Nationwide breach of contract class certified; laws of 48 states at issue

United States District Court Judge Susan Illston (Northern District of California) certified a nationwide class action alleging declaratory relief and breach of contract claims.  In re Conseco Life Ins. Co. LifeTrend Ins. Sales and Marketing Litigation, 2010 WL 3931096 (N.D.Cal. Oct 06, 2010).  Plaintiffs sought certification of a nationwide class, challenging certain life insurance policy changes for policies administered by defendant Conseco Life Insurance Company (“Conseco”).  The Court granted the motion to certify the nationwide class, but denied the motion to certify a California sub-class.

The interesting portion of the discussion focuses on the laws at issue:

Conseco relies heavily on Zinser and In re Paxil in contending that the variations in state law defeat certification. Both of those cases, however, concerned nationwide product liability actions involving significant variations in the state tort laws governing the multiple claims asserted by the plaintiffs. See Zinser, 253 F.3d at 541-42; In re Paxil, 212 F.R.D. at 542-44. Here, by contrast, plaintiffs assert only two claims-breach of contract and declaratory judgment-on behalf of the national class. Conseco has not identified any state-to-state variations in the law governing declaratory judgment, and Conseco overstates the extent of any variations in state contract law, including as to the definition of breach, the existence of causation and damages requirements, and the admissibility of extrinsic evidence.  First, contrary to Conseco's representations, several courts have recognized that the law relating to the element of breach does not vary greatly from state to state. See, e.g., Klay v. Humana, Inc., 382 F.3d 1241, 1262-63 (11th Cir.2004); Leszczynski v. Allianz Ins., 176 F.R.D. 659, 672 (S.D.Fla.1997). Second, plaintiffs have persuasively rebutted Conseco's assertions concerning variations in the causation and damages elements of the contract claim. Finally, the Court agrees with plaintiffs that, as neither party has asserted that the form policy contract contains ambiguous terms (rather, they offer competing interpretations based on the face of the documents), admission of extrinsic evidence should not be necessary to interpret the contractual provisions at issue. Plaintiffs' contractual interpretations may ultimately be rejected at the summary judgment stage or disproved at trial, but they are not patently untenable from the face of the documents, and do not demonstrate a lack of common issues of law.

Slip op., at 6.

The Court rejected the California sub-class, concededly asserted as an alternative pleading, because the fraud theory of liability was inconsistent with the theory underlying the nationwide class claims.