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Class Action Defense Cases–Cirzoveto v. AIG: Tennessee Federal Court Grants Defense Motion For Summary Judgment Against Claims Asserted In Class Action Alleging Breach Of Contract

Class Action Alleging Breach of Annuity Contract for Failure to Pay Promised Interest Rate Failed Entitling Defense to Summary Judgment on Class Action Complaint Tennessee Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against AIG Annuity Insurance Company alleging breach of contract; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that AIG failed to pay the amount of interest promised under the annuity contract. Cirzoveto v. AIG Annuity Ins. Co., 625 F.Supp.2d 623, 625 (W.D. Tenn. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff purchased an annuity “designed and issued by AIG Annuity and sold by Union Planters Bank” that was to pay 4.6% interest and that “all expenses, including anticipated interest credited to an annuity owner’s contract, were considered when determining the initial base rate of interest.” Id. Defense attorneys moved for summary judgment on the ground that it complied with the terms of the annuity contract because the contract expressly disclosed that the 4.6% interest rate was for the first year only, and that it was guaranteed to be at least 2% thereafter. Id. Further, plaintiff had signed an “Owner Acknowledgement Form” confirming that he had “read and understood the disclosures regarding, among other contract features, the payment of interest rates and assessment of withdrawal charges.” Id. Further, contrary to the allegations in the class action complaint, the contract set forth a “Withdrawal Charge Schedule” setting forth the charges for “early withdrawals,” id.; plaintiff, however, had withdrawn all funds within 18 months of obtaining the annuity, id., at 626. The district court granted AIG’s motion and entered judgment in its favor on the class action complaint.

The district court found that AIG did not breach the annuity contract with plaintiff because, contrary to the class action’s allegations, the contract did not “expressly or implied” guarantee plaintiff a 4.6% interest return for the life of the annuity. Cirzoveto, at 626. With respect to the breach of contract claim, plaintiff argued that AIG breached the “reasonable expectation” that the higher interest rate would be paid beyond the first year, but the federal court held that such personal opinions cannot trump the clear and unambiguous language of the contract. Id., at 627. Further, plaintiff “failed to produce substantial evidence that he has suffered damages,” because plaintiff cashed out less than 18 months after purchasing the annuity and “was entitled to receive only the value of the premiums he had paid, less any previous withdrawals he made from the annuity.” Id. In other words, he was entitled to receive only a refund of premium, which is “exactly what he received.” Id., at 627-28

The court similarly rejected the other claims in the class action complaint for misrepresentation (finding AIG made no representations to plaintiff concerning 4.6% interest beyond one year, see id., at 628-29, that plaintiff did not reasonably or justifiably rely on any such representation, see id., at 629-30, and that plaintiff suffered no damage, see id., at 630), for fraudulent concealment or failure to disclose (finding that AIG was not legally required to disclose its internal product design considerations or internal pricing information, see id., at 630-31, and that plaintiff suffered no damage, see id., at 631), and for violation of Tennessee’s Consumer Protection Act (finding that AIG “did not engage in any unfair or deceptive acts,” id., at 631-32). Accordingly, the district court granted AIG’s motion for summary judgment. Id., at 632.

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