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GOODWIN v. HARTFORD LIFE INS. CO.

June 1, 1973

Edith P. GOODWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant


McCune, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCCUNE

McCUNE, District Judge.

 Edith P. Goodwin brought this suit to recover the proceeds of a group life insurance policy which allegedly covered her deceased husband, Robert P. Goodwin. After a non jury trial we handed down an opinion and order on January 8, 1973, D.C., 352 F. Supp. 907, entering a judgment for the plaintiff for the face amount of the policy, $25,000.00, with interest.

 Defendant, Hartford Life Insurance Company, has now filed a motion to amend or vacate judgment on three grounds. Except for the third ground, we do not think the motion raises new legal issues requiring extended discussion. It appears, instead, that it raises questions which in essence involve an interpretation of our previous opinion and order.

 In our opinion we held, in short, that the doctrine of equitable estoppel applied so that Hartford could not avoid coverage after Goodwin's death.

 I

 Defendant now argues that the doctrine of equitable estoppel is inapplicable here because in our discussion of the evidence adduced at trial, we did not make a finding of fact that Mr. Goodwin acted in good faith. Hartford asserts that "unless the court makes a finding of good faith on the part of the plaintiff's decedent, and that he was in fact misled by the defendant's conduct, *fn1" it must enter judgment for the defendant." (Defendant's brief, p. 6.).

 We were not unaware of defendant's position. As we observed in our opinion, "In order to apply estoppel in favor of an insured it is generally required that the insured shall have acted in good faith. . . ." (p. 16). We then held that on the basis of the facts we found no bad faith "sufficient to disqualify the plaintiff from claiming estoppel." (p. 16). Our choice of words on this point may have been misleading. To accurately reflect our thinking we should have said that we found no proof of bad faith sufficient to disqualify the plaintiff from claiming equitable estoppel. It is defendant's position that because we did not find good faith we cannot apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel. While it is true that an application of estoppel generally requires a finding of good faith, defendant overlooks the fact that it is also true, as we said in our opinion, that "estoppel is an equitable doctrine, essentially flexible and therefore to be applied or denied as equities between the parties may preponderate." (p. 16). Consequently we do not think it is a fixed and unalterable rule that a finding of good faith must always be made before the doctrine of equitable estoppel may be applied. Courts obviously have great flexibility in applying equitable doctrines and shaping equitable remedies. In equity each case must turn on its own facts. See, generally, 16A Appleman Insurance Law and Practice, § 9081, et seq., Elements of Waiver and Estoppel. For the reasons stated in our opinion we think the equities here lie with the plaintiff. Accordingly, we affirm our prior holding. *fn2"

 II

 Defendant next contends that we erred in granting judgment to the plaintiff for the full amount of the policy. Instead, defendant argues, the award must be limited to $12,500.00, the amount due on the "basic insurance" contract. It appears that the "basic" coverage was supplemented by a $12,500.00 endorsement, or "excess" coverage.

 Defendant contends that even though estopped from denying liability under the basic coverage, it is not estopped to deny coverage under the excess insurance because there were different qualifications for the two coverages. As we understand it, the basic coverage required that a person be an active full-time employee. The excess coverage required, in addition, that the insured not have missed work because of injury or sickness during the preceding thirty-day period.

 Defendant has submitted to the court a letter from Lawrence J. Rupp, Vice President and Actuary of the Hartford Insurance Group, explaining this requirement:

 
"In the case of the group life insurance policy written by Hartford Life Insurance Company for the Ever-Soft Company of Pennsylvania, Inc., the excess insurance was added by an endorsement to the policy, dated May 4, 1966. As a result of the Thirty-Day Active Work Requirement, an employee of the Ever-Soft Company in order to be entitled to the excess insurance, although insured for the basic amount, must again qualify as of May 6, 1966, (the earliest eligible date for such excess insurance) or on any date thereafter, as a person employed on a full-time active basis ; who is physically able to perform all the duties of his regular occupation; and who has not been absent from active full-time work because of bodily injury or sickness during the immediately preceding thirty-day period." (Emphasis added).

 We are unable to conclude from the record that Mr. Goodwin missed no work because of bodily injury or sickness during the 30 days immediately preceding the effective date of the rider, and therefore fulfilled the work requirements for excess coverage. In fact, we held in our earlier opinion that Mr. Goodwin ...


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