Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
JEREMY KITCHEN V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI
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
SALOOJAS, INC. V. AETNA HEALTH OF CALIFORNIA, INC.
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
THE ESTATE OF JOSIAH WHEELER, ET AL V. GARRISON PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY
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
DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
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
THE OREGON CLINIC, PC V. FIREMAN’S FUND INS. CO.
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
BRANDON MOE V. GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY, ET AL
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
THE OREGON CLINIC, PC V. FIREMAN’S FUND INS. CO.
This case involves an insured who sued for breach of contract and for breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing when its insurer denied coverage for business income losses that the insured incurred during the COVID19 pandemic. The insured alleged that the COVID-19 virus was present on its premises and that state government closure orders prevented it from fully making use of its insured property due to infections and prohibitions on elective medical procedures. The district court dismissed the insured’s suit for failure to state a claim. The Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Oregon Supreme Court: Can the actual or potential presence of the COVID-19 virus on an insured’s premises constitute “direct physical loss or damage to property” for purposes of coverage under a commercial property insurance policy? View "THE OREGON CLINIC, PC V. FIREMAN'S FUND INS. CO." on Justia Law
RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL
Plaintiffs, current and former employees of RingCentral, participated in RingCentral’s employee welfare benefits plan. The plan participated in the “Tech Benefits Program” administered by Sequoia Benefits and Insurance Services, LLC, a management and insurance brokerage company. The Tech Benefits Program was a MEWA that pooled assets from employer-sponsored plans into a trust fund for the purpose of obtaining insurance benefits for employees at large-group rates. Plaintiffs filed this putative class action on behalf of the RingCentral plan and other Tech Benefits Program participants, asserting that Sequoia owed fiduciary duties to the plan under ERISA because Sequoia allegedly exercised control over plan assets through its operation of the Tech Benefits Program. Plaintiffs alleged that Sequoia violated its fiduciary duties by receiving and retaining commission payments from insurers, which Plaintiffs regarded as kickbacks, and by negotiating allegedly excessive administrative fees with insurers, leading to higher commissions for Sequoia. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of Article III standing. The court held that Plaintiffs failed to establish Article III standing as to either of their two theories of injury. The panel held, as to the out-of-pocket-injury theory, Plaintiffs failed to establish the injury in fact required for Article III standing because their allegations did not demonstrate that they paid higher contributions because of Sequoia’s allegedly wrongful conduct. And Plaintiffs failed to plead the third element, that their injury would likely be redressed by judicial relief. View "RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL" on Justia Law
FRENCH LAUNDRY PARTNERS, LP, ET AL V. HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE CO., ET AL
The certified a question to the Supreme Court of California in a case where an insured who sued for declaratory judgment that its insurance policy provides coverage for its losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. At issue here is whether the policy’s virus exclusion is enforceable and precludes coverage. The Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of California: Is the virus exclusion in French Laundry’s insurance policy unenforceable because enforcing it would render illusory a limited virus coverage provision allowing for the possibility of coverage for business losses and extra expenses allegedly caused by the presence and impacts of COVID-19 at an insured’s properties, including the loss of business due to a civil authority closure order? View "FRENCH LAUNDRY PARTNERS, LP, ET AL V. HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE CO., ET AL" on Justia Law
VIRGINIA WARD V. SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY
Appellant is the owner of a rental house and property in Livingston, Montana (“Property”). Appellant purchased a Landlord Protection Policy (“Policy”) from Safeco Insurance Company (“Safeco”) to insure the Property. In 2017, a water main line leading into the house broke, saturating the area around and under the property with water. A few months later, soft spots developed on the floor of the house. An investigation determined that the soil under the foundation had contracted as a result of the water damage, causing the foundation slab to sag. Safeco informed Appellant that the damage to the Property was not covered under the Policy based on its Earth Movement and Water Damage exclusions, which are listed as excluded perils in the Policy’s ACC clause. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Safeco, finding that 1) the ACC clause barred coverage, 2) the Policy was not illusory or ambiguous, and 3) Safeco did not violate Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act when it denied Appellant coverage. Appellant appealed. The Ninth Circuit certified the following questions to the Montana Supreme Court: 1) Whether an anti-concurrent cause (“ACC”) clause in an insurance policy applies to defeat insurance coverage despite Montana’s recognition of the efficient proximate cause (“EPC”) doctrine; and 2) Whether the relevant language in the general exclusions section on page 8 of the insurance policy in this case is an ACC clause that circumvents the application of the EPC doctrine. View "VIRGINIA WARD V. SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law