Bruce Plaxen Receives the Distinguished Honor of 2009 Maryland Trial Lawyer of the Year

Bruce M. Plaxen received this award from the Maryland Association for Justice for his work on behalf of HMO participants that ultimately resulted in the recovery of millions of dollars that had been wrongfully taken from the participants by their HMOs and the creation of two precedential decisions, including a decision from Maryland’s highest court limiting the power of the General Assembly to enact retroactive laws.

Mr. Plaxen was on a team of lawyers that undertook six cases that sought to challenge the double billing practices of Maryland’s HMOs. Bruce Plaxen and the entire team of F. Paul Bland, Kieron F.Quinn, Robert K. Jenner and Martin E. Wolf were honored on May 8, 2009 at the Annual Presidents Dinner held at the Tremont Hotel in Baltimore. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was on hand as the award was presented to the team of Class Action Litigators.

Mr. Plaxen developed the legal theory that since the Maryland statutory definition of HMOs states that HMOs may only be paid through premiums, co-payments, or deductibles, they do not have a right to collect additional money from a patient who has received payment from the person who injured them.

On March 10, 2000, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in Riemer v. Columbia Medical Plan that HMOs throughout Maryland had been illegally billing members – in direct violation of the Maryland HMO Act – by charging them for medical care whenever the members recovered damage awards from third parties. In response to the team’s victory in Riemer, HMO Lobbyists convinced the Maryland Legislature to pass a law that allowed HMOs to keep the funds they had wrongfully obtained and withheld. The law was written to apply retroactively to justify the HMOs conduct over the previous 24 years. The legal team then filed Harvey v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States to challenge the constitutionality of this law.

On August 30, 2002, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in Harvey that the new law’s retroactive application was unconstitutional.

Following the victories in Riemer and Harvey, the team filed additional suits against other HMOs. In the battles, federal district court dismissed two of these cases – Riemer and Singh – on the grounds that a federal statute, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), preempted and eliminated the rights of most plaintiffs who got their insurance from a private employer. The team successfully appealed both decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In Singh, that Court held the plaintiffs’ claims were not preempted by ERISA, but simply that the claims had to be brought in federal court.

For six more years, the legal team fought a host of motions and other defenses in the state circuit, federal district and federal appellate courts concerning issues of class certification; spoliation of evidence; failure to produce discovery; statute of limitations; business organizations; proof of harm; the appropriate measure of damages for the Class and the application of affirmative defenses such as voluntary payment; and more. In September of 2008, the last case against Blue Cross settled.

The award from the Maryland Association for Justice was “For their 12 year effort on behalf of HMO consumers resulting in precedential decisions protecting the citizens of Maryland from retroactive laws and HMO consumers from illegal subrogation claims.”