William T. Mandia

William Mandia represents financial institutions and insurers in complex commercial and class action litigation. He regularly defends and advises life insurers, intermediaries, banks, broker-dealers, investment advisers, and other financial services providers in connection with sales practices claims arising from a wide range of financial and life insurance products, including, but not limited to, claims for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and violations of state consumer protection laws.

Federal District Court Declines To Exercise Jurisdiction Over Massachusetts’ Action Against Scottrade

On August 16, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted a motion for remand filed by the Enforcement Section of the Massachusetts Securities Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth (“Enforcement Section”) in Enforcement Section’s action against Scottrade, Inc. (“Scottrade”).  By way of background, the Enforcement Division commenced an action against Scottrade in the Massachusetts Securities Division in February 2018.  In the Complaint, the Enforcement Division alleged that Scottrade violated internal procedures Scottrade enacted to comply with the impartial conduct standards of the DOL’s “fiduciary rule” by conducting incentivized sales contests.  According to the Enforcement Section, Scottrade’s failure to comply with its internal procedures amounted to a violation of two Massachusetts statutes.  Those statutes prohibit “unethical or dishonest conduct or practices” in the securities business and require an entities in the securities industry to “reasonably . . . supervise agents, investment adviser representatives or other employees.”

Scottrade removed the action from the Securities Division to federal district court on federal question grounds.  Distilled to its essence, Scottrade’s position was that it could remove the Enforcement Division’s complaint because it raised a question that “arises under and is governed by ERISA.” Specifically, Scottrade argued that ERISA preempted the MA Enforcement Division’s complaint.

William F. Galvin,
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In remanding the action, the district court first noted that the case did not require the resolution of any issues under ERISA.  The court held that the claims did not implicate ERISA or the DOL’s fiduciary rule because the only determination that would need to be made is whether Scottrade violated its internal policies and, if so, whether those violations were illegal under Massachusetts law.  The district court went on to further hold that ERISA preemption was not satisfied because the Enforcement Division was not within the class of persons who are eligible to bring claims under ERISA.  Finally, the district court held that an action before the Securities Division was not brought in “state court,” as required to trigger removal under the federal removal statute, because the Securities Division is not a “court.”

While Scottrade’s arguments presented some relatively novel legal issues regarding removal and federal court jurisdiction, the outcome is not terribly surprising.  The Enforcement Division’s claims, although based on policies adopted in response to the DOL’s fiduciary rule, do not require a court to address whether ERISA or the fiduciary rule were violated in resolving the case on the merits.  Rather, as the district court held, the adjudication of the claims only requires a determination as to whether Scottrade’s alleged violations of its internal procedures constitutes a violation of the Massachusetts statutes the Enforcement Division is relying upon.

In terms of next steps, it is likely that the case will proceed before the Securities Division.  Any attempt by Scottrade to appeal the remand order is unlikely to succeed.  An appellate court can review an order for remand only under very limited circumstances, none of which appear to be present here.

New York issues final regulation placing “best interest standard” on the sale of life insurance products and annuities

As we previously noted, 2018 promises to be an eventful year at the state level for the regulation of the sale of life insurance and annuity products.  Today, New York issued its much anticipated final regulation that imposes a “best interest” standard.  The regulation requires insurers to, among other things, put in place policies and procedures to ensure that agents and brokers put the interests of consumers ahead of their own when making a recommendation regarding a life insurance product or annuity.  The New York rule comes out before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) holds its August 4, 2018 meeting to address revisions to its existing annuity suitability rule, which could impact the laws of numerous states.  Unlike New York’s new regulation, NAIC’s existing suitability regulation and proposed “best interest” regulation to be addressed at the August 4, 2018 meeting apply only to the sale of annuity products.  Stay tuned for our forthcoming analysis of the New York regulation, its implications for the life insurance/annuity industry, and its potential impact on the discussions at the upcoming NAIC meeting.

Litigator Bill Mandia Provides Key Context on the States’ Latest Efforts re. the DOL Fiduciary Rule

Undeterred by the Fifth Circuit’s rejection of their request to intervene in U.S. Chamber Commerce v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, the States of California, New York, and Oregon moved for reconsideration in the Fifth Circuit today. The States request that the three-judge panel who heard the appeal reconsider their denial of the States’ petition to intervene or, at a minimum, refer the question of intervention to the entire Fifth Circuit for a rehearing en banc.  The States previously requested a rehearing en banc, which the court rejected as improper because the States are technically not parties to the appeal.  The States’ motion notes that the business groups that filed the action against the DOL will oppose their request and that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the DOL, takes no position on it.

It remains to be seen how the panel addresses the request, but for the reasons discussed in our prior blog post, the States face an uphill battle.  It is unlikely that the panel will reconsider its prior ruling and allow the States to intervene because the States have not presented any new lines of evidence or argument that were unavailable to them when they made their original request to intervene.  While a 2-1 decision on a significant issue always raises the possibility of a rehearing en banc, the relative weakness of the States’ arguments regarding intervention may lead the panel to conclude, even in a 2-1 vote, that the issue is not worth the entire Fifth Circuit’s time.