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Sandoval v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 14, 2019

BRENDA SANDOVAL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, a/k/a UNUM, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brenda Sandoval (“Plaintiff” or “Sandoval”) sued her insurance provider Defendant Unum Life Insurance Company of America (“Defendant” or “Unum”) after Unum terminated the benefits that she received under a long-term disability policy (the “Policy”). The case proceeded to trial in September 2018. On September 28, 2018, a jury returned a verdict for Sandoval finding that she had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Unum breached its contract with her, and awarded her damages of $81, 244.85. (ECF No. 115.)

         Post-trial, the Court ordered the parties to address Sandoval's request for declaratory relief regarding her eligibility for future long-term disability benefits. (ECF No. 5 at 2-3; ECF No. 118.) Sandoval filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment (the “Motion”) (ECF No. 119), which Unum opposes (ECF No. 120). The Court then ordered supplemental briefing on the appropriateness of injunctive relief under Rule 65. (ECF Nos. 122, 123 & 126.) Sandoval's Motion is now before the Court.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part Sandoval's request for declaratory and injunctive relief, and directs the Clerk of Court to enter judgment in favor of Sandoval.

         I. ANALYSIS

         Sandoval seeks both a declaration and a permanent injunction. (ECF Nos. 119 & 123.) Specifically, Sandoval asks the Court to enter an order (1) finding that Sandoval is disabled under the terms of the Policy; and (2) requiring Unum to place Sandoval back on her Policy and pay all benefits to which Sandoval is entitled as long as she complies with the terms of the Policy. (Id. at 3-4.) Unum objects.[1] (ECF Nos. 120 & 126.)

         A. Declaratory Relief

         The Declaratory Judgment Act allows a court to “declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such a declaration.” 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

         Sandoval seeks a declaration that she is disabled under the terms of the contract. (ECF No. 119.) Unum argues that a declaration is imprudent for two reasons, both of which are easily dispatched. (ECF No. 120 at 1-2.) First, Unum argues that declaratory judgment is inappropriate pending appeal. Regardless of the legal merits of this position, no appeal has been filed and thus there is no need to wait for resolution of a hypothetical appeal to enter declaratory judgment. Unum's second argument-that Sandoval's request for benefits into the future is not supported by the plain terms of the Policy-addresses the appropriateness of injunctive relief, not declaratory relief.[2]

         “Under well settled principles, when a plaintiff brings both legal and equitable claims in the same action, the Seventh Amendment right to jury trial on the legal claims must be preserved by trying those claims first (or at least simultaneously with the equitable claims), and the jury's findings on any common questions of fact must be applied when the court decides the equitable claims.” Colo. Visionary Acad. v. Medtronic, Inc., 397 F.3d 867, 875 (10th Cir. 2005). The Court must “giv[e] due effect to any findings necessarily implicit in a general verdict.” Id.

         The Court thus reviews the jury verdict to determine what factual findings made by the jury bear on Sandoval's request for declaratory relief. The jury verdict form specifically asked if Sandoval proved “by a preponderance of the evidence, that Defendant Unum Life Insurance Company breached its contract with Ms. Sandoval for long term disability benefits.” (ECF No. 115 at 1.) In her closing argument, Sandoval requested $81, 153.46 in damages for breach of contract through the date of the closing argument. Jury deliberations continued into the following day, and the jury sent a note to the Court asking “if we award the full amount, do we add something above the $81, 153.46 to account for today?” (ECF No. 111.) Before the Court could respond, the jury notified the Court that it had reached a verdict. The jury awarded Sandoval $81, 244.85, slightly more than the amount requested by Sandoval in her closing argument. (ECF No. 115 at 2.)

         The jury appears to have resolved factual disputes relevant here in Sandoval's favor. As Sandoval suggests, to reach its verdict, the jury would have had to find that Sandoval was disabled under the Policy when Unum terminated benefits; that Unum thus improperly terminated benefits and breached its contract with Sandoval; and, presumably answering its own question and awarding additional damages, that Sandoval continued to be disabled under the Policy as of the date of the verdict. (ECF No. 119 at 3.)

         The Court agrees, and Unum does not suggest a contrary interpretation. See Colo. Visionary Acad., 397 F.3d at 875. Consistent with the factual conclusions implicit in the jury verdict, the Court finds that Sandoval was disabled within the meaning of the Policy when Unum terminated benefits and continued to be disabled within the meaning of the Policy through September 28, 2018, the date of the jury verdict, and Sandoval is thus entitled to a declaratory judgment stating the same. See 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

         B. ...


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