No. 20-5133
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville.
No. 3:14-cv-00599—Claria Horn Boom, District Judge.
Decided and Filed: November 4, 2020
Before: SUTTON, THAPAR, and READLER, Circuit Judges.


THAPAR, Circuit Judge. James Pogue believed that he had a severe anxiety disorder that prevented him from practicing as a family doctor. So he submitted a disability claim to his two long-term disability insurers: Northwestern Mutual and Principal Life Insurance Company.

When submitting his claim, however, Pogue left out one detail—the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners had suspended his license for mis-prescribing painkillers. His insurers found out and denied both of his claims.

After the insurers denied his claims, Pogue filed two lawsuits—one against Northwestern Mutual and one against Principal. He alleged, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Pogue’s lawsuit against Northwestern Mutual (“Pogue I”) reached summary judgment first. The Pogue I district court granted summary judgment for Northwestern Mutual on two alternative grounds: (1) the suspension occurred before Pogue became disabled, and (2) the suspension caused stress and anxiety and thus contributed to his disability. Pogue v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 3:14-CV-00598-CRS, 2018 WL 1189415, *5–6 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 7, 2018). On appeal, this court affirmed on the first ground and declined to consider the second ground. Pogue v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 18-5291, 2019 WL 1376032, *2–4 (6th Cir. Feb. 7, 2019) (order).

When Pogue’s lawsuit against Principal reached summary judgment, the district court applied issue preclusion. The court relied on the Pogue I district court’s holding that the suspension of Pogue’s license contributed to his disability. The court held that this finding was fatal for Pogue’s breach-of-contract claim and granted summary judgment for Principal. In view of that ruling, the court did not address whether the suspension occurred before Pogue became disabled. The court also granted summary judgment for Principal on Pogue’s bad-faith claims.

On appeal, Pogue contends that the district court erred by giving preclusive effect to an alternative holding on which this court declined to opine. We agree and reverse.