United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
JAMES W. HACKNEY PLAINTIFF
LINCOLN NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY and VASCULAR SOLUTIONS, INC. DEFENDANTS
CHARLES R. SIMPSON III, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the motion of Plaintiff James
W. Hackney to certify a question to the Supreme Court of
Kentucky, ECF No. 180. Defendant Vascular Solutions, Inc.
(VSI) responded, ECF No. 181. Hackney replied, ECF No. 182.
For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny
Hackney's motion to certify a question to the Supreme
Court of Kentucky.
2011, Hackney was terminated from his position with VSI for
failing to return from a seven-month medical leave.
See Order 5/14/2015 2-3, ECF No. 157. Hackney
maintained that he did not return to VSI because his
hypoparathyroidism rendered him totally disabled.
Id. But VSI considered Hackney's failure to
return to his position as “job abandonment” and
refused to pay him severance as was required under
Hackney's employment agreement. Id. During his
leave, Hackney applied for and was denied benefits under
VSI's Salary Continuation Plan, which was administered by
Lincoln National Life Insurance Company
filed a variety of claims against VSI and Lincoln. Hackney
claimed that VSI breached the employment agreement, the
Salary Continuation Plan, and its duty of good faith and fair
dealing under the employment agreement and the Salary
Continuation Plan. Compl. ¶¶ 41-48, ECF No. 1-1. He
also asserted that VSI failed to pay him wages in violation
of Kentucky Revised Statute § 337.385. Id.
¶¶ 49-55. Hackney also claimed that VSI and Lincoln
engaged in the unlicensed practice of medicine in violation
of Kentucky Revised Statute § 311.560. Id.
¶¶ 71-75. Summary judgment was later granted to VSI
and Lincoln on all claims. Order 5/30/2015 1, ECF No. 124;
Order 5/13/2015 1, ECF No. 158.
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed
the Court's grant of summary judgment on Hackney's
breach of contract claims and his breach of the duty of good
faith and fair dealing claims. Hackney v. Lincoln
Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 657 F. App'x 563, 579 (6th
Cir. 2016). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary
judgment on all other claims. Id. In considering the
validity of the employment contract, the Sixth Circuit wrote
that “the term ‘job abandonment' is
ambiguous. The contract does not define the term, and this
lack of specificity is problematic because of the term's
multiple reasonable meanings.” Id. at 573. The
appellate court later stated:
It is unclear whether Kentucky law contemplates entering
judgment against the drafter of an ambiguous contract as a
matter of law or if, because “job abandonment” is
ambiguous, the meaning of the term is now a question for the
fact-finder, who should construe it with the aid of extrinsic
evidence of the parties' intent. In light of this
uncertainty, and in an abundance of caution, we conclude that
“job abandonment” is ambiguous as a matter of
law, and remand the case so that the parties may present
extrinsic evidence of their intent to the district court, if
such evidence exists.
Id. at 573.
February 2017, after the Sixth Circuit remanded the case, the
parties appeared before this Court for a pretrial conference.
Not. Filing Official Tr. 1, ECF No. 173. In relevant part,
the parties discussed the intended meaning of “job
abandonment” included in Hackney's employment
agreement. Order 2/08/2017 1, ECF No. 175. The Court ordered
the parties to jointly report a potential certification of
law to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Kentucky that
would seek an answer to the Sixth Circuit's question of
whether Kentucky law “contemplates entering judgment
against the drafter of an ambiguous contract as a matter of
law” or “if the meaning of the term is now a
question for the fact-finder, who should construe it with the
aid of extrinsic evidence of the parties' intent.”
See id. at 2.
parties were unable to agree on a potential certification of
law to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Kentucky or any
“statement of all facts relevant to the questions
certified, ” as required by Rule 76.37 of the Kentucky
Rules of Civil Procedure. Hackney then independently moved to
certify the following question to the Supreme Court of
Whether in construing an ambiguous and outcome determinative
contractual term in a standard-form employment agreement, a
reviewing court should resolve the ambiguity against the
drafting party and enter judgment in favor of the