Friday, November 20, 2020

No. 399: John Hancock Defends a Class Action Lawsuit Over Huge Cost-of-Insurance Increases on Universal Life Policies

On June 5, 2018, Jeffrey Leonard (Leonard) and others filed a class action lawsuit against John Hancock Life Insurance Company of New York (John Hancock) and others relating to huge cost-of-insurance (COI) increases on certain universal life insurance policies. On August 22, 2018, John Hancock answered the complaint. On April 9, 2020, Leonard filed a first amended complaint. On May 4, 2020, John Hancock answered the first amended complaint. (See Leonard v. John Hancock, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Case No. 1:18-cv-4994.)

The case was assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. President Clinton nominated him in May 1998. The Senate confirmed him in October 1998. He took senior status in January 2011.

Thrust of the Case
The "Nature of the Action" section of the first amended complaint consists of 20 paragraphs, and includes a few redactions. Here are some lightly edited excerpts from that section:
1. Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of policyholders who have been subjected to unlawful and excessive COI increases in violation of their insurance policies.
2. The policies at issue are Performance Universal Life policies issued between 2003 and 2010.
3. In February 2018, John Hancock's parent company, Manulife Financial Corporation, which reports on behalf of John Hancock in consolidated statements, announced that it had suffered a $1.6 billion net loss in the fourth quarter of 2017.
4. In May 2018, John Hancock sent cryptic letters to policyholders informing them of a massive increase in COI rates and charges on certain Performance Universal Life policies.
6. John Hancock did not disclose that, when reviewing the proposed COI increase, the New York Department of Financial Services concluded that the assumptions John Hancock had originally used when pricing the policies were not reasonable.
8. Internally, John Hancock had long recognized that its original assumptions were no longer valid.
10. The COI increase is massive. For example, one plaintiff took out a policy on her life in 2008. After paying ten years of premiums at John Hancock's "projected" rates, John Hancock suddenly increased her COI rates by about 70% per year, causing her to have to pay about $225,000 more in premiums per year to keep her coverage. She is now aged 87.
11. Other policyholders have seen increases ranging from 17% to 75%. John Hancock did not provide policyholders with any reason for the wildly disparate COI increases.
12. The COI increase violated terms of the policies in numerous respects.
17. John Hancock did not implement the COI increase on other products it issued between 2003 and 2010.
19. In violation of the policy provision promising illustrations "upon request," John Hancock refused to provide illustrations for subject policies from January 2017 through May 2018.
20. The COI rate hike and John Hancock's actions preceding it breached the policies in at least five respects.
The "Factual Background" section of the first amended complaint consists of 53 paragraphs. Also, the first amended complaint contains the following seven claims for relief: (1) breach of contract, (2) violation of certain New York laws, (3) violation of certain other New York laws, (4) violation of certain California laws, (5) violation of certain other California laws, (6) violation of certain Texas laws, and (7) violation of certain New Jersey laws. The first amended complaint is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

Future Developments
On July 27, 2020, Judge Hellerstein issued a scheduling order listing several pretrial deadlines. For example, the fact discovery deadline is February 22, 2021, the expert discovery deadline is June 28, 2021, and the briefing for class certification is to be completed by September 27, 2021. The scheduling order does not mention settlement, but includes a deadline for "dispositive motions." The scheduling order is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

General Observations
It appears that the case has a long way to go. I plan to report on significant future developments, such as class certification and the terms of any proposed settlement.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 58-page PDF consisting of the plaintiffs' first amended complaint (56 pages) and the judge's recent scheduling order (2 pages). Email and ask for the November 2020 package about the case of Leonard v. John Hancock.


Friday, November 13, 2020

No. 398: Long-Term Care Insurance—Yet Another Update on the Skochin Lawsuit Against Genworth

In No. 384 (July 30, 2020), I posted my most recent update on the Skochin class action lawsuit against Genworth Financial, Inc. (Genworth) and Genworth Life Insurance Company (GLIC) relating to premium increases on long-term care (LTC) insurance policies. In that post, I provided a link to my first post on the case, and links to my first two updates. (See Skochin v. Genworth, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Case No. 3:19-cv-49.)

On January 18, 2019, Pennsylvania residents Jerome and Susan Skochin and Maryland resident Larry Huber filed a class action lawsuit against Genworth and GLIC. The plaintiffs had purchased LTC insurance policies in 2003 and 2004 from General Electric Capital Assurance Company, a predecessor of Genworth and GLIC. On October 30, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a notice of settlement. On January 15, 2020, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne held a hearing, granted preliminary approval of the settlement, directed that the class notice be mailed to class members, and set the final fairness hearing for July 10, 2020.

Recent Developments
On July 10 and 14, 2020, the judge heard arguments on the objections, and ordered further briefing. On September 14, he ordered further briefing.

On November 5, the judge issued a memorandum opinion and an accompanying order overruling class members' objections to the plaintiffs' motion to approve the settlement. Also on November 5, he issued a memorandum opinion and an accompanying order granting class counsel's motion for an award of attorney fees and expenses. The four November 5 documents are in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

An Invitation
When I posted No. 384, I said I do not intend to express an opinion about the fairness of the settlement from an actuarial standpoint because I am not an actuary and do not feel comfortable expressing such an opinion. However, I would welcome expressions of opinion from actuaries. As an aid to expressing an opinion, note that the complimentary packages offered in my five blog posts on the case are available and would provide a good starting point. If you need further documents, I can send you the current court docket and provide you with any court documents you would like to see. Should you respond to this invitation, please indicate whether you prefer your opinion to be with or without attribution, and I will honor your request.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 99-page PDF consisting of the judge's memorandum opinion and accompanying order granting final approval of the settlement (68 pages), and the judge's memorandum opinion and accompanying order granting approval of attorney fees and expenses (31 pages). Email and ask for the November 2020 package about the case of Skochin v. Genworth.


Monday, November 9, 2020

No. 397: The Age 100 Problem—A Further Update on the Lebbin Lawsuit Against Transamerica

I have written extensively about what I call "the age 100 problem" in general, and about the Lebbin lawsuit against Transamerica Life Insurance Company (Transamerica) in particular. The most recent update on the case is in No. 372 (May 18, 2020). That blog post contains a detailed summary of the district court case. For that reason, I am dispensing with a summary of that case and including in this further update only major developments in the appellate case. (See Lebbin v. Transamerica, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, Case No. 20-11756-EE.)

The Appellate Filings
On August 31, 2020, Transamerica filed a 78-page brief in the Eleventh Circuit. On September 8, Transamerica filed a 1,517-page, six-volume appendix. On October 30, the Lebbin-Spector Family Trust (Trust) filed a 71-page brief. Transamerica's brief and the Trust's brief are in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

Transamerica's brief makes five arguments: (1) plaintiffs' breach of contract claim is barred by the statute of limitations, (2) the district court erred in granting summary judgment to plaintiffs on their claim for breach of contract based on an alleged ambiguity, (3) the district court should not have excluded extrinsic evidence that established the intent of the parties, (4) the district court erred in resolving Transamerica's defenses of waiver, ratification, and estoppel without considering any evidence, and (5) the district court's ruling on damages should be reversed. Transamerica concludes:
For the foregoing reasons, Transamerica respectfully requests that this Court reverse the summary judgment orders of the district court and direct entry of judgment in Transamerica's favor.
The Trust's brief includes detailed responses to each of the five arguments in Transamerica's brief. The Trust concludes:
For the foregoing reasons, [the Trust] respectfully request[s] that this Court affirm the summary judgment orders of the district court.
General Observations
At this writing, there is no timetable for the appellate court case. I plan to report on important developments in the case.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 149-page package consisting of Transamerica's brief (78 pages) and the Trust's brief (71 pages). Email and ask for the November 2020 package about Lebbin v. Transamerica.


Monday, November 2, 2020

No. 396: Stranger Originated Life Insurance Is Now Illegal in New Jersey

On October 28, 2020, the law firm of Cozen O'Connor issued a three-page press release entitled "New Jersey Enacts Anti-STOLI Legislation." The press release announced that recent legislation enacted in New Jersey has rendered stranger-originated life insurance (STOLI) illegal in the state. The press release, written by Cozen attorneys Charles J. Vinicombe and Michael J. Miller, is in the complimentary November 2020 package offered at the end of this post.

The new legislation (Assembly Bill 1263) was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly and by the New Jersey Senate. It was signed into law by the governor on October 19, 2020. It supplements the New Jersey Viatical Settlements Act by outlawing STOLI, which is defined as
an act, practice, or arrangement to initiate or procure the issuance of a policy in this State for the benefit of a third party investor who, at the time of policy inception, has no insurable interest under the laws of this State in the life of the insured.
In No. 317 (June 13, 2019), I discussed the developments that led to the recent legislation. It all began with a dispute between Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada and Wells Fargo Bank. A $5 million policy was issued in 2007. Wells Fargo later acquired the policy in a bankruptcy proceeding and thereafter continued to pay the premiums. The insured died in 2014, and Wells Fargo sought to collect the death benefit.

Sun Life investigated and discovered massive fraud in the original application for the policy. The elderly insured's income and assets were vastly overstated, her life insurance in force was vastly understated, and a phony inspection report verified the false information. The application named a trust as owner and beneficiary of the policy, and the insured's grandson signed the application as trustee. Five weeks later, the grandson resigned as trustee and appointed certain investors (I often refer to them as speculators in human life) as successor co-trustees. The trust agreement was amended so that most of the benefits would go to the investors. More than two years later, after the expiration of the two-year contestability period, the trust sold the policy and the investors received nearly all the proceeds.

The Courts
Sun Life refused to pay the death benefit, and sought a declaratory judgment that the policy was void ab initio (from the beginning). Wells Fargo counterclaimed for breach of contract and, if the court voided the policy, sought a refund of the premiums it paid.

The federal district court in New Jersey found that New Jersey law applied, that it was a STOLI transaction lacking insurable interest in violation of the state's public policy, and declared the policy void ab initio. The court granted Wells Fargo a refund of the premiums it paid, on the grounds that Wells Fargo was not responsible for the fraud.

On appeal, the federal Third Circuit found no dispositive New Jersey case law, and certified two questions of law to the New Jersey Supreme Court:
  1. Does a life insurance policy that is procured with the intent to benefit persons without an insurable interest in the life of the insured violate the public policy of New Jersey, and if so, is that policy void ab initio?
  2. If such a policy is void ab initio, is a later purchaser of the policy, who was not involved in the illegal conduct, entitled to a refund of any premium payments that they made on the policy?
The New Jersey Supreme Court answered yes to both parts of the first question. On the second question, the court ruled that a party may be entitled to a refund of premiums it paid on the policy, "depending on the circumstances." To decide the appropriate remedy, the court ruled that trial courts should develop a record and balance the relevant equitable factors, such as a party's level of culpability, its participation in or knowledge of the fraud, and its failure to notice red flags.

General Observations
My first article about the secondary market for life insurance policies was in the March 1989 issue of The Insurance Forum, the monthly newsletter I published from January 1974 through December 2013. My second article about the secondary market was in the March 1999 issue of the Forum, and was prompted by my first evidence of what later became known as STOLI.

From the beginning, my views about the secondary market for life insurance policies in general, and about STOLI in particular, have been strongly negative. I think life insurance companies have instituted safeguards to prevent significant amounts of new STOLI business from being initiated. The problem now is the handling of the huge volume of STOLI business that was initiated during the heyday of STOLI about 15 years ago. That business continues to move around among a shrinking number of investors. I think the STOLI business will continue to generate litigation for many years.

I am not aware of any state, other than New Jersey, in which STOLI is prohibited by law. However, I am aware of certain legal restrictions in Canada. I would welcome comments from readers about other legal prohibitions relating to STOLI.

Available Material
In the above mentioned No. 317, I offered a complimentary 69-page PDF containing details of the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, and the articles in the March 1989 and March 1999 issues of the Forum. That June 2019 package remains available.

Now I am offering a three-page PDF containing the Cozen O'Connor press release. Send an email to and ask for the June 2019 package and/or the November 2020 package about STOLI.