Lindenberg v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co., No. 17-6079 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Defendant issued a life insurance policy to the Decedent. Plaintiff, Decedent’s former wife, is the primary beneficiary; the contingent beneficiaries are Decedent’s “surviving children equally.” Plaintiff and Decedent divorced. Their Dissolution Agreement required that Plaintiff pay the premium of the Defendant’s policy and required “Husband at his expense [to] maintain" insurance on his life with the parties’ children as irrevocable primary beneficiaries. The couple had minor children at the time of Decedent’s death. When Plaintiff requested payment, Defendant requested that Plaintiff obtain waivers from "other potential parties” and court-appointed guardians for the children or that Plaintiff waive her rights so that Defendant could disburse the proceeds to the minor children. The court dismissed Defendant’s subsequent interpleader complaint and ordered Defendant to disburse to Plaintiff. A jury found that Defendant breached its contract, resulting in actual damages of $350,000; Defendant’s refusal to pay was in bad faith, resulting in additional damages of $87,500; and Defendant’s refusal to pay was either intentional, reckless, malicious, or fraudulent. The jury awarded punitive damages of $3,000,000. A Tennessee statute capped punitive damages at two times the compensatory damages awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater. Plaintiff challenged the cap under the Tennessee Constitution. The Tennessee Supreme Court declined to provide an opinion on certified questions. The district court then rejected Plaintiff’s challenge, reducing Defendant’s punitive damages liability to $700,000. The Sixth Circuit vacated in part, finding that the statutory cap on punitive damages, T.C.A. 29-39-104, violates the individual right to a trial by jury.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on March 28, 2019.