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Sandoval v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 26, 2019

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

          ORDER DENYING RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND GRANTING MOTION FOR STAY OF ENFORCEMENT OF JUDGMENT AND APPROVAL OF SUPERSEDEAS BOND

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brenda Sandoval (“Sandoval”) sued her insurance provider Defendant Unum Life Insurance Company of America (“Unum”) for breach of contract after Unum terminated benefits that Sandoval received under a long-term disability policy (the “Policy”). On September 28, 2018, after a four-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict against Unum and for Sandoval, finding that she proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Unum breached its contract, and awarded Sandoval $81, 244.85 in damages. (ECF No. 115.) After the jury trial, the Court sought supplemental briefing from the parties on the appropriateness of injunctive and declaratory relief. (ECF Nos. 118 & 122.) On January 17, 2019, the Court entered judgment in favor of Sandoval. (ECF No. 133.) Within 28 days after the entry of judgment, Unum filed its Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law under Rule 50(b) (the “Rule 50(b) Motion”). (ECF No. 137.)

         Currently before the Court is Unum's Rule 50(b) Motion, as well as Unum's “Motion to Stay Enforcement of Judgment, Approval of Supersedeas Bond and Request for Expedited Briefing” (the “Motion to Stay”) (ECF No. 147). For the following reasons, Unum's Rule 50(b) Motion is denied and Unum's Motion to Stay is granted.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate where “a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). Stated another way, “[a] directed verdict is justified only where the proof is all one way or so overwhelmingly preponderant in favor of the movant so as to permit no other rational conclusion.” Hinds v. Gen. Motors Corp., 988 F.2d 1039, 1045 (10th Cir. 1993). In reviewing a Rule 50 motion, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Wagner v. Live Nation Motor Sports, Inc., 586 F.3d 1237, 1244 (10th Cir. 2009).

         Where a party properly moves for judgment as a matter of law prior to the case being submitted to the jury, that party may renew the motion after the jury returns its verdict. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b); Atchley v. Nordam Group, Inc., 180 F.3d 1143, 1147-48 (10th Cir. 1999). In resolving a Rule 50(b) motion, the Court “will not weigh evidence, judge witness credibility, or challenge the factual conclusions of the jury.” Deters v. Equifax Credit Info. Servs., Inc., 202 F.3d 1262, 1268 (10th Cir. 2000).

         II. ANALYSIS

         As further background, on September 26, 2018, at the close of Sandoval's evidence, Unum moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a), and the Court took the motion under advisement. (ECF No. 102 at 2.) Unum renewed its motion at the close of its own presentation of evidence. (Id. at 3.) The Court then heard argument, and denied Unum's Rule 50(a) Motion.

         In its Rule 50(b) Motion, Unum argues, as it did in the Rule 50(a) Motion, that Sandoval failed to meet the Policy definition for disability because she was working as a cosmetologist and that Sandoval was not under the regular care of a physician after October 10, 2016. (ECF No. 137 at 1.) The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. Was Sandoval Working in an Occupation as a Cosmetologist?

         Under the Policy, for the first two years, Sandoval would be considered disabled if she met the following criteria “due to [her] sickness or injury”:

1. You are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your regular occupation and are not working in your regular occupation or any other occupation
or
2. You are unable to perform one or more of the material and substantial duties of your regular occupation, and you have a 20% or more loss in your indexed monthly earnings while working ...

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