JPMorgan $8 billion loss to widow faces massive reduction

Plaintiffs concede jury awarded too much money in estate fight

Mar 30, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

By Bloomberg News

JPMorgan Chase & Co. will probably face a judgment of no more than $90 million in a lawsuit claiming mismanagement of an estate that initially brought a jury verdict of $8 billion in punitive damages.

In September, a Dallas jury awarded excessive punitives and duplicate actual damages, the widow and children of Max Hopper, a former American Airlines executive, said in court filings.

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. Mr. Hopper and Ms. 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 dispute over the estate began with the death of Max Hopper in 2010. Mr. Hopper, who pioneered a reservation system for the airline, died unexpectedly with assets of more than $19 million but without a will, family lawyers said.

(More: Prince's death sets off estate planning quagmire)

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.

A probate court jury awarded punitive damage awards of $2 billion each to Jo Hooper, the Hopper estate, Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer.

JPMorgan denied any wrongdoing. The bank said it acted in good faith on the Hopper estate and expected the verdict to be reversed. "Clearly the award far exceeds any possible interpretation of Texas tort reform statutes,'' Andrew Gray, a spokesman for the bank, said in an emailed statement after the verdict.

The original $8 billion award was the largest jury verdict of 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It's also the ninth largest in U.S. history.

The case is Hopper v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, PR-11-3238-1, Probate Court, Dallas County, Texas.

(More: How will Hugh Hefner's estate 'look after' his widow's finances?)

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