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Bonsu v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

January 4, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Augustine Bonsu ("Bonsu") brings this action seeking benefits and bad faith damages under a life insurance policy issued by defendant Jackson National Life Insurance Company ("JNL"). Presently before the court is JNL's motion for summary judgment. (See Doc. 109.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

The facts underlying this case date back to 2002, when an individual purporting to be Kwaku Asamoah ("Asamoah") submitted an application for life insurance to JNL. According to the application, Asamoah was thirty-five years of age; was employed as a mechanic living in York, Pennsylvania; had never been diagnosed with a serious medical condition; his driver's license had never been suspended or revoked; and he had never been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense. (Doc. 115, Ex. A.) Asamoah named his brother, Bonsu, as the sole beneficiary under the policy and requested coverage of $250,000. (Id.) When he signed the application, Asamoah represented that his answers were truthful and accurate.*fn2 (See id.) JNL approved the application and issued a $250,000 policy to Asamoah on December 27, 2002. (Doc. 113 ¶ 2; Doc. 124 ¶ 2.)

In May 2003, Asamoah allegedly traveled to his native country of Ghana, where he intended to stay with family in the village of Akropong for three months. (See Doc. 115, Ex. F attach. E.) On May 13, 2003, however, Bonsu claims that Asamoah died in his sleep of unknown causes. (Id.) Asamoah was never posthumously examined by a physician, nor was an autopsy performed or a police report completed prior to his burial. (See id.) Asamoah was purportedly buried in the village cemetery a short time after his death. (See id.)

On May 30-seventeen days after Asamoah supposedly died-JNL received a $98 policy premium payment allegedly sent from Asamoah. (See Doc. 113 ¶ 13; Doc. 115, Ex. G; Doc. 124 ¶ 13.) Approximately two months later, on July 11, 2003, Bonsu contacted JNL to report Asamoah's demise.*fn3 (Doc. 113 ¶ 4; Doc. 115, Ex. C.) JNL claims investigator Joseph Hicks ("Hicks") testified that the circumstances surrounding Asamoah's alleged passing caused concern for the insurer. (See Doc. 115, Ex. D ¶¶ 6-8.) Hicks cited several red flags, including the recency with which Asamoah applied for life insurance, his relative youth and purported good health, and his assertion that he had no pre-existing medical conditions. (Id. ¶ 7.)

As a result of its concerns, JNL retained the services of International Claim Specialists ("ICS") to conduct a comprehensive investigation into Asamoah's death. (Doc. 113 ¶ 5; Doc. 124 ¶ 5.) On August 7, 2003, ICS interviewed Bonsu, who was accompanied by his attorney, Richard Konkel ("Konkel"), and his mother, Catherine Oppong-Temme. (Doc. 113 ¶ 10; Doc. 124 ¶ 10.) Bonsu provided ICS with a signed statement wherein he averred that Asamoah was his brother and that the two of them had been living together in York for the previous four years. Prior to that, Bonsu stated that Asamoah lived alone in Alexandria, Virginia for six years, where he was employed as a mechanic. Bonsu also described the circumstances surrounding Asamoah's alleged death:

Around the beginning of May 2003, Kwaku went to visit his family in Akropong-Akwapim, Ghana. He had planned to stay for approximately 3 months. He was staying with his sister, Catherine Opong-Temme, who resides at W171 Akropong-Akwapim. Kwaku was not sick before he left and was not sick when he arrived there. On 5-13-03, when the family went to wake Kwaku up, they found he did not respond to them knocking on the bedroom door. His friend had come to visit him. When Kwaku did not respond, the friend whose name I do not know, went into the bedroom. He found Kwaku lying in bed. He was dead. (Doc. 115, Ex. F attach. E.) Bonsu also stated that Asamoah's passport and travel papers had gone missing after his death and that they had not been recovered. (See id.)

In addition to his signed statement, Bonsu provided ICS investigators with two documents. The first was entitled, "Certified Copy of Entry in Register of Deaths," which purported to be a death certificate issued by the Ghanian government. (See Doc. 115, Ex. F attach. A.) This document states that Asamoah died on May 13, 2003, that he was a farmer, and that he is buried in the public cemetery in Akropong, Ghana. (See id.) The "age," "date of birth," "cause and manner of death," and "certifying physician" sections of this form are left blank. (Id.) The second document provided by Bonsu was an affidavit allegedly sworn out by another of Asamoah's brothers, Alfred Akouku Ampaabeng. (See Doc. 115, Ex. F attach. B.) The affidavit avers that Asamoah died on May 12, 2003, and that Ampaabeng attended the funeral. (See id.) This affidavit was purportedly issued by the High Court of Ghana. (See id.) Bonsu proffered both documents to ICS as proof of Asamoah's death. ICS then transmitted Bonsu's signed statement and the two above-described documents to JNL for its review. (See Doc. 115, Ex. F.)

According to Hicks, "[t]he incompleteness of the information received . . . , in combination with the limited amount of information available from Bonsu's statement, prompted a more rigorous review and evaluation of Bonsu's claim." (Doc. 115, Ex. D ¶ 23.)

On October 31, 2003, ICS interviewed Bonsu a second time. (Doc. 113 ¶ 14; Doc. 124 ¶ 14.) In this interview, Bonsu stated that: (1) he had no information pertaining to Asamoah's air travel to Ghana; (2) only family members and close friends were present at Asamoah's funeral, and no photographs were taken; (3) he was unable to provide any information pertaining to Asamoah's employer, including an address or telephone number, except that; (4) Asamoah was employed as a mechanic in Alexandria, Virginia at the time of his death, and he commuted to work from York on a daily basis. (See Doc. 115, Ex. H attach. C.) ICS also interviewed Blaine Rexroth ("Rexroth") on October 31, an agent with AAA who assisted Asamoah with his life insurance application. (Doc. 113 ¶ 15; Doc. 124 ¶ 15.) Rexroth supplied ICS with a telephone number that the individual purporting to be Asamoah had given to Rexroth during the application process.*fn4 (See Doc. 115, Ex. H attach. A.) ICS investigators determined that the telephone number belonged to Worthington Steel Pack, a York-area business where Bonsu was employed in November 2002. (See Doc. 115, Ex. I at 6.) ICS relayed this information to Hicks, who testified that he "found it suspicious that the person calling himself 'Kwaku Asamoah' would provide his insurance agent with a contact number which was Bonsu's place of employment, especially given the fact that Kwaku had never worked at Worthington Steel Pack," (Doc. 115, Ex. D ¶ 32).

On December 11, 2003, ICS obtained a copy of Asamoah's driving record from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.*fn5 (See Doc. 115, Ex. J attach. A.) The record indicates that Asamoah's license was suspended from September 2001 until March 2002 because of a reckless driving conviction. (See id.) Reckless driving is a misdemeanor in the state of Virginia. See VA. CODE ANN. § 46.2-868; (see also Doc. 110 at 17). In the application for life insurance, which was completed in November 2002, Asamoah stated that his driver's license had never been suspended or revoked and that he had never been convicted of a misdemeanor offense. (See Doc. 115, Ex. A.)

At this juncture, JNL directed ICS to send its agents to Ghana in search of additional evidence pertaining to Bonsu's claim. (See Doc. 115, Ex. D ¶¶ 35-36.) ICS investigators thereafter interviewed at least four villagers in Akropong, each of whom stated that an individual named "Kwaku Asamoah" did not visit or reside in their community, nor was such an individual buried in the cemetery.*fn6 (See Doc. 115, Ex. K.) Investigators also visited W171 Akropong-Akwapim, the building where Asamoah allegedly resided during his stay; the building was a community hall, not the residence of an individual named Catherine Opong-Temme. (See id.) Additionally, investigators traveled to the Ghana High Court of Justice, the government body which purportedly issued the affidavit sworn out by Asamoah's brother and proffered by Bonsu ...

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