Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

BANKERS LIFE & CASUALTY CO. v. CRENSHAW

decided: May 16, 1988.

BANKERS LIFE & CASUALTY CO
v.
CRENSHAW



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Brennan, J., joined, in all but Part II of which White, J., joined, in all but Part II and n. 1 of which O'connor and Scalia, JJ., joined, and in all but Part III of which Blackmun, J., joined. White, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, in which Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 85. O'connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 86. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 89. Blackmun, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 89. Stevens and Kennedy, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Marshall

[ 486 U.S. Page 73]

 JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we must decide whether a Mississippi statute imposing a 15% penalty on parties who appeal unsuccessfully from a money judgment violates the Equal Protection Clause.

I

This action grows out of allegations that appellant Bankers Life and Casualty Company refused in bad faith to pay appellee Lloyd Crenshaw's insurance claim for loss of a limb. According to testimony at trial, appellee was injured on January 6, 1979, when a car alternator he was repairing rolled off his workbench and landed on his foot. Three days later, after the injury had not responded to home treatment, appellee went to the emergency room of the local Air Force base hospital. Hospital doctors prescribed a splint, crutches, and pain medication, and told appellee to return in a week. Appellee revisited the hospital three times over the next five days, each time complaining of continuing pain in his foot. By the last visit, appellee's foot had swollen and begun to turn blue, and the examining doctor recommended a surgery consultation. Appellee was admitted to the hospital, where,

[ 486 U.S. Page 74]

     on January 17, an Air Force general surgeon determined that a surgical amputation was necessary. The following day, appellee's leg was amputated below the knee.

At the time of the amputation, appellee was insured under a group policy issued by appellant. The policy provided a $20,000 benefit for loss of limb due to accidental bodily injury. In April 1979, appellee submitted a claim under the policy. Appellant denied the claim. The apparent basis for the denial was an opinion of appellant's Medical Director, Dr. Nathaniel McParland, that the cause of the amputation was not appellee's accident but a pre-existing condition of arteriosclerosis, a degenerative vascular disease. Appellee responded to the company's denial by furnishing a statement signed by three doctors who treated him at the hospital. They stated that appellee's arteriosclerosis was "'an underlying condition and not the immediate cause of the gangrenous necrosis. The precipating [sic] event must be considered to be the trauma which initially brought him to the Emergency Room on 9 January.'" 483 So. 2d 254, 261 (Miss. 1985). Dr. McParland and a company analyst concluded that this statement was inconsequential, and appellant adhered to its position that the arteriosclerosis was responsible for the loss of limb.

Appellee persisted in his efforts to recover under the policy, eventually hiring an attorney, and appellant persisted in its intransigence. In its correspondence with appellee and his attorney, appellant repeatedly asserted that appellee had not suffered an injury as defined in the policy, that is, a "'bodily injury, causing the loss while this policy is in force, directly and independently of all other causes and effected solely through an accidental bodily injury to the insured person.'" Id., at 262, quoting letter of Apr. 8, 1980, from Wm. Herzau to appellee. In contemporaneous internal memoranda, however, appellant noted that notwithstanding the policy language, appellee was entitled to recovery under Mississippi law if his injury had "'"aggravate[d], render[ed]

[ 486 U.S. Page 75]

     active, or set in motion a latent or dormant pre-existing physical condition or disease."'" Id., at 262, 263. The memoranda also demonstrated that appellant knew its files were incomplete yet never attempted to obtain appellee's medical records, most notably his emergency room report, even though Mississippi law and internal company procedures required such efforts.

After appellant again denied the claim on the ground that there was no evidence that appellee's "'injury caused this loss "directly and independently of all other causes,"'" see id., at 263, appellee brought this suit in Mississippi state court. His complaint requested $20,000 in actual damages, and, as amended, $1,635,000 in punitive damages for the tort of bad-faith refusal to pay an insurance claim. The jury awarded appellee the $20,000 provided by the policy and punitive damages of $1.6 million.

The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict without modification. It concluded that the punitive damages award was not excessive in light of appellant's financial worth and the degree of its wrongdoing. See id., at 279. Because the money judgment was affirmed without modification, a penalty of $243,000, or 15% of the judgment, was assessed against appellant and added to appellee's recovery in accordance with Mississippi's penalty statute. See Miss. Code Ann. § 11-3-23 (Supp. 1987). In its appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, appellant did not raise a federal constitutional challenge to the size of the punitive damages award.*fn1 Following the affirmance of the jury verdict, appellant filed a petition for rehearing. Appellant argued in the petition that "[t]he punitive damage verdict was clearly excessive,

[ 486 U.S. Page 76]

     not reasonably related to any legitimate purpose, constitutes excessive fine, and violates constitutional principles." App. to Juris. Statement 139a. An accompanying brief asserted that the punitive damages award violated "due process, equal protection, and other constitutional standards." Id., at 151a. Appellant also filed a Motion to Correct Judgment in which it alleged that the 15% penalty under § 11-3-23 "violat[ed] the rights of equal protection and due process of Bankers Life" guaranteed in the Federal and State Constitutions. App. to Juris. Statement 106a-107a. The Mississippi Supreme Court, without opinion, denied the petition for rehearing and overruled the Motion to Correct Judgment.

II

Appellant focuses most of its efforts in this appeal to challenging the punitive damages award of $1.6 million. It contends foremost that the award violates the Eighth Amendment's guarantee that "excessive fines [shall not be] imposed." Appellant argues first, that the Excessive Fines Clause applies to punitive damages awards rendered in civil cases, and second, that the particular award in this case was constitutionally excessive. In addition to its excessive fines claim, appellant challenges the punitive damages award in this case on the grounds that it violates the Due Process Clause and the Contract Clause. Although we noted probable jurisdiction as to all of the questions presented in appellant's jurisdictional statement, appellant's challenges to the size of the punitive damages award do not fall within our appellate jurisdiction. See 28 U. S. C. § 1257(2). We therefore treat them as if contained in a petition for a writ of certiorari, and our unrestricted notation of probable jurisdiction of the appeal is to be understood as a grant of the writ as to these claims. See Mishkin v. New York, 383 U.S. 502, 512 (1966). We conclude, however, that these claims were not raised and passed upon in state court, and we decline to reach them here. See ibid. ("The issue thus remains within our

[ 486 U.S. Page 77]

     certiorari jurisdiction, and we may, for good reason, even at this stage, decline to decide the merits of the issue, much as we would dismiss a writ of certiorari as improvidently granted").

Appellant maintains that it raised its various challenges to the size of the punitive damages award in its petition for rehearing before the Mississippi Supreme Court. In urging us to entertain the claims, appellant relies on our decision in Hathorn v. Lovorn, 457 U.S. 255, 262-265 (1982), in which we accepted certiorari jurisdiction of claims that were raised, but not passed upon, in the Mississippi Supreme Court on petition for rehearing. Hathorn would be apposite were we to conclude that appellant had adequately raised its claims on rehearing. But appellant's petition for rehearing alleged only that the punitive damages award "was clearly excessive, not reasonably related to any legitimate purpose, constitutes excessive fine, and violates constitutional principles." App. to Juris. Statement 139a. The vague appeal to constitutional principles does not preserve appellant's Contract Clause or due process claims. A party may not preserve a constitutional challenge by generally invoking the Constitution in state court and awaiting review in this Court to specify the constitutional provision it is relying upon. Cf. Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400, 407, n. 9 (1988) ("A generic reference to the Fourteenth Amendment is not sufficient to preserve a constitutional claim based on an unidentified provision of the Bill of Rights . . .").

Appellant's reference to the excessiveness of the punitive damages award more colorably raises a cognizable constitutional challenge to the size of the award, one based on the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. But this language as well is too oblique to allow us to conclude that appellant raised before the Mississippi Supreme Court the federal claim it now urges us to resolve. As this Court stated in Webb ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.