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Hackney v. Vascular Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

June 13, 2018

JAMES W. HACKNEY PLAINTIFF
v.
VASCULAR SOLUTIONS, INC. DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge

         I. Introduction

         This case is before the court on defendant Vascular Solutions Inc.'s (“VSI”) motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff James W. Hackney's (“Hackney”) tort claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and his claims for non-contractual damages and attorney's fees. ECF No. 187. Hackney responded and VSI subsequently replied. ECF Nos. 191, 192. This matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, VSI's motion for partial summary judgment will be granted.

         II. Factual Background

         The facts of this case have been recounted at length in this court's May 30, 2014 opinion and the Sixth Circuit's November 2, 2016 opinion. However, the court briefly will state the facts and procedural history pertinent to the present motion.

         This action concerns two provisions of the Employment Agreement (“Agreement”) Hackney entered into with his employer, VSI, in July 2010. The Agreement provided that Hackney was entitled to severance pay in the event that he was terminated from VSI for any reason other than “Violating Conduct, ” which was defined to include “job abandonment.” The Agreement did not define the term “job abandonment.” The Agreement also provided that Hackney was entitled to participate in a “Salary Continuation Plan” (“Plan”), which was administered by Lincoln National Life Insurance Company (“Lincoln”). Under the Plan, qualifying employees who became “totally disabled” could receive six months of continued salary benefits. The Plan defined “totally disabled” as the inability of the employee “to perform each of the main duties of [the employee's] regular occupation” due to sickness or injury. The Plan informed participants that payments under the Plan would continue until “the date you are no longer disabled” or “the date you fail to furnish proof that you continue to be disabled, ” among other dates.

         In October 2010, Hackney notified his supervisor that he suffered from hypoparathyroidism, which he alleges rendered him permanently and totally disabled. He applied for Salary Continuation Benefits under the Plan, which was initially approved until November 2, 2010 by VSI, per Lincoln's recommendation. However, also per Lincoln's recommendation, VSI did not approve Hackney's request for continued benefits because they determined that he was not “totally disabled” under the Plan. Despite this determination, Hackney did not return to work at VSI.

         After negotiations, VSI agreed to hold Hackney's position open until April 20, 2011. On April 4, 2011, Hackney informed VSI that his doctor had not yet released him to return to work. VSI terminated Hackney effective May 12, 2011. VSI informed Hackney that his termination was considered “job abandonment” and he was therefore not entitled to severance under his Employment Agreement.

         Hackney filed a Complaint in Jefferson County, Kentucky Circuit Court on March 6, 2012, which was subsequently removed to this court based on diversity jurisdiction. Hackney's Amended Complaint asserted the following claims against VSI under Kentucky law: breach of contract; breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and wage and hour violations under KRS § 337.385. Hackney also brought a claim against Lincoln for tortious interference of contractual relations and claims against both VSI and Lincoln for the unlicensed practice of medicine under KRS § 311.560.

         Lincoln and VSI both moved for summary judgment. On May 30, 2014, the court granted VSI's motion for summary judgment and dismissed all claims against it. The court subsequently granted Lincoln's summary judgment motion and also dismissed all claims against it. Hackney timely appealed both grants of summary judgment.

         On November 2, 2016, the Sixth Circuit reversed the court's grant of summary judgment on Hackney's claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against VSI. The Court affirmed as to all other claims. VSI now moves for partial summary judgment as to Hackney's claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing under tort law, and his claims for non-contractual damages and attorney's fees.

         III. Legal Standard

         The trial court shall grant summary judgment in a case “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of “demonstrating that [there is] no genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “point to evidence demonstrating that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial.” Id. at 323 (emphasis added).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). However, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). There must actually be “evidence on which the jury ...


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