X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1985, an agent for the company now known as Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. persuaded Sanford and Marilyn Shocklee to purchase a $25,000 whole life insurance policy. In the course of selling the policy, the agent provided the Shocklees with a printed illustration that showed that, if MassMutual’s then-current dividend payments continued and the dividends were reinvested, the Shocklees might be able to use the accumulated dividends to pay the policy premiums after seven years. A variety of disclosures accompanying the illustration indicated, however, that the policy premiums were “payable for life,” and the forecast dividend payments were “neither guarantees nor estimates for the future.” The Shocklees were issued a policy on June 20, 1985. Sometime thereafter they received a copy of the actual policy, which afforded them ten days to review the policy and cancel it at their option. The Shocklees did not cancel the policy and instead began making annual premium payments. For seven years, the Shocklees made the scheduled premium payments, reinvested the policy dividends and received annual statements indicating the amount of the dividend payments being reinvested. After receiving an eighth premium bill in 1992, the Shocklees made at least one additional payment on the policy. In March 2000, the Shocklees filed a class action in federal court in Louisiana asserting that MassMutual had breached its contract by failing to “vanish” their premium payments after seven years. They amended their complaint to add a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. The district court initially denied MassMutual’s motion to dismiss, which the court converted, sua sponte, into a motion for summary judgment. The district court denied summary judgment based on its view that the Shocklees’ insurance policy was ambiguous as to the source of the premium payments. Following discovery, the district court addressed cross-motions for summary judgment and, relying in part on statements made by the Shocklees during their depositions, granted summary judgment in favor of MassMutual. The Shocklees appeal. HOLDING:The court affirms the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. After discussing the standard of review for summary judgment, the court reviews de novo the district court’s finding that the contract was ambiguous. The court notes that Louisiana law bars extrinsic evidence when a contract is unambiguous on its face. The court then discusses a similar case, In Re: Minn. Mut. Life Ins. Co. Sales Practices Litig., 346 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2003), which also applied Louisiana law. The court says the plaintiffs’ attempt to distinguish the Eighth Circuit case from the instant case fails, because 1. both sets of policies contain and explicit merger and integration clause; 2. both sets of policies state that a premium is due annually; 3. the plaintiffs’ allegations were the same in both cases, that insurance agents used sales illustrations showing the premiums would vanish after seven years; and 4. the Eighth Circuit faced the same claims for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing under Louisiana law the Fifth Circuit faces in this case. The court says the Eighth Circuit found that the plaintiffs’ claims failed on the merits because the policies were unambiguous as the source of the premiums. The court finds its sister court’s analysis persuasive and notes that Louisiana law discourages courts from finding insurance contracts to be ambiguous where no ambiguity exists. Because the policy on its face is unambiguous, the court finds that Louisiana law bars consideration of extrinsic evidence � the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding insurance agents’ representations The court finds that, because the Shocklees can’t show that their policy contained a promise to vanish premiums, they can’t maintain claims for breach of contract or breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing with regard to such a promise. Therefore, the Shocklees’ claim fails as a matter of law and summary judgment in favor of MassMutual was proper OPINION:Per curiam; Jolly, Jones and Barksdale, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.