United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
MICHAEL VOGT, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge
Michael Vogt moves for an order certifying a class of
“[a]ll persons who own or owned a universal life
insurance policy issued by State Farm on Form 94030 in the
State of Missouri.” Doc. 145. For the reasons discussed
below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.
1999, Vogt purchased policy form 94030 (the
“Policy”), a flexible premium adjustable whole
life insurance policy, from State Farm. The Policy was a
universal life insurance policy, a type of
“permanent” life insurance that, unlike standard
term insurance, is supposed to provide lifetime death benefit
protection. Policy owners paid premiums that were deposited
into their “Account Value, ” which accumulated
interest at or above a minimum rate that the Policy
month, State Farm was permitted to make a deduction from the
Policy that included “(1) the cost of insurance, (2)
the monthly charges for any riders, and (3) the monthly
expense charge.” The Policy remained in force so long
as there was sufficient money in the Account Value to cover
these monthly deductions.
cost of insurance (“COI”) charge was calculated
using a monthly cost of insurance rate. The Policy provides
that COI rates “for each policy year are based on the
Insured's age on the policy anniversary, sex, and
applicable rate class, ” and “can be adjusted for
projected changes in mortality.” Doc. 145-1, at 10.
These factors are commonly used to determine mortality
expectations for an insured or group of insureds. However,
Plaintiff contends that State Farm in fact uses other,
unauthorized factors, having nothing to do with mortality
expectations, in determining the Policy's COI rates, and
that State Farm thereby deducts COI charges from Account
Values in amounts exceeding those authorized by the
Policy.[XXXXX] Doc. 150-3, at 3; Doc.
150-4, at 5.
Policy sets the monthly expense charge at $5.00. However,
Vogt contends that, by including unauthorized expenses in the
Policy's COI rates, State Farm deducts more than $5.00 in
expense charges, breaching the expense charge provision.
Farm does not deny that it did not disclose to policy owners
the assumptions underlying the current COI rates. Doc. 199
(Defendant's Reply in Support of Its Motion For Summary
Judgment Motion, State Farm's Response to Plaintiff's
Statement of Additional Facts), at XII, ¶ 27, and at
XXII, ¶¶ 43-44. There is no dispute that a
policyholder without knowledge, experience, or training
likely would not be able to understand, without assistance,
how State Farm determined whether to set COI rates below the
maximum rates identified in the Policy, and how much such
rates should be. Id., at XXIII, ¶ 45.
Policy is a fully integrated contract, and its language is
materially the same for all members of the putative class.
Doc. 145-1, at 11. Neither State Farm's nor the
Policy-holder's obligations can be obviated by informal
consent or waiver because “[o]nly an officer has the
right to change th[e] [P]olicy, ” and “[n]o agent
has the authority to change the [P]olicy or to waive any of
its terms.” Id. The allegedly unauthorized
charges result from the uniform application of the
Policy's terms. All policy owners are subject to the same
set of COI rates, and all COI rates are calculated using the
same undisclosed factors. Id.
brings four claims: two claims for breach of contract,
specifically with regard to the COI charges (Count I) and the
expense charges (Count II), a claim for conversion with
respect to the Account Value (Count III), and a claim for
declaratory relief relating to the alleged breaches of the
Policy provisions concerning COI and expense charges (Count
IV). The class Vogt seeks to certify consists, with the
exception of the Excluded Persons, of “[a]ll persons
who own or owned a universal life insurance policy issued by
State Farm on Form 94030 in the State of Missouri.”
Court previously denied State Farm's motion for summary
judgment. Doc. 218.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, a motion for class
certification involves a two-part analysis. First, under Rule
23(a), the proposed class must satisfy the requirements of
“numerosity, commonality, typicality, and fair and
adequate representation.” Luiken v. Domino's
Pizza, LLC, 705 F.3d 370, 372 (8th Cir. 2013). Second,
the proposed class must meet at least one of the three
requirements of Rule 23(b). Comcast Corp. v.
Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432 (2013).
burden of showing that the class should be certified is on
Vogt. See Luiken, 705 F.3d at 372. Vogt will meet
this burden only if, “after a rigorous analysis,
” the Court is convinced that the Rule 23 requirements
are satisfied. Comcast, 133 S.Ct. at 1432 (quotation
marks and citation omitted). The Court has broad discretion
in deciding whether class certification is appropriate.
Prof'l Firefighters Ass'n of Omaha, Local 385 v.
Zalewski, 678 F.3d 640, 645 (8th Cir. 2012) (citation
23(a)(1) requires that a class be sufficiently numerous to
render joinder of all members impracticable. In assessing
whether the numerosity requirement has been met, courts
examine factors such as the number of persons in the proposed
class, the nature of the action, the size of the individual
claims, and the inconvenience of trying individual claims.
Paxton v. Union Nat'l Bank, 688 F.2d 552, 561
(8th Cir. 1982). State Farm does not contest that this
requirement is satisfied.
See Doc. 150-6, at 48-49 and 66-67. Thus, the
proposed class members are sufficiently numerous.
23(a)(2) requires that there be “questions of law or
fact common to the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(2). A
plaintiff must show that the claims “depend upon a
common contention” that “is capable of class wide
resolution, ” such that “determination of its
truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the
validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.”
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S.
338, 350, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011). Commonality
“‘does not require that every question of law or
fact be common to every member of the class . . . and may be
satisfied, for example, where the question of law linking the
class members is substantially related to the resolution of
the litigation even though the individuals are not
identically situated.'” Downing v. Goldman
Phipps PLLC, No. 13-206 CDP, 2015 WL 4255342, at *4
(E.D. Mo. July 14, 2015) (quoting Paxton, 688 F.2d
at 561). Commonality is easily satisfied in most cases.
See Wineland v. Casey's General Stores, Inc.,
267 F.R.D. 669, 674 (S.D. Iowa 2009) (“The burden
imposed by [the commonality] requirement is light and easily
met in most cases.”) (citing In re Hartford Sales
Practices Litig., 192 F.R.D. 592, 603 (D. Minn. 1999),
and Newberg on Class Actions § 3:10 (4th ed.)).
claims in this action-for breach of the COI provision, for
breach of the expense charge provision, for conversion, and
for a declaratory judgment-all turn on interpretation of the
Policy, which is a standard form contract to which each
putative class member was a party. The claims also turn on
State Farm's determination of COI rates, which was
uniform. Doc. 150-2, at ¶¶ 7(c), 7(e), 29-30, 33,
37; Doc. 150-1, at 166:7-22, 171:21- 172:11. Thus, the
following questions are common to each putative class member:
. Is State Farm limited to using only those
factors disclosed in the Policy when ...