Quarterly report pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d)

Commitments and Contingencies

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Commitments and Contingencies
3 Months Ended
Dec. 31, 2011
Commitments and Contingencies.  
Commitments and Contingencies

13.         Commitments and Contingencies

 

Litigation

 

General

 

Like most companies we are involved on an ongoing basis in claims, lawsuits, and government proceedings relating to our operations, including environmental, antitrust, patent infringement, business practices, commercial transactions, product and general liability, workers’ compensation, auto liability, employment, and other matters. 

 

The ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be predicted with certainty.  An estimated loss from these contingencies is recognized when we believe it is probable that a loss has been incurred and the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated; however, it is difficult to measure the actual loss that might be incurred related to litigation.  If a loss is not considered probable and/or cannot be reasonably estimated, we are required to make a disclosure if there is at least a reasonable possibility that a material loss may have been incurred.  Legal fees associated with claims and lawsuits are generally expensed as incurred.

 

Claims other than employment and related matters have deductibles and self-insured retentions ranging from $0.5 to $1.0 per occurrence or per claim, depending upon the type of coverage and policy period.  Outside insurance companies and third-party claims administrators assist in establishing individual claim reserves, and an independent outside actuary provides estimates of ultimate projected losses, including incurred but not reported claims, which are used to establish reserves for losses.  Claim reserves for employment-related matters are established based upon advice from internal and external counsel and historical settlement information for claims and related fees, when such amounts are considered probable of payment.

 

The recorded amounts represent our best estimate of the costs we will incur in relation to such exposures, but it is virtually certain that actual costs will differ from those estimates.

 

Antitrust Litigation

 

In 2005, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc. (FCA) and a number of individual consumer casket purchasers filed a purported class action antitrust lawsuit on behalf of certain consumer purchasers of Batesville®  caskets against the Company and our former parent company, Hillenbrand Industries, Inc., now Hill-Rom Holdings, Inc. (Hill-Rom), and three national funeral home businesses (the FCA Action).  A more detailed history of the litigation has been disclosed in previous filings.

 

The lawsuit claimed, among other things, that the Company’s maintenance and enforcement of, and alleged modifications to, its long-standing policy of selling caskets only to licensed funeral homes were the product of a conspiracy among the Company, the other defendants, and others to exclude “independent casket discounters,” resulting in suppressed competition in the alleged market for caskets and allegedly leading consumers to pay higher than competitive prices for caskets.

 

Plaintiffs in the FCA Action have generally sought monetary damages on behalf of a class of purchasers of Batesville caskets, trebling of any such damages that may be awarded, recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, and injunctive relief.  The plaintiffs in the FCA Action filed a report indicating that they were seeking damages ranging from approximately $947.0 to approximately $1,460.0 before trebling on behalf of the purported class of consumers they seek to represent, based on approximately one million casket purchases by the purported class members.

 

The Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas denied class certification on March 26, 2009, and ultimately dismissed the lawsuit on September 24, 2010, concluding that “plaintiffs shall take nothing by their suit.”  Currently, the FCA Action is on appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Plaintiffs have appealed both the District Court’s order of dismissal and the order denying class certification.  The parties have submitted all appellate briefs, and the Court of Appeals heard oral argument from the parties on December 5, 2011.  The Court of Appeals has not yet issued its ruling affirming or reversing the District Court.

 

If plaintiffs succeed in overturning the judgment, reversing the District Court order denying class certification, and a class is subsequently certified in the FCA Action filed against Hill-Rom and Batesville, and if the plaintiffs prevail at a trial of the class action, the damages awarded to the plaintiffs, which would be trebled as a matter of law, could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition, and cash flow.  In antitrust actions such as the FCA Action, the plaintiffs may elect to enforce any judgment against any or all of the co-defendants, who have no statutory contribution rights against each other.  We and Hill-Rom have entered into a Judgment Sharing Agreement that apportions the costs and any potential liabilities associated with this litigation between us and Hill-Rom.

 

The defendants are vigorously contesting both liability and the plaintiffs’ damages theories.

 

As of December 31, 2011, we had incurred approximately $29.2 in cumulative legal and related costs associated with the FCA Action since its inception.

 

Matthews Litigation

 

In August 2010, the York Group, Inc., Milso Industries Corporation, and Matthews International Corporation (collectively the plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit against Scott Pontone and Batesville Casket Company, Inc. in the United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, which was subsequently amended by the plaintiffs in February 2011 to include two additional defendants, Harry Pontone and Pontone Casket Company, LLC (the Litigation).  The Litigation arises, in part, as a result of a Marketing Consulting Agreement entered into between Batesville and Pontone Casket Company effective June 24, 2010, and Batesville’s hiring of two former employees of certain plaintiff entities in June 2010.  Scott Pontone provides consulting services to Batesville pursuant to the Marketing Consulting Agreement entered into between Batesville and Pontone Casket Company.  The plaintiffs allege that Scott Pontone and Harry Pontone breached contractual and business obligations with the plaintiffs and that Batesville induced certain of those breaches as part of its sales initiatives in the New York metropolitan area.

 

The plaintiffs claim that they have lost revenue and will lose future revenue in the New York metropolitan area, although the amount of those alleged damages is unspecified.  The plaintiffs seek to: (i) recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs; and (ii) enjoin certain activities by Harry Pontone, Scott Pontone,  Pontone Casket Company, and Batesville and its employees in the New York metropolitan area.  The plaintiffs had originally moved for a preliminary injunction, but withdrew that request after expedited discovery.  No trial date has been set, and the parties are engaged in ongoing motions practice and discovery.   A hearing on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction filed by the Pontone defendants is scheduled for February 3, 2012.

 

The Company believes it acted lawfully and intends to defend this matter vigorously.  The Company does not believe, based on currently available information, that the outcome of this lawsuit will have a material adverse effect on the Company’s financial condition and liquidity.  If the plaintiffs prevail at trial, however, the outcome could be materially adverse to the Company’s operating results or cash flow for the particular period, depending, in part, upon the operating results or cash flow for such period.