520 U.S. 83 (1997), 95-1873, Adams v. Robertson

Docket Nº:Case No. 95-1873
Citation:520 U.S. 83, 117 S.Ct. 1028, 137 L.Ed.2d 203, 65 U.S.L.W. 4180
Party Name:ADAMS et al. v. ROBERTSON et al.
Case Date:March 03, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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520 U.S. 83 (1997)

117 S.Ct. 1028, 137 L.Ed.2d 203, 65 U.S.L.W. 4180

ADAMS et al.

v.

ROBERTSON et al.

Case No. 95-1873

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1997

Argued January 14, 1997

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA

Syllabus

Respondent Robertson filed a class action in Alabama, alleging that respondent Liberty National Life Insurance Company had fraudulently encouraged its customers to exchange existing health insurance policies for new ones with less coverage. The trial court made him class representative and certified the class under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, which do not give class members the right to opt out of a class. It then approved a settlement that precluded class members from individually suing Liberty National for fraud based on its exchange program. Petitioners, who had objected to the settlement in the trial court, appealed, and the State Supreme Court affirmed in an opinion addressing only state-law issues. Certiorari was granted on the question whether the certification and settlement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because class members could not opt out of the class or settlement.

Held:

Since petitioners have failed to establish that they properly presented the due process issue to the Alabama Supreme Court, this Court will not reach the question presented, and the writ is dismissed as improvidently granted. With rare exceptions, Yee v. Escondido, 503 U.S. 519, 533, this Court will not consider a petitioner's federal claim that was not addressed by, or properly presented to, the state court rendering the decision. The Alabama Supreme Court did not expressly address the claim raised here, and petitioners have not shown that it was properly presented to that court. When the highest state court is silent on the federal question before this Court, it is assumed that the issue was not properly presented; the aggrieved party bears the burden of defeating this assumption, Board of Directors of Rotary Int'l v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537, 550, by demonstrating that the state court had a fair opportunity to address the issue, Webb v. Webb, 451 U.S. 493, 501. Petitioners have not met this burden. They have not demonstrated that they complied with the applicable state rules for raising their federal claim before the State Supreme Court, see, e. g., Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Crenshaw, 486 U.S. 71, 77-78, explained why the failure to comply with those rules would not be an adequate and independent ground for the state court to disregard that claim, see, e. g., Hathorn v. Lovorn, 457 U.S. 255, 262-265, or shown that their claim was presented with fair precision and in due time, see, e. g., New York

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ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman, 278 U.S. 63, 67. Even assuming that the rule that a claim be addressed or properly presented in state court is purely prudential, the circumstances here justify no exception. An interest in penalizing respondents for failing to raise a timely objection to petitioners' failure to comply with the rule does not outweigh the interest of comity the rule serves or the value to this Court of a fully developed record upon which to base its decisions.

Certiorari dismissed as improvidently granted. Reported below: 676 So.2d 1265.

Norman E. Waldrop, Jr., argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Stephen C. Olen, George M. Walker, M. Kathleen Miller, J. Gusty Yearout, M. Clay Ragsdale IV, John D. Richardson, David F. Daniell, and Roderick P. Stout.

John G. Roberts, Jr., argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent Liberty National Life Insurance Company. With him on the brief were David G. Leitch, Gregory G. Garre, Michael R. Pennington, James W. Gewin, and Edgar M. Elliott III. Paul M. Smith, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Jere L. Beasley, Frank M. Wilson, James A. Main, and Walter R. Byars filed a brief for respondent Charlie Frank Robertson.[*]

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Per Curiam.

We granted a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama to decide whether the Alabama courts' approval of the class action and the settlement agreement in this case, without affording all class members the right to exclude themselves from the class or the agreement, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Alabama Supreme Court did not address this federal issue, and it is now apparent that petitioners have failed to establish that they properly presented the issue to that court. We therefore dismiss the writ as improvidently granted.

I

In 1992, respondent 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

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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. See 676 So.2d 1265, 1268, 1270 (Ala. 1995); App. 90. 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. See 676 So.2d, at 1270-1271; App. 158-159.

Petitioners, who had objected to the settlement in the trial court, appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed in an...

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