(Boston, MA) — Prince Lobel Tye LLP is pleased to announce that on October 8, 2007, a federal jury in Puerto Rico awarded $4,755,000 to three clients of the firm: Andrés Guillemard-Ginorio, his wife María Noble Fernández, and Lone Star Insurance Producers, Inc. The jury found that the current and former Insurance Commissioners of Puerto Rico had issued a politically-motivated and retaliatory order revoking plaintiffs’ insurance licenses in violation of the constitutional protections of due process of law, the First Amendment and equal protection. The case was handled by Joseph D. Steinfield and Jeffrey J. Pyle of Prince Lobel, along with Joan Peters of the San Juan law firm Nachman & Guillemard.
The case began in 2001, when the Office of the Insurance Commissioner ordered a “routine” investigation into Lone Star to ensure compliance with the Puerto Rico Insurance Code. The company opened its books and cooperated in full. However, the investigation soon expanded to include intrusive subpoenas into the personal bank accounts of Andrés Guillemard, Lone Star’s President, who is widely-known to be a supporter of the New Progressive Party, (“NPP”), and of his wife, María Noble Fernandez.
On December 10, 2003, plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the investigation amounted to a bad faith effort intended to create a cloud of suspicion over the company in order to punish Guillemard for his support of the NPP. Less than two weeks later, on December 23, 2003, then-Insurance Commissioner Fermín Contreras issued an order summarily revoking plaintiffs’ insurance license, fining them $2 million, and publicly declaring them “untrustworthy and incompetent” – all without prior notice or an opportunity to be heard. Discovery uncovered evidence that the investigation of plaintiffs was motivated by party politics from the very start.
Before trial, the court ruled that plaintiffs were entitled to judgment in their favor on their claim that the issuance of the December 23 order without a hearing violated plaintiffs’ right to due process of law. After a three-week trial, the jury found that the order also violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it was motivated by the political affiliation of Andrés Guillemard, and was issued in retaliation for his lawsuit. The jury also found that Dorelisse Juarbe, Contreras’s successor as Insurance Commissioner, violated plaintiffs’ right to equal protection of the laws by singling plaintiffs out for treatment that no similarly-situated insurance agent in Puerto Rico had received. Additionally, the jury ruled that both defendants had violated plaintiffs’ privacy rights in issuing the subpoenas, and that the December 23, 2003 order was false and defamatory and harmed plaintiffs’ reputation.
In addition to its $3,995,000 compensatory damages award, the jury imposed $760,000 in punitive damages against the defendants, finding that they had acted with reckless or callous indifference to plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
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