JP Morgan just won an important victory in its quest to have an unprecedented $8 billion jury verdict thrown out without its hordes of lawyers having to do one single thing.
Back in September, Jamie Dimon’s bank was hit with an $8 billion jury verdict for, a judgment large enough to negatively impact the bank’s EPS and dent its Tier 1 ratio. On the surface, that judgment might seem excessive. But the bank’s treatment of the Hopper family was so absurdly outrageous, getting stuck with the largest jury award of 2017 appeared justifiable to many in retrospect.
However, in what appears to be an attempt to stave off a laborious appeals process and exit quickly with their cash, the family of a former airline executive asked the judge to lower the punitive damages portion of the fine – what amounts to $6 billion of the $8 billion – to roughly $100 million.
Lawyers for Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer asked a Dallas probate court to limit punitive damages to them and their father’s estate to about $70 million, down from a total of $6 billion awarded by the jury. Hopper and Wassmer also asked for $3.9 million for losses and attorneys’ fees.
The widow, Jo Hopper, asked the court to lower her award to $14.4 million, according to a filing from her lawyers disclosed Friday.
The final award could go even lower. JPMorgan is seeking to reverse the entire judgment.
The legal saga started when Max Hopper, a former American Airlines executive, died suddenly in 2010. Hopper had no will when he passed, so his family hired JP Morgan to administer the estate.
And so began an unbelievably infuriating process for Hopper’s family, as the bank repeatedly refused to release Hopper’s assets, taking years to perform basic due diligence that should’ve been completed in weeks. Because of the bank’s negligence, stock options belonging to the Hopper’s were allowed to expire worthless.
JPMorgan was hired to administer the estate and the bank should have divided the assets and released them to Jo Hopper and her stepchildren, according to the lawsuit. Instead, her lawyers said in a statement, “the bank took years to release basic interests in art, home furnishings, jewelry, and notably, Mr. Hopper’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine. Some of the interests in the assets were not released for more than five years.’’
The plaintiffs alleged that bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for assets under their control, stock options were allowed to expire, and Mrs. Hopper’s wishes to sell stock were ignored. Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer also claimed that the bank cut them out of decisions and kept them uninformed in order to curry favor with their stepmother.
Jo Hopper initially sued the bank, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. JPMorgan paid legal fees to defend this out of the estate account, depleting it by more than $3 million, the plaintiffs’ said in court filings.
Initially, the Texas probate court had awarded punitive damage awards of $2 billion each to Jo Hooper, the Hopper estate, Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer.
JPMorgan has denied any wrongdoing and said it acted in good faith. “Clearly the award far exceeds any possible interpretation of Texas tort reform statutes,’” said Andrew Gray, spokesman for the bank.
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