Assuming presiding Judge John M. Galasso signs the Order of Liquidation and Approval of a Restructuring Agreement for Executive Life of New York (ELNY) as proposed by the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (Superintendent), as ELNY's Receiver, a critical issue arises:
Will the ELNY structured settlement shortfall payees have been afforded "due process" before being deprived of a percentage of their payment rights?
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution provide in part:
- Fifth Amendment - "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;"
- Fourteenth Amendment Section 1 - "No State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
The United States Supreme Court has interpreted these clauses as creating two doctrines: substantive due process and procedural due process.
Substantive Due Process
Substantive due process addresses whether the government has an adequate reason for taking away a person's life, liberty or property. The most obvious, and presumably adequate, reason why the ELNY liquidation hearing could result in some persons (shortfall payees) being deprived of property (percentage of their annuity payments) is that ELNY is insolvent.
ELNY does not have sufficient assets to meet all of its future payment liabilities. Because of variations in state guaranty association laws (primarily coverage caps) as well as individual ELNY contracts (size of annuities), approximately 15 percent of ELNY's annuity payees (mostly structured settlement payees) anticipate shortfalls while the other 85 percent expect to receive 100 percent of their promised future payments from ELNY's successor company, Guaranty Association Benefits Company (GABC).
Alternative Legal Recourse
Some of the structured settlement shortfall payees should have recourse against defendants and/or liability insurers who funded their structured settlement using a "buy and hold" methodology. Other structured settlement payees, whose structured settlements were funded with qualified assignments, likely would not have similar secondary payment options because First Executive Corporation (FEC), the purchaser and owner of their annuities, declared bankruptcy in 1991 and no longer exists. For an explanation of the difference between "buy and hold" funding and qualified assignments, see this prior S2KM blog post.
Although ELNY shortfall victims (including both policyholders and payees) might have a legal claim against the Superintendent, as Receiver, and his agents, including the New York Liquidation Bureau (NYLB), the Superientent's proposed Liquidation Order includes an immunity clause intended to protect the Superintendent and his agents from any legal claims that they mismanaged the ELNY Rehabilitation and are responsible for ELNY's insolvency. For additional information about the ELNY immunity issue, see this prior S2KM blog post.
Procedural Due Process
Procedural due process addresses whether the government has followed adequate procedures in taking away a person's life, liberty or property. A denial of procedural due process occurs only when there is a denial of life, liberty or property without adequate procedures. For many ELNY structured settlement payees, the probable result of the ELNY Liquidation Order and Restructuring Agreement will be to deny them of a portion of their future structured settlement payment rights. The key question for purposes of procedural due process is whether the procedures that could result in this loss of property have been "adequate".
Structured settlement payees who anticipate shortfalls and their attorneys have argued "no" - the procedures have not been adequate and therefore they anticipate suffering an unconstitutional taking of their property because of:
- Inadequate notice - ELNY's financial records indicate ELNY became insolvent as early as 2002. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer held a press conference in 2007 announcing "an agreement in principle" that all future ELNY payments would be paid in full and on time. The NYLB mailed letters to individual ELNY annuity payees on December 7, 2011: 1) notifying them about the proposed ELNY Liquidation and Restructuring Agreement; and 2) alerting them of anticipated shortfalls for specific ELNY annuity contracts and a January 16, 2012 deadline for filing written objections. Responding to objections of inadequate notice, the Superintendent has argued the ELNY notice and briefing schedule balanced the need for a prompt resolution of ELNY’s deepening insolvency against the ability of affected parties to review and object to the proposed liquidation and Restructuring Agreement.
- Denial of information - ELNY shortfall victims and their attorneys claim they have received inadequate information to properly evaluate the proposed Restructuring Agreement in order to propose possible improvements and/or alternatives. The Superintendent's response: this objection does not constitute grounds for rejecting the Restructuring Agreement because the information sought has been provided or is premature and unnecessary for the Court’s consideration and approval of the Restructuring Agreement. The Superintendent further points out the objectors have not offered a competing plan. During the ELNY hearing, Judge John Galasso denied a motion by attorneys for the structured settlement shortfall victims to gain access to source materials utilized by Jack Gibson, the Superintendent's expert, who testified: 1) GABC is "financially viable"; 2) the Superintendent's proposed plan was "the best plan"; and 3) all ELNY shortfall victims will be better off under the proposed Restructuring Agreement than under a straight liquidation.
- Denial of witnesses - Judge Galasso refused to allow attorneys for ELNY shortfall payees to introduce several expert witnesses stating "they wouldn't help". Among the witnesses not permitted to testify:
- A former Chief Executive Officer of ELNY.
- Two expert actuaries.
- Two forensic accountants one of whom is also an insurance fraud investigator.
In an article published in the Touro Law Review (Vol 16 page 871), titled "Procedural Due Process Claims", constitutional legal expert Erwin Chemerinsky highlights the following three-part balancing test the United States Supreme Court articulated in Mathews v. Eldridge (1976) to determine whether an individual has been denied procedural due process:
- The more important the interest to the individual, the more procedural protections the reviewing court is going to require.
- The reviewing court must balance the ability of additional procedures to increase the accuracy of the fact finding; how likely is it that the additional procedures will reduce the risk of erroneous deprivation?
- Whether the government's interest in administrative efficiency is such that the more expensive the procedures would be, the less likely it would be that the reviewing court would require them.
For S2KM's complete reporting about the ELNY Liquidation Hearing, see the structured settlement wiki.