Adams v. Robertson

PETITIONER: Adams
RESPONDENT: Robertson
LOCATION: Senator Byrd's Office

DOCKET NO.: 95-1873
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Alabama

CITATION: 520 US 83 (1997)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1997
DECIDED: Mar 03, 1997

ADVOCATES:
Norman E. Waldrop, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1992, Charlie Frank Robertson filed a class action suit in an Alabama trial court, alleging that Liberty National Life Insurance Company had fraudulently encouraged its customers to exchange existing health insurance policies for new policies that, according to Robertson, provided less coverage for cancer treatment. The trial court appointed Robertson as class representative and certified the class pursuant to provisions of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure that do not give class members the right to exclude themselves from a class. The trial court then approved a settlement agreement that precluded class members from individually suing Liberty National for fraud based on its insurance policy exchange program. Guy E. Adams and other petitioners, who had objected to the settlement in the trial court, appealed. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed. The court's opinion only addressed state law issues and did not answer whether the certification and settlement of this class action suit violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the class members were not afforded the right to opt out of the class or the settlement.

Question

Does the Supreme Court of Alabama's approval of the certification and settlement of a class action lawsuit, whose class members were not afforded the right to opt out of the class or the settlement, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Adams v. Robertson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1997 in Adams v. Robertson

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 95-1873, Guy Adams v. Charlie Frank Robertson.

Mr. Waldrop.

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

There were 206,255 class members like petitioners who had fraud claims for substantial money damages as a result of Liberty National exchanging their cancer policies in August of 1986, beginning in August of 1986.

The money damage claims of these plaintiff class members were for fraudulently inflated premiums both as a result of the new policy being more expensive and the shifting of policyholders without their knowledge into higher, more expensive age bands.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Waldrop, you are here before the Court asking this Court to decide a Federal due process issue, and whether the Federal Constitution requires an opt-out provision for plaintiffs in the class, is that right?

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Yes, that's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And can you show us today or point to a place in the record in this case where that issue was raised by you before the Alabama supreme court?

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Yes.

In our brief on page 21--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The blue brief.

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

--The blue brief.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

At page 21.

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Twenty-one, we start our discussion--

John Paul Stevens:

Are you talking about the blue brief in this Court or in the other court?

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

--Oh, I'm sorry.

The Court... I thought Justice O'Connor was asking about the court... the Alabama--

John Paul Stevens:

I'm just asking you what document you're referring to.

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

--Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is there some document we can look at in the record here before us, or--

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Well--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--are you referring to something--

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

--I'm--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--that isn't in the briefs but would be in the record?

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

--Well, I'm referring to the briefs to the Alabama supreme court.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And would they now be in the record before this Court?

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Okay, and can you tell us--

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr.:

If you start on page 21, and then on page 23 of our brief we state that the minimum due process requires that class members be given the right to opt out, to exclude themselves from the class, and there we begin talking about the decision of Shutts v. Phillips Petroleum.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--Well, what were the questions that you raised, the legal issues and the claims in the Alabama supreme court?