Brenda Kennedy was hospitalized in 2009 for four days. She had an insurance policy from United American that paid benefits for each day that she spent in the hospital, and she assigned those benefits to the hospital. When she received her hospital bill, she discovered that it had only covered three days, not four. So she bought a class action on behalf of everyone who received benefits from the policy.
United American moved to dismiss the case because Ms. Kennedy had not received benefits herself; she had assigned them to the hospital. The court agreed with the argument, but stayed dismissal to give Ms. Kennedy a chance to either find a new class representative or to get the hospital to ratify her lawsuit. (She did the latter.)
Then she moved to certify a nationwide class. United American opposed certification on a number of grounds, all of which revolved around the fact that Ms. Kennedy had not been the real party in interest in the case. According to United American, that meant that the class she had defined was overbroad (it contained individual with standing and without), individualized issues would predominate over any common issues (particularly the question of who was a real party in interest, and who had assigned their interest elsewhere).
In Kennedy v. United Am. Ins. Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48197 (E.D. Ark. Apr. 3, 2013), the court denied certification. Its primary reason was that:
Kennedy cannot bypass or ignore the important task of identifying putative class members that qualify as real parties in interest.
In particular, it held that determining who was a real party in interest (and therefore who would belong in the class) would require individualized inquiries, affecting both ascertainability and predominance. As it reasoned:
Under the circumstances, it is difficult to envision a method for identifying proper class members without conducting extensive, individualized inquiries. In determining whether Kennedy qualified as the real party in interest in this case it was necessary to resolve multiple questions–including which state’s law governed the issue, whether the language of the assignment contract between Kennedy and NEA evidenced an intention to effect a transfer, and whether the contract language and circumstances evidenced only a partial transfer and an intent that Kennedy retain the right to sue. As demonstrated by the protracted proceedings regarding Kennedy’s status, assignments of GSP2 benefits present a myriad of issues that require consideration of individual proof.
(Emphasis added.) But the court went further, pointing out that Ms. Kennedy’s situation rendered her an inadequate class representative as well.
"Even if Kennedy were a benefit payee, the Court finds that she does not qualify as an adequate representative, which is perhaps the most important of all prerequisites to certification of a class action. See Bishop v. Committee on Professional Ethics and Conduct, 686 F.2d 1278, 1288 (8th Cir. 1982). Kennedy’s entire claim rests on the supposition that the GPS2 Policy requires that United count the day of discharge as a day of confinement during a hospital stay. United notes that Kennedy’s proposed interpretation conflicts with the standardized billing practices of hospital class members that she seeks to represent. United also points out that the putative class includes current GSP2 policyholders who have a financial incentive to consider how this litigation will affect the cost of a GSP2 Policy. Kennedy, who is not a policyholder and remains indebted for the hospital charges that underlie her claim for benefits, has no similar interest."
(Emphasis added.) In other words, Ms. Kennedy’s class action not only conflicted with how most policyholders would understand their benefits, it also threatened to make current policyholders’ policies more expensive, undermining their interests.
Kennedy the case began with a motion to dismiss that was arguably unsuccessful. (The court agreed with the defendant’s arguments, but gave the plaintiff an opportunity to fix the complaint.) The defeat of class certification built directly off of the motion to dismiss. There are two lessons that defendants can draw from this case. First, stay consistent; consistent arguments across several motions can be very persuasive to a judge. Second, don’t be afraid to educate the court. Sometimes it takes a loss in an early skirmish to set up the victory where it is needed.