Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Davis v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.
Davis, insured under a Hartford long-term disability policy, began missing work due to chronic back pain, neuropathy, and fatigue caused by multiple myeloma. Relying on the opinion of Davis’s oncologist, Dr. Reddy, Hartford approved Davis’s claim for short-term disability benefits through April 17, 2012. In June, Hartford approved Davis for long-term disability benefits, retroactive to April, for 24 months. Davis could continue to receive benefits beyond that time if he was unable to perform one or more of the essential duties of “Any Occupation” for which he was qualified by education, training, or experience and that has comparable “earnings potential.” Reddy's subsequent reports were inconsistent. An investigator found “discrepancies" based on surveillance. Davis’s primary care physician and neurologist both concluded that Davis could work full-time under described conditions. Reddy disagreed, but would not answer follow-up questions. An orthopedic surgeon conducted an independent review and performed an examination, and reported that Davis was physically capable of “light duty or sedentary work” within certain restrictions. Other doctors agreed. Hartford notified Davis that he would be ineligible for benefits after April 17, 2014.Davis filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Hartford. Hartford reasonably concluded that Davis could work full-time, under certain limitations; the decision was not arbitrary. View "Davis v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Pogue v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Pogue, believing that he had a severe anxiety disorder that prevented him from practicing as a family doctor, submitted a disability claim to his long-term disability insurers: Northwestern Mutual and Principal Life. Pogue failed to disclose that the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners had suspended his license for mis-prescribing painkillers. His insurers found out and denied both of his claims. Pogue sued, alleging breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.In Pogue’s lawsuit against Northwestern, the district court granted Northwestern summary judgment on two alternative grounds: the suspension occurred before Pogue became disabled, and the suspension caused stress and anxiety and thus contributed to his disability. The Sixth Circuit court affirmed on the first ground and declined to consider the second ground. When Pogue’s lawsuit against Principal reached summary judgment, the district court applied issue preclusion and relied on the Northwestern district court’s holding that the suspension of Pogue’s license contributed to his disability. The court did not address whether the suspension occurred before Pogue became disabled and also granted summary judgment on Pogue’s bad-faith claims. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred by giving preclusive effect to an alternative holding on which the Sixth Circuit declined to rule. View "Pogue v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
DaVita, Inc. v. Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan
Beginning in 2017, DaVita provided dialysis treatment to Patient A, who was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Patient A assigned his insurance rights to DaVita. Through August 2018, the costs of Patient A’s dialysis were reimbursed by the Employee Health Benefit Plan, governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), at its bottom tier, which applied to providers who are “out-of-network.” All dialysis providers were out-of-network. While most out-of-network providers are reimbursed in the bottom tier based on a “reasonable and customary” fee as understood in the healthcare industry, dialysis providers are subject to an “alternative basis for payment”; the Plan reimburses at 87.5% of the Medicare rate. Patient A was exposed to higher copayments, coinsurance amounts, and deductibles and was allegedly at risk of liability for the balance of what was not reimbursed . The Plan identified dialysis as subject to heightened scrutiny, which allegedly incentivizes dialysis patients to switch to Medicare. Patient A switched to Medicare. DaVita and Patient A sued, alleging that the Plan treats dialysis providers differently from other medical providers in violation of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSPA) and ERISA. The Sixth Circuit reversed, in part, the dismissal of the claims. A conditional payment by Medicare is required as a precondition to suing under the MSPA’s private cause of action; the complaint sufficiently alleges such a payment. DaVita plausibly alleged that the Plan violates the nondifferentiation provision of the MSPA, resulting in denials of benefits and unlawful discrimination under ERISA. View "DaVita, Inc. v. Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan" on Justia Law
Hanover American Insurance Co. v. Tattooed Millionaire Entertainment, LLC
The House of Blues music studio in Memphis suffered a burglary and arson in 2015. Brown owned House of Blues through TME. He and two tenants, Falls and Mott, submitted insurance claims to Hanover for the loss. Brown submitted fraudulent documents in connection with this claim, resulting in an insurance-fraud lawsuit. Brown was found liable after admitting on the stand that he had forged documents submitted in his insurance claim. Falls prevailed before the jury, only to have the judge set aside the verdict and direct judgment for Hanover under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b). Rule 50(a) provides for a motion for judgment as a matter of law at trial; Rule 50(b) provides for “Renewing the [50(a)] Motion after Trial.” Hanover failed to make a Rule 50(a) motion at trial. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to Mott, who failed to raise any issues on appeal, and as to Brown. The court rejected Brown’s arguments that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to allow him to introduce an exhibit that he tried to introduce several times; by intervening excessively to question witnesses; and by imposing a time limit on Brown and not on Hanover. The court reversed as to Falls. Hanover forfeited its ability to “renew” a motion for a directed verdict after trial under Rule 50(b). View "Hanover American Insurance Co. v. Tattooed Millionaire Entertainment, LLC" on Justia Law
Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
In 1983, Rice sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–45. The Department of Labor (DOL) looks to employers that employed the miner for at least one year and are capable of paying benefits. The miner’s most recent employer that meets these requirements is the “responsible operator.” Employers must either qualify as a self-insurer or purchase BLBA insurance. KRCC operated a coal mine where Rice worked in 1982-1983 but he was employed by a separate corporate entity, KRMS, which charged KRCC for the cost of Rice’s labor. The entities' ownership and management overlapped; KRMS had no assets and operated out of KRCC's offices. KRCC obtained BLBA coverage from Bituminous Casualty but only listed 10 employees. The other 150 were employed by KRMS. An ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator, then denied Rice’s claim on the merits. Rice appealed; KRCC and Bituminous successfully moved to be dismissed from the case, because the ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator.In 2002, Rice filed another BLBA claim. DOL again notified KRCC and Bituminous that KRCC might be the responsible operator. Bituminous claims it “denied coverage based on the fraudulent arrangements” between KRCC and KRMS. DOL refused to dismiss Bituminous.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that DOL was collaterally estopped from finding that KRCC was the responsible operator; that Bituminous was entitled to rescind its insurance agreement based on fraud by KRCC; and that delays in DOL administrative proceedings violated its right to due process. View "Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Hicks v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
Under its replacement-cost homeowner insurance contracts, State Farm calculated its payment obligations by estimating the amount it would cost to repair or replace damaged property and subtracting depreciation and the deductible. During the class period, State Farm depreciated costs for both materials and labor.Policyholders filed a putative class action. The Sixth Circuit held that in an insurance contract that incorporates Kentucky’s “replacement cost minus depreciation” formula, the insurer cannot depreciate the costs of labor when determining payments. State Farm changed its practice and created a refund program for those who had received payments between the decision and the date State Farm stopped deducting labor depreciation. Most policyholders received refunds of less than $1,000. The court certified the class as: All persons and entities that received “actual cash value” payments ... from State Farm … for loss or damage to a dwelling or other structure in … Kentucky ... where the cost of labor was depreciated," excluding those that received payment in the full amount of insurance.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The claims share a common legal question central to the validity of each claim: whether State Farm breached the standard form contracts by deducting labor depreciation. No individualized proof is necessary to resolve this question on a classwide basis. That common question predominates over individual questions, although damages will vary. The court did not abuse its discretion in finding class litigation to be the superior method of adjudication and class membership is ascertainable View "Hicks v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc.
Beginning in 1965, Honeywell and the labor union negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Honeywell agreed to pay “the full [healthcare benefit] premium or subscription charge applicable to the coverages of [its] pensioner[s]” and their surviving spouses. Each CBA contained a general durational clause stating that the agreement would expire on a specified date, after which the parties would negotiate a new CBA. In 2003, the parties negotiated a CBA obligating Honeywell to pay “not . . . less than” a specified amount beginning in 2008. The retirees filed suit, arguing that the pre-2003 CBAs vested lifetime, full-premium benefits for all pre-2003 retirees and that the CBAs of 2003, 2007, and 2011 vested, at a minimum, lifetime, floor-level benefits for the remaining retirees.The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that none of the CBAs vested lifetime benefits. Without an unambiguous vesting clause, the general durational clause controls. Reversing in part, the court held that the “not . . . less than” language unambiguously limited Honeywell’s obligation to pay only the floor-level contributions during the life of the 2011 CBA. The court rejected a claim that Honeywell acquired a "windfall" at the retirees' expense. View "International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law
Perry v. Allstate Indemnity Co.
Perry’s home suffered water damage and required extensive repairs. She filed a claim with her insurer, Allstate, which did not dispute that Perry’s home was seriously damaged, or that it was required to pay for repairs or replacement. The parties agreed that the total estimated cost to repair or replace Perry’s home is $32,965.09. After making deductions for “depreciation,” Allstate provided Perry with a net payment of $28,394.74. Perry’s Allstate policy provides, “If you do not repair or replace the damaged, destroyed or stolen property, payment will be on an actual cash value basis. This means there may be a deduction for depreciation.” The policy does not define “depreciation.” Allstate contends that “depreciation” must account for the cost of both materials and labor. Perry claims that “depreciation” is ambiguous with respect to labor costs. The district court reversed the dismissal of Perry’s lawsuit. Under Ohio law, when an insurance policy is ambiguous, courts must interpret the policy strictly against the insurer, so long as the insured’s interpretation is reasonable. Perry’s reading of the term “depreciation” is a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous policy, so Allstate may not include the cost of labor in calculating depreciation. View "Perry v. Allstate Indemnity Co." on Justia Law
Miller v. Bruenger
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), manages the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA), 5 U.S.C. 8705(a). Absent a valid beneficiary selection, FEGLIA provides an order of precedence for the proceeds, starting with the policyholder's surviving spouse, followed by the policyholder's descendants. FEGLIA will not follow that order if a “court decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation, or . . . any court order or court-approved property settlement agreement” “expressly provides” for payment to someone else. The decree, order, or agreement must be “received” by the policyholder’s “employing agency” or OPM before the policyholder’s death. At the time of his death, Miller worked at Tinker Air Force Base and maintained a MetLife policy. Coleman's 27-year marriage to Donna ended in divorce in 2011. Their property settlement agreement states that “[Donna] shall remain the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.” The court ordered Coleman to assign his FEGLI benefits to Donna.Upon Coleman’s death, his only child, Courtenay, was appointed administratrix of his estate. The Air Force informed Courtenay that the court order had not been filed with Coleman’s employing office. Courtenay was paid $172,000 in proceeds and sought a declaration that she is the rightful owner. Citing lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court dismissed the suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the lack of a substantial federal question. FEGLIA does not contain an express cause of action for Donna. There is no federal agency involved. View "Miller v. Bruenger" on Justia Law
United Specialty Ins. Co. v. Cole’s Place, Inc.
One summer night in 2015, at a Louisville nightclub, someone discharged a firearm, shooting eight people. Six of those people sued the nightclub’s owner, Cole’s Place, in state court, arguing that Cole’s Place failed to protect them from foreseeable harm. United Specialty Insurance (USIC) obtained a federal declaratory judgment that it is not obligated to defend or indemnify Cole’s Place in the state court litigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in exercising Declaratory Judgment Act jurisdiction over USIC’s lawsuit and did not err in finding that an assault-and-battery exclusion in Cole’s Place’s insurance policy with USIC applies to the state court litigation. There are no factual issues remaining in the state-court litigation or complex state-law issues that are “important to an informed resolution” of this case. View "United Specialty Ins. Co. v. Cole's Place, Inc." on Justia Law