U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Allows RICO Class Action to Proceed Against Hancock John Variable Life Insurance Co. and John Hancock Life Insurance Company
Sep 25 12
In reversing a lower court decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed a class-action lawsuit to proceed against John Hancock life companies and the former Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge law firm alleging violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by marketing a tax shelter. The "various defendants acted in different capacities, and those differences may ultimately impact the determination of whether a particular defendant only participated in his own affairs. The appeals court reversed the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan's dismissal of the amended class-action complaint and remanded the case. Defendants include John Hancock John Variable Life Insurance Co, John Hancock Life Insurance Company and the former Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge (Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP), among others. The law firms of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon merged in October 2011. The combined firm is known as Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. According to the decision, Stephen, Leann, David and Christine Ouwinga and their company, Stoney Creek Fisheries and Equipment, appealed the dismissal of their suit related to a purported tax-deductible welfare benefit plan the Benistar 419 Plan that the various defendants marketed and sold to them. They alleged the defendants conspired to defraud employers into adopting welfare benefits plans supposedly in compliance with a section of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows significant tax benefits. They also alleged additional claims of fraudulent misrepresentation/omission, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and violations of state consumer-protection laws against the Hancock companies.