The National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) celebrated its 10th annual conference November 5-6, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas with record attendance, recognition of past accomplishments and a clear existential message from its president Patricia LaBorde: "NASP exists to insure there will be a secondary structured settlement market for at least the NEXT 10 years".
NASP's 2014 educational conference followed by one week an historic NSSTA conference, which featured, for the first time, the presidents of NASP (LaBorde) and SSP (Neil Johnson) as speakers. LaBorde acknowledged this development in her opening NASP remarks stating: "we want to hear NSSTA's criticism and for the first time, they appear to want to hear ours." She expressed surprise and concern, however, about how little NSSTA members appear to understand about the secondary market including several basic misconceptions.
To underscore both NASP's "survival" theme and the need for improved education about the secondary market, LaBorde added: "there are some forces working against us right now and we need to remain diligent so our customers (structured settlement recipients who sell payment rights to NASP member companies) continue to have access to liquidity."
NASP lobbyist Jack Kelly and Executive Director Earl Nesbitt addressed some of NASP's challenges in their presentations providing legislative and case law updates respectively.
Kelly reviewed structured settlement protection statute activities in Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Mississippi and declared NASP's 2014 state legislative lobbying a success. Kelly highlighted Florida and Wisconsin as states where NASP and NSSTA could collaborate to improve existing legislation. At the federal level, Kelly addressed H.R. 3897 and the July 23, 2014 "Consumer Protection for People with Disabilities" Congressional symposium which included a panel discussion about "factoring structured settlements".
Echoing LaBorde's comments about NSSTA, Kelly expressed his concern about "fact vs fiction" as to what happens and what benefits transfers provide for structured settlement recipients who experience unexpected or unaddressed financial needs. Emphasizing "no secondary market transaction can occur without a primary market transaction", Kelly criticized any development or activity that causes Congress to relook at IRC 130 and 104(a)(2). Speaking the morning after the 2014 election, Kelly labeled the Republican victory a political "tsunami" and the odds on new tax legislation in 2015 as a "toss up".
Case Law Update
For the uninitiated, Nesbitt prefaced his secondary market case law summary with several applicable "lessons": if you don't pay a seller the agreed amount, you will have trouble; courts take the "best interest" standard seriously; sometimes the prudent action is to dismiss a proposed transfer and move on; if you don't get what you want, don't move to another court or arbitration; words in a contract matter and words in a court order matter more; although rare in Texas, sometimes it rains (it did in San Antonio) and sometimes RSL Funding (formerly Rapid Settlements) wins cases.
Washington Square v. RSL
Among several significant cases, Nesbitt gave top billing to Washington Square v. RSL Funding wherein transfer company Washington Square (aka Imperial) sued transfer company RSL Funding in Texas for tortious interference with a transfer agreement that had not yet been approved in a final court order. The Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District, held:
- RSL was “justified” in interfering with Imperial’s proposed transfer agreement prior to court approval because obtaining a better price was in the seller's "best interest".
- Transfer agreements that have not received court approval are not enforceable on public policy grounds and therefore cannot justify legal actions for tortious interference with existing contracts.
Acknowledging this case represents a "big win" for RSL, Nesbitt also predicted "chaos" for the secondary market as rival transfer companies increasingly search court records and seek to outbid other transfer companies who are awaiting court approvals. Subsequent NASP panels of transfer attorneys and judges, as well as sidebar discussions with angry representatives of companies outbid by competitors, confirmed Nesbitt prediction and suggested a strategic marketing shift is already occurring among transfer companies.
In a separate presentation, Nesbitt reviewed the Peachtree Settlement Funding v. Brenston case and its case law "progeny". In the Brenston case, the Illinois Supreme Court in December 2013 denied Peachtree's petition for review of an Illinois Appellate Court decision which found multiple Peachtree-Brenston transfer orders, which Illinois Circuit Courts had approved in accordance with the Illinois transfer statute, to be void ab initio because:
- Peachtree did not file all settlement documents with the transfer court.
- Peachtree concealed "by omission" the existence of anti-assignment provisions which the Appellate Court found "material".
- The conduct of Peachtree and it's attorney amounted to an "affirmative falsehood and a fraud upon the trial court".
An Amicus curiae brief filed by NASP with the Illinois Supreme Court stated: "Without the certainty and finality of a court order, there is no viable secondary market.... Because every structured settlement contains boilerplate language that purports to limit or restrict assignability, every Illinois court approved transfer could be subject to challenge at any time."
As NASP predicted, the denial of Peachtree's petition for review was quickly followed by Sanders v. JGWPT Holdings, a class action lawsuit, accusing JGWPT Holdings, Inc., several affiliate companies including J.G. Wentworth and Peachtree Settlement Funding, and Illinois attorney Brian Mack, of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act (ICFA). The case has since been removed to the Federal Court in the Southern District of Illinois with that court expected to rule on various motions and petitions in February 2015.
As a result of Brenston, according to Nesbitt:
- Many Illinois structured settlement recipients lack liquidity options because many transfer companies are avoiding the state.
- Some transfers continue to be completed in Illinois when all interested parties agree to waive existing anti-assignment language.
- Some annuity providers, however, will not waive anti-assignment provisions in Illinois cases while others evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.
- Attorneys for some annuity providers are citing Brenston to challenge transfers in other states.
Discounted PV and Applicable Federal Rate
The NCOIL State Structured Settlement Protection Model Act, which NSSTA and NASP have agreed to support, contains a definition for "discounted present value" linked to "the most recently published Applicable Federal Rate for determining the present value of an annuity, as issued by the United States Internal Revenue Service." This rate is generally higher than, and unrelated to, the discount rate actually incorporated into most structured settlement transfers. Nesbitt concluded his conference presentations with a detailed critique of NCOIL's discounted PV definition and explained why NASP believes this definition confuses rather than informs state judges.
NASP's conference featured two additional individual presentations.
Former NSSTA Deputy Executive Director Peter Arnold predicted future integration of the primary and secondary structured settlement markets. To support his prediction, Arnold reviewed NSSTA's historic attitude toward "factoring transactions." Arnold also highlighted NSSTA membership qualifications which currently prohibit members from "actively soliciting and promoting structured settlement factoring transactions to individuals who are receiving periodic payments under structured settlements."
Pery Krinsky, an ethics-based defense attorney who serves as Chairman of the Committee on Professional Discipline of the N.Y. County Lawyers' Association, spoke about legal ethics issues. He did not mention Paris & Chaiken, a New York law firm accused of falsifying court orders approving structured settlement transfers, which has reportedly retained Krinsky as outside ethics counsel for assistance with these cases.
Panel Discussions and Breakout Sessions
NASP's 2014 conference included four panel discussions and four breakout sessions (see listings below). Panel highlights and issues addressed:
- Drafting Transfer Agreements - Assigned payments vs. assigned payment rights; clients vs. sellers or annuitants relating to transfer company fiduciary responsibilities; representations and warranties; holdbacks and deductions; limited powers of attorney; testamentary agreements; arbitration provisions.
- Primary Market - NSSTA Fall conference; MSA market; primary market surveys; impact of Affordable Care Act; ELNY update; PLR-143928-13 and "hardship conversions"; settlement planning developments; re-cycled structured settlements; Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013; provider company departures; primary/secondary cooperation opportunities; best and worst business practices; annuity provider issues with transfer companies.
- Responding to Insurer Transfer Objections - Confirming his company's "good relationship" with transfer companies, Madis Smit of State Farm highlighted several insurer issues: unanticipated costs of reviewing 15 to 20 transfers per week; inadequate notice (need at least seven days); difficulty in locating some requested settlement documents; split payment problems resulting from insurer technology limitations; "three touches" constitute an insurer ideal (petition; order; notice of approval). Additional issues discussed: proposed documents from insurers that do not meet state-specific requirements; protecting public information in case filings.
- Judicial Panel - "Best interest" considerations; multiple transactions; common mistakes by petitioners; privacy issues; discount rates; independent professional advisors. The judges also were encouraged to identify questions for the audience - and did so. All three judges expressed a need and interest for additional education about the secondary market.
Alexander Hamilton Award
NASP honored James Lokey as the 2014 recipient of its Alexander Hamilton Award. Lokey completed the first transfer of structured settlement payment rights in 1986 thereby launching the secondary market. NASP has bestowed its Alexander Hamilton Award seven times "to distinguished individuals who have supported and defended the right to free alienability of property rights." NASP considers this right to be its own cornerstone and the foundation of the structured settlement factoring business.
Topics and Speakers
- Welcome Remarks - Patricia LaBorde.
- Legislative and Regulatory Developments - Jack Kelly.
- Legislative Update - Earl Nesbitt.
- Drafting Transfer Agreements - Jason Sutherland and Brian Mack.
- Hamilton Award - James Lokey.
- Integration of Primary and Secondary Markets - Peter Arnold.
- Primary Market Panel - Patrick Hindert (Moderator), Daniel Durbin, Medora Marisseau, Mark Wahlstrom.
- Ethics Issues - Pery Krinsky.
- Responding to Insurer Transfer Objections - Michael Damore (Moderator), John Shafai, John Mott, Michael Green, Steven Mastrantonio, Madis Smit.
- Break Out Sessions
- Preparing vs.Coaching a Problem Payee - Laryssa Korduba and Elyse Strickland.
- Addressing Judicial Concerns - Roger Dunaway and Andrew Hillman.
- Life Contingent Issues - Michael Fasano and Dan Bonner.
- Bankruptcy Issues - Michael Damore and Adam Zoldessy.
- Illinois Litigation and Discounted Present Value - Earl Nesbitt.
- Judicial Panel - Matthew Bracy (Moderator), Judges Lynne Parker, Patricia Summe, Travis Francis.
For S2KM reports of additional 2014 educational conferences plus eight of the nine prior NASP conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.