Dennis J. Rhodes Of Counsel

     

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Dennis Rhodes defends insurance companies in life, health and disability litigation involving individual policies as well as group policies held by employee benefit plans under ERISA. He handles such matters as well as general liability claims from initial case analysis through settlement or bench trial. Dennis also has experience representing securities broker-dealers in customer disputes before the former National Association of Securities Dealers. Dennis practices regularly before federal and state courts in California and assists with the defense of cases in Nevada, Washington and Oregon, as needed. He is a member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. 

Dennis recognizes that the client is not only part of a lawsuit but also part of a multifaceted business. He is attentive to the unique needs of each of his clients, getting to know their business practices in order to understand each company’s particular business model so he can provide them with the best representation possible.

Areas of Focus

Life/Disability Insurance
In the life insurance area, Dennis regularly represents insurers in misrepresentation claims, disputes over life insurance proceeds and rescission actions. He also handles litigation arising out of the use of life insurance policies and annuities to fund 412(i) and 419(a)(f)(6) benefit plans. In addition, Dennis has extensive experience defending insurance companies in denial of disability benefits claims under ERISA. Another component of his practice involves defending long-term care insurers in litigation and counseling them with regard to their long-term care products. 

General Liability
Dennis’ General Liability practice is based upon the rigorous requirements of statutory analysis, including the requirements of California Insurance Code, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act. Dennis also represents insurance companies in coverage disputes involving general liability policies. His practice includes insurance and reinsurance defense of general liability product defect, premises liability and personal injury claims, as well as professional liability claims.

Representative Matters

Life, Health, Disability and ERISA
Defended an insurance administrator in a lawsuit brought by an individual plaintiff to recover medical benefits under the insurance policy issued to the plaintiff’s employer. Plaintiff alleged that the client, an insurance services firm hired to oversee enrollment of the employer’s employees in the benefits plan, was an ERISA fiduciary. Convinced the court to dismiss the claims against the client under the governing law of ERISA, holding that entities that perform purely administrative tasks were not ERISA fiduciaries and therefore not a proper party in the litigation. 

Defended a medical consultant in a claim brought by a plan participant for benefits under an ERISA disability policy. The court dismissed the action against the consultant, as ERISA preempted the state law claims asserted against the consultant. 

Defended a life insurance company claimed to have funded an employer insurance plan with an improper insurance product in violation of Internal Revenue Code section 419(a). The court found that the claim lacked merit because the disclosures signed by the insured acknowledged the purpose of the product. 

Prosecuted a claim on behalf of a wholesale insurance distributor to recover sums from its brokers for selling-away practices. While the brokers had agreed to an exclusive contract with the insurance distributor, the brokers sold products on their own behalf and retained the commissions. The brokers failed to meet their goals under the contract. However, it was discovered that during the course of the contract, the brokers had earned nearly $2 million in commissions that were neither reported to the distributor nor sold under the contract. Obtained an arbitration award of $1.3 million against the brokers. 

Professional Liability
Defended a law school, its dean and registrar against a claim brought by a student who was automatically academically disqualified after she had failed to maintain the requisite 70% grade point average in her fourth year of law school. As a result of two low final grades, her GPA dipped well below 70%, which according to the terms of the student handbook, resulted in automatic academic disqualification. Plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the law school, its then dean and its registrar, claiming the decision was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of California law. The California Court of Appeal relied upon established precedent in California, holding that a court must be highly deferential to the decisions of a private educational institution. An academic institution’s decision cannot be overturned unless a court finds it to be arbitrary and capricious, not based upon academic criteria, and the result of discriminatory factors. In view of this principle, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

Represented a law firm in a claim of legal malpractice. The plaintiffs, a startup logistics company, alleged that the firm failed to properly draft contracts resulting in a claim filed by an employee against the company. 

Defending a claim of legal malpractice against a law firm for alleged failure to negotiate a settlement on behalf of union members and for failing to disclose an alleged conflict of interest. 

Complex Tort & General Casualty
Defended a credit union against claims of violation of the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Represented the interests of a third-party credit data reporting agency in a class action alleging violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act for claimed marketing practices in violation of the Act.

Defended a class action against an interstate employer for claimed wage and hour violations.

Defended a hang-gliding company and its instructors in a personal injury action following a hang-gliding accident. The plaintiff contended that the release of liability did not apply.

Prevailed at the trial court level on summary judgment, arguing that the release of liability was enforceable.

Representing an oven manufacturer where the homeowner claimed the product was defective and caused a fire at the home.

Defended subcontractor accused of severing a fiber optics line while performing trenching operations at the construction site. Successfully challenged the plaintiff’s claimed damages, which were an upgrade rather than the cost of replacement.

Coverage
Represented insurance company in coverage dispute involving a claim for punitive damages under an excess commercial general liability policy. 

Representing an insurance company in a claim for policy limits alleged to trigger excess coverage.