cost, without restriction, and the parties' repeated course of conduct confirmed that belief. Defendants made numerous disclosures to Lavastone of the existence and amount of gains on nonexclusive Life Policy sales, and Lavastone never claimed that such claims breached the contracts or suggested that they were fraudulent. Moreover, Lavastone indicated to Defendants, both by its actions and words, that it and its senior executives believed the contracts permitted these gains on sale. Lavastone—through Defendants' disclosures, its ordinary business activities, and its own formal audits of Coventry First and Lavastone's fiscal agents—knew and approved of Coventry First or its affiliates selling Lavastone nonexclusive Life Policies at prices higher than acquisition cost. Lavastone concedes that Coventry First or its affiliates properly sold Lavastone hundreds of Life Policies at greater than acquisition cost. Similarly, Lavastone approved of Coventry First in certain instances reimbursing broker compensation on an aggregate basis across Life Policy sales, as well as Coventry First's decision to place irrevocable beneficiary interests on certain Life Policies. Lavastone has incurred no damages as a result of any conduct by Defendants.
The Trial
The trial began on August 27. Judge Rakoff is presiding, and there is no jury. The parties estimate that the trial will take 10 to 15 full court days, which probably will translate into a calendar month or more. It is my understanding that the first day consisted of opening statements and some testimony from David Fields, who is the first witness called by Lavastone, that the second day consisted of further testimony by Fields, and that the trial will resume after Labor Day.

General Observations
The Lavastone/Coventry case may be one of the most important in the history of the secondary market for life insurance, and should be followed by persons interested in that market. An eventual result adverse to Coventry could have devastating consequences for the firm, which has long been a major player in the market. I plan to report the results of the trial when Judge Rakoff hands down his decision.

David Fields headed the team that initiated AIG's entry into the secondary market in 2001, despite reservations expressed by Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, then chief executive officer of AIG. That incident is discussed in the August 2005 issue of The Insurance Forum, in an appendix to my article about the lawsuit filed against AIG, Greenberg, and Howard Smith by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and then New York Superintendent of Insurance Howard Mills.

Another possible witness during the trial is Reid Buerger, who repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment during an investigation of Coventry by Spitzer. I discussed that incident in the January/February 2007 issue of The Insurance Forum, where I discussed Spitzer's investigation.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 55-page PDF consisting of Judge Rakoff's 3-page July 10 Order, his 22-page July 30 Memorandum, and the 30-page Lavastone/Coventry August 20 joint Pretrial Consent Order (not including attachments and amendments). E-mail and ask for the July/August 2015 Lavastone/Coventry package.