Berwyn Group

WV Supreme Court 2015

West Virginia Supreme Court released its opinion on John D. Purdue v. Nationwide Life Co Case No. 14-0100 on June 16th, 2015

Background

From September 30, 2012 to December 28, 2012 the Treasurer of West Virginia, John Perdue, filed 69 civil lawsuits against life insurance companies that he believed were doing business in West Virginia.  The suits were exactly the same except the carrier name was changed as the defendant.  The Treasurer asserted that the carriers were failing to properly report unclaimed property and follow West Virginia’s Uniformed Unclaimed Property Act (UPA) citing carriers did not use the Social Security Death Master File (DMF) on an annual basis to proactively identify deceased policy holders as they might annuitants.   Furthermore, if the carriers were aware of a death, then the State is due fines, penalties, interest and attorneys’ fees.  

The date of death trigger creates a challenging standard.

 

All of the carriers filed motions to dismiss. On December 27, 2013, the Circuit Court did dismiss the case, citing Frazier v. Meadows "Courts are not free to read into the language what is not there, but rather should apply the statute as written." (STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA ex Rel. Perdue v Nationwide, ET AL., 2013; STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA ex Rel. Perdue v Nationwide, ET AL., 2013)  As a relevant aside, six of the suits were dropped earlier because the carriers had no customers but were licensed in WV.  

 

Supreme Court Opinion

The Summary Opinion outlined two somewhat conflicting stances in the main opinion delivered by Justice Benjamin.  

1. Date of Death is a Trigger for Unclaimed Property

2. No specific requirement is placed on insurers to search the DMF, but insurers need to account for unreported deaths