Inside Track: Trucking conference steers attorney in right direction
Perrin Rynders credits a series of fortunate events for becoming a trial lawyer with Varnum.
Perrin Rynders has filed more than 170 lawsuits against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan since 2011 over hidden fees, winning a $6.1 million judgment for client Hi-Lex Controls Inc., which was the first lawsuit filed, and settling all of the other cases. He said it’s all due to a conference on trucking law he attended several years ago.
Perrin said he’s had a series of fortunate events that have led him to where he is today.
Rynders was born in North Carolina, because that is where the closest hospital was to his parents’ northern Georgia residence. His family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and then Kansas City, Kansas, before settling in Oakland County when he was 6 years old.
Rynders said it was during his youth he wanted to become a lawyer.
First, he said his English teacher’s husband was a prosecutor, and it sounded like a cool job that impressed him.
Secondly, he had a personal stake in a lawsuit related to lake access.
Rynders lived in a subdivision with access to Union Lake, and Rynders and his buddies rode their bikes to the lake and swam all summer.
“There was some kind of dispute and there was a trial over that easement or lot access, and my mom brought me to the trial for a day,” Rynders said.
He said having that personal stake in the case made it important to him.
“It was a dispute with some personal impact, whether I’d still be able to ride my bike down there,” he said.
Rynders attended Calvin College and majored in history. He then attended law school at the University of Michigan.
He initially was interested in employment and labor law, and when he joined Varnum in Grand Rapids out of law school, he began practicing in the Employment and Labor Group.
While employment law sometimes involves litigation, it is mostly focused on arbitration and collective bargaining, but early on, Rynders was asked to sit third chair in a litigation case.
“I didn’t do anything in the trial, but I got to observe it and see how my work was playing out in the courtroom,” he said. “It was very interesting to me.”
He said one night at home, he had two stacks of legal articles to read; one stack was employment and labor law related and the other was a pile of litigation-related materials.
“I had these two piles, and I wanted to read the litigation pile not the labor pile,” he explained. “That is when it clicked. What I find most fascinating is the craft of advocacy and telling people’s stories and trying to explain problems to judges and juries and our clients’ position.”
He’s been a trial lawyer ever since.
He said one of the most impactful experiences of his career was a chance meeting at a trucking law conference several years ago. At the conference, he met another lawyer who later contacted him when he needed someone to try a case in federal court in Grand Rapids.
“I tried that case, and as a result, the federal judge who presided over the case observed my trial skills and worked at getting me involved with the Hillman Advocacy Program,” Rynders said.
One of the lawyers who attended two of Rynders’ Hillman Advocacy Program sessions went on to serve as a city attorney in a municipality in Michigan. He later contacted Rynders to investigate Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan over hidden fees.
“I got a call to investigate the Blue Cross pricing in the fall of 2008,” he said. “Another lawyer in Michigan was pursuing these claims against Blue Cross on behalf of municipalities. He was doing a good job, so we decided to focus on our business clients. Let’s figure out if they have the same types of contracts as the municipalities that are starting to sue Blue Cross.
“Ultimately, we determined it was happening to businesses, too. We filed the first lawsuit in 2011, and it went to trial in 2013 in Detroit. We won that case, and it went on appeal at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the ruling (in our favor) in May 2014.”
Rynders and his team showed the insurer collected hidden fees over a nearly 20-year period by marking up employee hospital claims as much as 22 percent and keeping the markup.
The appeals court agreed “BCBSM committed fraud by knowingly misrepresenting and omitting information about the disputed fees in contract documents.”
Its misleading information “helped sustain the illusion that BCBSM was more cost-competitive” than its competitors.
Even before the appellate ruling, Rynders said he and his team were working to identify other victims.
“I think we have filed about 170 lawsuits against the Blues, and we are still working on these cases,” he said.
During the same time frame, Rynders argued two class action cases related to the pricing of generic drugs.
He argued the cases in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court in December 2013 and in front of the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2014 but did not prevail in either case.
“If that litigation would have been successful, it would have been in the billions,” he noted.
During his career, Rynders has gained an impeccable reputation, and earlier this year, he was recognized by his peers with an invitation to join the American College of Trial Lawyers.
The prestigious, invitation-only organization accepts no more than 1 percent of the “total lawyer population of any state or province.”
“One of the things I like is that they are focused on ethics and professionalism — civility and taking your craft seriously, client service,” he said. “You could be a good trial lawyer, but if you are a jerk, you don’t get into the American College.”
The nomination process also is intensive and an honor by itself.
“Only fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers can nominate new fellows, and the people judging you are the cream of the crop,” Rynders said. “They also talk to judges. The idea that someone called a judge in a recent trial to see, ‘Is he really good?’ It’s humbling and makes you feel good.”
This year, Rynders also was the recipient of Calvin College’s Outstanding Service Award, which he said was a surprise.
“I’ve been involved with Calvin pretty much since I got out of law school,” Rynders said. “I felt like Calvin was a positive influence on my life at a time when you are young and moving away from home; I also met my wife there.”
He said he enjoys the projects he’s worked on.
Presently, he is a member of a steering committee group that is working on creating an affinity group of Calvin College alumni working in the legal profession in West Michigan.
He said the affinity group will provide a social network for alumni, as well as offer speakers on topics of interest. It also will focus on raising money to support the pre-law program at Calvin, so the program’s advisor has the resources necessary to bring in speakers or take students to Chicago, for instance, for job fairs.
He said the plan is to raise enough money to endow a fund to help support the pre-law advisor in his or her work on behalf of the college’s students.
Rynders said what he’s learned from his own career that he tries to instill in young lawyers is, “Get involved, do good work and be passionate about what you do.”
“You don’t know where the opportunities will come from. You just have to be ready,” he said.