To Plead Fraud Plaintiff Must Identify Acts of Fraud

Suspicion of Fraud Cannot Support Qui Tam Action

Post 4770

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Richard Campfield, suing for the State of California, appealed the trial court sustained the demurrer of defendants Safelite Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Safelite Solutions LLC and Safelite Fulfillment, Inc. (collectively, Safelite) without leave to amend. Campfield contends he adequately alleged a cause of action under the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (Ins. Code, § 1871 et seq.) (IFPA) within the statute of limitations.

In State Of California, ex rel. Richard Campfield v. Safelite Group, Inc., et al., A168101, California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division (March 29, 2024) explained the requirements to plead a Qui Tam action under the IFPA.

BACKGROUND

Campfield owns a windshield repair company that licenses and sells products for repairing vehicle windshield cracks. Safelite is the nation’s largest retailer of vehicle glass repair and replacement services. Safelite also serves as the third party administrator for over 175 insurance and fleet companies, including 23 of the top 30 insurers in California and the country, for processing and adjusting policyholders’ vehicle glass damage claims, and it has direct electronic access to over 20 insurance company databases.

In 2015, Campfield sued Safelite in federal district court in Ohio, alleging Safelite’s continued reliance on its six-inch rule violated the Lanham Act’s (15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq.) Safelite admitted in responses to interrogatories in the Ohio action that it has never conducted studies on the safety or viability of repair of cracks longer than six inches.

Campfield filed under seal the complaint in the present action against Safelite, alleging a single qui tam cause of action for violation of the Insurance Frauds Prevention Act (IFPA). The Insurance Commissioner and the San Francisco County District Attorney declined to intervene, so in September 2022 the trial court unsealed the complaint.

Safelite demurred, arguing, among other things, that the complaint failed to allege facts constituting a cause of action under the IFPA. Campfield failed to plead his claim with sufficient particularity, and the statute of limitations barred the complaint. After briefing and a hearing, the trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on the statute of limitations and noted that Safelite had raised “substantial arguments” that the complaint had not stated a cognizable claim and that the action was barred by the IFPA’s public disclosure bar. The trial court then dismissed the action.

DISCUSSION

The IFPA was enacted to prevent automobile and workers’ compensation insurance fraud in order to, among other things, significantly reduce the incidence of severity and automobile insurance claim payments and therefore produce a commensurate reduction in automobile insurance premiums.

The sole cause of action in the complaint is based on Insurance Code section 1871.7, subdivision (b), which allows for the imposition of civil penalties and other remedies against anyone who violates Insurance Code section 1871.7 or Penal Code sections 549, 550, or 551. Campfield alleges Safelite violated Penal Code section 550, subdivision (b)(1) and (2).

As in any action sounding in fraud, an IFPA action must be pleaded with particularity.

ANALYSIS

To effectively state his IFPA cause of action, Campfield must allege facts showing that Safelite presented, or caused to be presented, a false statement as part of, or in support of or opposition to, a claim for payment or other benefit pursuant to an insurance policy or prepared or made a false statement intended to be presented to any insurer or any insurance claimant in connection with, or in support of or opposition to, any claim or payment or other benefit pursuant to an insurance policy. Campfield alleged Safelite violated these provisions when it prepared and presented false statements to insurance companies either as insurers’ third party administrator or as a windshield repair and replacement service.

The pleading standard Campfield must meet is not onerous. Campfield must identify every fraudulent claim at the pleadings stage. However, Campfield did not identify one example of any specific fraudulent claims. As a result Safelite did not have concrete allegations to defend against. The failure of allegations of specific fraudulent claims left Safelite with the need to guess.

A lack of discovery cannot excuse Campfield’s failure to plead his IFPA claim with sufficient detail defeated his suit. The heightened pleading standard exists in part to deter the filing of complaints as a pretext for the discovery of unknown wrongs and to prohibit plaintiffs from unilaterally imposing upon the court, the parties and society enormous social and economic costs absent some factual basis.

Qui tam actions like Campfield’s under the IFPA are meant to encourage private whistleblowers, uniquely armed with information about false claims, to come forward. These insiders should have adequate knowledge of the fraudulent acts to comply with the heightened pleading requirement.  The IFPA is not intended to provide a mechanism for those with general suspicions of wrongdoing like Campfield to engage in discovery seeking to confirm their suspicions.

ZALMA OPINION

The qui tam provision of the IFPA is a wonderful tool in the battle against insurance fraud. It has acted as a way to defeat fraud that local prosecutors are unwilling to prosecute. Rather than putting fraudsters in prison the qui tam provision allows the relator and the state to take the profit out of the crime. However, as this case establishes, it is not a place to shop for evidence when a person only suspects, but has no specific acts of fraud. Insurers should file qui tam actions if they have evidence and should not if they don’t have evidence to allege fraud with specificity.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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2 Responses to To Plead Fraud Plaintiff Must Identify Acts of Fraud

  1. Hy says:

    Help,wanted to joined and subscribe

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