Biden Supreme Court Pick Has Been Sympathetic to Insurers

 Commentary  February 28, 2022 at 07:44 AM  Share & Print

 

What You Need to Know

  • As a district judge, Jackson wrote the opinions in two cases that favored AARP, the defendant.

  • She said the emails a former AARP employee received about his long-term disability coverage showed no signs of misrepresentation.

  • She has also ruled in favor of public or private coverage providers in other cases.

Ketanji Brown Jackson — President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court pick — has ruled in favor of insurers or benefit plans over plaintiffs in a number of federal cases involving life insurance, health insurance and disability insurance.

Jackson, 51. is a lawyer who now serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

From 2013 through 2021, she was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jackson, who was born in Washington, has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Harvard, and she served as an editor on the Harvard Law Review. Early in her career, she worked for two law firms, Godwin Procter and Feinberg & Rozen.

The AARP Cases

While Jackson served as a district judge, she wrote the opinions in connection with two cases involving AARP: Kim Keister v. AARP Benefits Committee and Austin-Spearman v. AARP.

In the Keister case, the plaintiff was a former AARP employee. He sued over a denial of long-term disability insurance benefits by the organization’s benefits committee and the disability plan’s insurer, Aetna Life Insurance, and he accused the defendants of persuading him to file a severance release form by misrepresenting what would happen if he signed the form.

The plan was governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In 2019, Jackson granted the defendant’s motions for summary judgment, concluding that the emails Keister received showed no signs of misrepresentation.

Keister had not given the court any non-speculative factual basis for the court to let him search for more evidence about his decision to sign the release form, she wrote in an opinion.

“Keister’s long-term disability claim was covered by the unambiguous release he subsequently signed, notwithstanding the comments that various AARP representatives may have made to him and/or his own expectations regarding his ability to maintain the long-term disability benefits claim after signing the release,” Jackson said.

In the Austin-Spearman case, the plaintiff, Ethel Austin-Spearman, alleged that AARP and its insurance marketing arm had harmed her when she joined AARP by failing to compensate her for the revenue AARP raised by selling information about her to Facebook and other advertisers.

Jackson noted in a 2015 opinion that Austin-Spearman was “an internet savvy woman” who diligently reads websites’ terms of service and privacy documents. The plaintiff said she would not have paid to join AARP if she had known that third parties would pay AARP for information about her.

The plaintiff said in her complaint that AARP “receives royalty payments when members sign up for life insurance plans through … targeted advertisements” that can be generated as a result of the information purchased from AARP.

Jackson rejected Austin-Spearman’s argument.

“The complaint’s allegations do not establish that defendants’ practices’ regarding PII [personally identifiable information] violate the organization’s online privacy policy; thus, no cognizable injury possibly could have resulted,” Jackson wrote. “Moreover, and in any event, it is entirely implausible that Austin-Spearman overpaid for the membership as a result of the AARP’s purported violation of their privacy promises.”

Austin-Spearman did not know about the terms of the privacy policy when she joined AARP, and there are no signs AARP’s relationship with advertisers deprived her of the benefit of her bargain, Jackson added.

Other Cases

Jackson has ruled in favor of public or private coverage providers in some other cases with opinions available on the web.

In 2014, for example, she rejected a request by Keenan Cofield, a former doctor who was in a state prison, to move the jurisdiction of a suit against a subsidiary of Anthem to California, from Maryland.

In 2016, she ruled in favor of the Medicare program, and against Abington Memorial Hospital and other hospitals, when the hospitals said Medicare should pay the hospitals more, because of a hospital compensation mechanism that was supposed to provide extra money for hospitals in areas with relatively high wages.

In 2018, she ruled in favor of an arm of MetLife, Metropolitan Life Insurance, when Metropolitan Life sought to recover $26,028.85 in life insurance benefits that it had accidentally paid in connection with a Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program policy.


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