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Pogue v. Principal Life Insurance Company

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

March 29, 2019

JAMES H. POGUE, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCIPAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CLARIA BOOM, DISTRICT JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Objection to Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order [R. 88]; the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 89]; the Defendant's Motion to Exclude [R. 90]; the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 99; R. 101-1]; the Defendant's Motion to Strike the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion as untimely [R. 107]; multiple objections filed by the Defendant to portions of the Plaintiff's summary judgment evidence [R. 110; R. 111; R. 112; R. 113]; the Plaintiff's Motion to Strike or Disregard Defendant's Untimely Replies [R. 129]; and the Plaintiff's Motion for Hearing [R. 137]. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the Defendant's Motion to Strike the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion as untimely [R. 107], will grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 89], and will deny the remainder of the pending filings as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Much of the relevant factual background to this case is recounted in two previous opinions: the Western District of Kentucky's opinion in Pogue v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 3:14-CV-00598-CRS, 2018 WL 1189415, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 7, 2018) (“Pogue I”), and the Sixth Circuit's subsequent affirmance (JAMES H. POGUE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee., No. 18- 5291, 2019 WL 1376032 (6th Cir. Feb. 7, 2019)). Briefly, Plaintiff is a physician who practiced in Nashville, Tennessee before ultimately losing his medical license after an investigation conducted by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. Pogue I, 2018 WL 1189415 at *1, *4. He subsequently made claims for benefits under various disability insurance policies, including three issued by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (“NWML”) (the defendant in Pogue I) and one issued by Principal Life Insurance Company (“Principal”) (the defendant in this matter). In his request for disability benefits to NWML, the Plaintiff claimed “that he suffered from a ‘severe anxiety disorder' and that ‘on Nov. 9, 2012 [he] had a total nervous breakdown and could no longer think clearly enough to practice medicine.' . . . [And] that he ‘chose to surrender [his medical] license due to a feeling of personal incompetence to handle work stresses.'” Id. In his request for disability benefits to Principal, the Plaintiff included some similar complaints, including “nervous breakdown” and anxiety. [R. 89-10, Plaintiff's Claim Notice at pp. 2-3, PAGEID#: 886-87] Both insurance companies denied the claims, and the Plaintiff filed two nearly identical suits in Jefferson County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, unfair claims settlement practices, and claims under Kentucky's Consumer Protection Act. See [R. 1-2, State Court Record; R. 1-2, State Court Record, Pogue v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, 3:14-cv-598-CRS-CHL]. Each suit was then removed to this Court on August 29, 2014. See [R. 1, Notice of Removal; R. 1, Notice of Removal, Pogue v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, 3:14-cv-598-CRS-CHL] The first suit was resolved with a grant of summary judgment for the defendant, which the Sixth Circuit affirmed on appeal. As noted, the present suit is now before the Court on a variety of motions, including cross-motions for summary judgment.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper where “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). When determining a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from the underlying facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Lindsay v. Yates, 578 F.3d 407, 414 (6th Cir. 2009). The court may not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter” at the summary judgment stage. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 265 (1986). When, as here, the defendant moves for summary judgment, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252. The initial burden of establishing no genuine dispute of material fact rests with the moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The Court “need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to produce “specific facts” showing a “genuine issue” for trial. Id. at 324. Where “a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, ” the Court may treat that fact as undisputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         A fact is “material” if the underlying substantive law identifies the fact as critical. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. A “genuine” issue exists if “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment

         As a preliminary matter, the Court will address the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, contained within its Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. See generally [R. 99; R. 101-1]. The Defendant has filed a Motion to Strike the Cross-Motion [R. 107], arguing that it is untimely. The parties subsequently briefed the Motion to Strike. [R. 118; R. 123]

         Having examined the Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, the Motion to Strike, and the briefing on the Motion to Strike, the Court agrees that the Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment was untimely. The operative scheduling order [R. 75] set a dispositive motions deadline of January 31, 2018. [R. 75, Scheduling Order, at p. 1]. Thus, any dispositive motion - including a Motion for Summary Judgment - filed after that date is untimely. The Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, contained within its Response to the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, was filed on March 2, 2018. It is therefore late, regardless of the fact that the filing was in response to the Defendant's motion. The Plaintiff makes much of its argument that the Cross-Motion was merely another way of styling its request for relief. See [R. 118, Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Strike at p. 3] But that is not responsive to the Defendant's Motion to Strike: the very relief the Plaintiff requests (entry of summary judgment in his favor, as opposed to merely denying the Defendant's motion and declining to enter summary judgment in its favor) had to be made by January 31, 2018. It was not, so it is late. As to the Plaintiff's argument regarding judicial economy, the Court finds that this interest is best served by timely filings. Accordingly, to the extent that the Plaintiff's Response to the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment contains a request that the Court enter judgment in favor of the Plaintiff (rather than merely a request that the Court deny the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and decline to enter any judgment at all) and arguments in support of such a request rather than merely in response to the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will grant the Motion to Strike.

         B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Breach of Contract Claim

         The Defendant makes several arguments that the Plaintiff's breach of contract claim must fail as a matter of law. One of these is that the insurance policy at issue clearly and unambiguously excludes coverage in this situation because the Plaintiff's disabling condition was caused by or contributed to by the suspension, revocation or surrender of the Plaintiff's professional license. [R. 89-1, Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendant's Memo”) at p. 15] The Court agrees. Because this argument is dispositive, the Court will not reach the parties' other arguments regarding the Plaintiff's breach of contract claim.

         Policy Exclusion

         “[A]s to the manner of construction of insurance policies, Kentucky law is crystal clear that exclusions are to be narrowly interpreted and all questions resolved in favor of the insured. Exceptions and exclusions are to be strictly construed so as to render the insurance effective. Any doubt as to the coverage or terms of a policy should be resolved in favor of the insured. And since the policy is drafted in all details by the insurance company, it must be held strictly accountable for the language used.” Eyler v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co.,824 S.W.2d 855, 859-60 (Ky. 1992) (internal citations omitted). However, “[t]he words employed in insurance policies, if clear and unambiguous, should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. The trial court must give effect to what the parties expressly agreed upon instead of plac[ing] a strained interpretation thereon contrary to the intent of the parties. . . . Policies should be interpreted according to the parties mutual understanding at the time they entered into the contract and [s]uch mutual intention is to be deduced, if possible, from the language of the contract alone.” Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Nolan,10 S.W.3d 129, 131-32 (Ky. 1999) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (interpreting insurance policy exclusion); see also Kentucky Ass'n of Ctys. Workers' Comp. Fund v. Cont'l Cas. Co.,157 F.Supp.3d 678, 682 (E.D. Ky. 2016) (“[d]espite a policy inclination of favoring the insured, however, [t]he rule of strict construction against an insurance company certainly does not mean that every doubt must be resolved against it and does not interfere with the rule that the policy must receive a reasonable interpretation consistent with . . . the plain meaning and/or language of the contract. Insurance policies, like statutes, ...


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