WSHB partner Michelle Arbitrio, the leader of the firm’s FINRA Securities Practice, had a particularly newsworthy win in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of our client, a FINRA registered representative. In an article published in JD Supra on June 14, 2021, the issues of first impression that were decided in favor of the defense are discussed. This article can be read in full here.
In a case in Supreme Court of Nassau County, New York, Michelle Arbitrio obtained a dismissal for our clients, a life insurance agent and his insurance agency. Plaintiff alleged that our clients wrongfully advised the plaintiff to procure life insurance policies as a tax planning vehicle for an estate, which railed to accomplish the intended purpose and caused the estate to incur $60M in damages. The allegations relate to the sale of four life insurance policies from four different life insurance carriers, involving different trusts and trustees, beneficiaries and face values. The Third Party Plaintiff asserted claims of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, unjust enrichment, and gross negligence against the clients. The total face value of all of the policies was $38M, and the Third Party Plaintiff alleged that the estate paid $16M in premium payments. The Third Party Plaintiff also named lawyers, tax advisors, life insurance carriers and other life agents and alleged that they were also liable for damages resulting from the purchase of unsuitable life insurance policies. Arbitrio moved to dismiss on the grounds that the Third Party Plaintiff, as a beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds, lacks standing to sue its clients because, pursuant to NY law, any such suit must be brought by the individual insured under the life insurance policy, or the insured’s estate if the insured died. WSHB also moved to dismiss the fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), and moved to dismiss the breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment claims on statute of limitations grounds pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a)(5). In its Decision and Order, the Court agreed with our argument that the Third Party Plaintiff, as a beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds, lacked standing to sue the clients because NY law requires any such suit to be brought by the individual insured under the policy, or the insured’s estate if the insured died. As such, the Court dismissed all claims against our clients.
In a case where Michelle Arbitrio represented a Third Party Administrator of a Pension Plan, District Judge Richard Sullivan in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted her motion and dismissed all claims against the client. DJ Sullivan agreed with Arbitrio’s argument that the Insured was not a fiduciary of the plan, and had no legal obligation or duty to provide Plan documents or to issue benefits. The Judge also found in favor of WSHB’s client by further holding that the federal ERISA statute preempted plaintiff’s common law claims, and that the claims were untimely.
In a case where Michelle Arbitrio represented an insurance agency and its brokers, Judge Brandveen of the Supreme Court of Nassau County, New York, denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment based on Arbitrio’s defense. The Court held that the documents and plaintiff’s own testimony supported a finding that the broker procured the type of insurance that the plaintiff expressly requested from the broker. The Court further held that there was no special or privity-like relationship between the plaintiff and the insured, and as such, it did not impose a heightened duty on the broker.
Arbitrio Wins Disability Insurance Policy Language Dispute in U.S. Court of Appeals
January 30, 2015
Michelle Arbitrio (Partner – New York) obtained a dismissal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a case in which the plaintiff alleged wrongful denial of his request for long-term disability benefits by Arbitrio’s client, pursuant to ERISA. Arbitrio moved for summary judgment in District Court on the ground that the action was time-barred by language in the policy requiring that policyholders commence legal actions within three years of the date that a proof of loss is due under the policy. The plaintiff argued that the policy language was ambiguous and not permissible under New York law, which has a six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract actions. The District Court initially agreed with Arbitrio’s arguments and granted summary judgment. The plaintiff subsequently made a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. Plaintiff then appealed to the Second Circuit. Arbitrio argued that, when afforded its plain meaning, the policy language is clear and unambiguous and that New York Courts have consistently held that parties can contract to reduce the statute of limitations from six years to three years. After oral argument, the U.S Court of Appeals agreed with Arbitrio and upheld the District Court’s decision.
Arbitrio Obtains $1.3 Million Verdict for Fortune 500 Client
April 2, 2014
Michelle Arbitrio (Partner – New York) obtained a verdict in the Supreme Court of Danbury, CT, on behalf of her client, a Fortune 500 international electronics corporation, for $1.3 million in a commercial contract dispute involving solar energy panels.
The defendant, a solar energy company, purchased solar panels from plaintiff, Arbitrio’s client. The defendant paid a small deposit for the panels but refused to pay the balance of more than $1 million, claiming that the panels were defective. As a result, Arbitrio brought suit against the solar energy company alleging breach of the terms of a written contract for the purchase and sale of solar panels. The defendants brought counterclaims for rescission and violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
At trial, Arbitrio presented documentary and testimonial evidence that the electronics company delivered solar panel units to the defendants, and that the solar panels met the specifications for energy output outlined in the contract and marketing materials. In addition, Arbitrio established the validity and enforceability of a ‘personal guaranty’ addendum to the contract signed by the owner of the solar energy company, enabling them to hold the owner of the defendant company personally liable.
Arbitrio Wins Motion to Intervene and Enforce Class Action Settlement in Iowa Federal Court
December 20, 2013
Michelle Arbitrio (Partner – New York) won a motion to intervene and enforce a class action settlement on behalf of a securities broker in a matter venued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Central Division.
Initially, the claimant commenced a securities arbitration in the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) against the respondents, a broker-dealer and one of its registered representatives, alleging that the respondents recommend that the claimants purchase securities products that were overly risky and illiquid, and therefore unsuitable for his risk tolerance and financial status.
Following discovery, the respondents learned that the claimant had already been part of a class action lawsuit against the same broker-dealer involving different securities products. After further investigation, the respondents learned that the class action settlement agreement included language precluding the claimants from bringing claims against the broker-dealer and/or its agents relating to any securities products sold to him through the date of the agreement.
Based on this information, Arbitrio moved to intervene in the class-action lawsuit, moved to enforce the terms of the class action settlement and requested a permanent injunction enjoining the claimant from pursuing the FINRA action. The Claimants opposed the motion, alleging that the release language in the class-action settlement agreement did not cover the situation at issue, or in the alternative the language was overbroad and unconscionable. After a hearing, the court granted a permanent injunction precluding the claimants from pursuing the claims.
Arbitrio Wins Award on Behalf of Securities Broker Client
December 23, 2013
Michelle Arbitrio (Partner – New York) obtained a defense award on behalf of her client, a securities broker, following an arbitration held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The award was featured in ArbCheck Reporter, a widely read publication in the securities industry.
The claimants brought a FINRA arbitration seeking compensatory damages in excess of $780,000 against Arbitrio’s client, three other brokers, and their broker-dealer. The claimants alleged that the respondents breached their fiduciary duties by failing to disclose material facts concerning the opening and closing of several brokerage accounts, and the purchase and sale of variable annuities. After a four-day hearing, the panel dismissed the claimants’ claims with prejudice in their entirety and stated in part:
The evidence introduced at hearing gave no indication that respondents violated any law, regulation or duty owed to claimants. The evidence also showed that claimants suffered no economic loss because of respondents management of their accounts, but instead gained value during the time period covered by the claims. Accordingly, claimants failed to demonstrate entitlement to monetary damages, and their claims were determined to be false.
The panel also recommended that all references to the claims be expunged from the brokers’ records.