SECOND UPDATE: I read through the opinion, which was fairly brutal and basically said there is no way anything like the proposed settlement will get by Judge Senter. Remember, this is not the settlement that was recently announced of a large number of the Mississippi lawsuits that have been filed — a judge has no right to approve or reject those, that is a matter solely between the parties, and those are not affected by Judge Senter’s ruling. Instead, this settlement is of claims that have not been brought, by people who have not sued, and in essence was done to satisfy Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and get him and his investigations off State Farm’s back. (I’ve bumped the pdf of the opinion up from below to here).
Judge Senter was being asked to certify a class action, with the class consisting of Mississippi residents of several counties where Hurricane Katrina struck, and then instantly approve a settlement of the class action. A judge’s approval is required for class action settlements, unlike regular lawsuits, so that the interests of the unnamed members of the class are protected relative to the named class members.
Senter found that the class action elements were not satisfied here: there was insufficient evidence of how many people are in the class, whether their potential claims are sufficiently alike, whether the named plaintiffs are typical of the class and adequate to represent it.
He also threw large barrels of cold water on the structure of the settlement, which included an adjustment process ostensibly under supervision of Senter but, he feared, in reality run by State Farm that culminated, if a disagreement ensued, in a two-hour arbitration session with no right of appeal. Senter also appeared to dislike it that class counsel pictured no further involvement with this process after being paid attorney fees. He felt the entire process was possibly unfair and improperly failed to respect his earlier orders.
Senter denied the motions for class certification and approval of the settlement without prejudice, meaning they can be renewed if State Farm and the AG can fix the deficiencies. Doing that will be a tall order.
UPDATE: Here’s the pdf of Judge Senter’s opinion, which I am going through right now.
Thanks to my secretary for clueing me in about this story. Not a lot of details at present, but remember the distinction between the settlement with Attorney General Hood and the insurer’s settlement with hundreds of policyholders who sued. Judge Senter’s action only deals with the AG portion of the settlement, involving people who didn’t sue. I have an idea of what is going on, but I’ll hold off on further comment until I know for sure.