A new Class Action lawsuit has escalated the legal battle in Illinois concerning the impact of "anti-assignment" restrictions on transfers of structured settlement payment rights.
In the lawsuit, Plaintiff Valerio Sanders seeks to represent the following class: "Those individuals who sold part or all of their structured settlement annuities under the provisions of the Illinois [Structured] Settlement Protection Act, where the original structured settlement contract contained a valid and enforceable anti-assignment clause."
Filed February 11, 2014 in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Court St. Clair County, Illinois, the Class Action Complaint accuses Defendants JGWPT Holdings, Inc., several affiliate companies including J.G. Wentworth and Peachtree Settlement Funding (JGWPT entities), and Illinois attorney Brian P. Mack of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act (ICFA).
The Class Action Complaint alleges "the JGWPT entities ... intentionally failed to inform potential sellers that a valid and enforceable anti-assignment clause prohibited the sale of deferred payment annuities because the JGWPT entity intended to defraud the seller and the Illinois courts by filing false pleadings under the Illinois [Structured] Settlement Protection Act in order to obtain large amounts of deferred cash payments for discounted present lump sum amounts and reap the tax benefits of the same in violation of federal law."
Section 2 of the ICFA provides in part: "[U]nfair or deceptive acts or practices, including but not limited to the use or employment of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or the concealment, suppression of omission of any material fact .... in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful ..."
The Class Action Complaint alleges Defendants used their advertising and solicitations to cause Plaintiff Valerio Sanders and other sellers to believe they could obtain cash for their structured settlement payment rights, "but intentionally failed to inform the potential sellers that if there was a valid and enforceable anti-assignment clause in the settlement contract, no lump sum payment could be received in exchange for the seller assignment the deferred payments because any such "order" issued by an Illinois court approving such a transfer would be void. Moreover, the legal proceeding would violate federal law."
The Class Action Complaint further alleges:
- When a potential seller had a valid and enforceable anti-assignment clause, the JGWPT entities would routinely hire Brian P. Mack to obtain a "Qualified Order" pursuant to the Illinois Structured Settlement Protection Act so that the deferred payments could be purchased at a deeply discounted rate, and without any tax consequences.
- Attorney Mack "would personally counsel the seller ... on how to create Illinois jurisdiction and venue, how to find a 'friendly court', how to avoid appearing in court, how to obtain the services of 'independent counsel', ..... or inform them they could waive the right, and how to finalize the details to obtain the lump sum payment."
- Valerio Sanders' "Settlement Agreement and Release" included an anti-assignment clause which provided: "The periodic payments to be received by the Payee(s) pursuant to paragraphs 2B are not subject in any manner to anticipation, alienation, sale or transfer, assignment, pledge or encumbrance by Payee(s)."
- The Petition filed by Mack claimed: "That the assignment does not contravene any federal or state statutes or the order of any court or responsible administrative authority."
- "Mack knew that this allegation was false and misleading as Plaintiff's settlement contract had a valid and enforceable anti-assignment clause."
- "....[F]ailure to inform Plaintiff that the order obtained from the court was in violation of Illinois and federal law was fraudulent and a material omission under the ICFA and a violation of the ICFA."
- In a subsequent transfer involving Plaintiff Sanders and the Defendants, Mack's representation that jurisdiction and venue were proper was also a fraudulent misrepresentation because the action was filed in Madison County and the Plaintiff never lived in Madison County and the underlying action did not accrue there.
- Plaintiff and putative class members relied on materials misrepresentations made by JGWPT entities and attorney Mack and sold payment rights under circumstances where the sale was contrary to Illinois law as well as the laws of various other states, "thus rendering the alleged transfers void, and were a fraud on the Internal Revenue Service of the United States government under 26 U.S. Code section 130."
The Complaint requests the court for an Order awarding both Plaintiff Sanders and the Class compensatory and punitive damages plus injunctive relief against Defendants to prohibit them from continuing to defraud the Class and the courts of Illinois plus attorney fees and costs.
To support their legal arguments in the Sanders Class Action, Plaintiff attorneys: Cates Mahoney, LLC and Brad L. Badgley, P.C. cite six Illinois Appellate Court decisions (including Settlement Funding v. Cathy Brenston) upholding the enforceability of an anti-assignment clause in a structured settlement contract. The Complaint alleges Mack was attorney of record in Brenston plus three of the additional cited cases.
In Brenston, an Illinois 5th District panel, sitting for the 4th District Illinois Court of Appeals, held that an Illinois state court, which had previously approved transfers requested by Brenston:
- Had a duty to enforce anti-assignment provisions in Brenston's original structured settlement documentation; and
- Had no authority under the Illinois protection act to approve the transfer petitions - even though all of the relevant parties had waived the anti-assignment provisions.
The Illinois Supreme Court subsequently denied Peachtree's petition for appeal of this decision leaving both primary and secondary structured settlement market participants uncertain about the case's precedential meaning and scope. In an Amicus curiae brief, NASP asserted the Appellate Court decision could render the Illinois transfer statute "a practical nullity"
A companion case involving Peachtree and Brenston remains on appeal in the 3rd District Illinois Court of Appeals and will be argued February 27, 2014. The parties had previously stayed their appeal waiting for the Illinois Supreme Court to rule on the 4th District case.
In a recent Florida case, summarized in this Drinker Biddle Structured Settlement Alert, a Sumter County Circuit Court Judge cited the Brenston case as authority in ruling that an April 2011 transfer order was void ab initio, and that resulting arbitration awards were “impotent and without substance.”
For additional recent developments impacting the structured settlement secondary market, see: