DALLAS, Sept. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon LLP announces that a Dallas County Probate Court jury issued verdicts earlier today in favor of a Dallas widow, Jo Hopper, and her stepchildren, Dr. Stephen Hopper and Laura Wassmer, after a four-week trial against the country's largest bank, JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. The bank, which was hired by the family in 2010 to independently administer the estate of Max D. Hopper, was found in breach of its fiduciary duties and contract. In total, JP Morgan Chase was ordered to pay at least $4 billion in punitive damages, approximately $4.7 million in actual damages, and $5 million in attorney fees.
"The nation's largest bank horribly mistreated me and this verdict provides protection to others from being mistreated by banks that think they're too powerful to be held accountable," said Mrs. Hopper. "The country's largest bank, people we are supposed to trust with our livelihood, abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed. I'm blessed that I have the resources to hold JP Morgan accountable so other widows who don't have the same resources will be better protected in the future."
"Surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration," Mrs. Hopper added.
On January 25, 2010, Max Hopper died suddenly from a stroke. As a nationally prominent information technology executive – he pioneered American Airlines' SABRE Reservation System – Mr. Hopper, together with Mrs. Hopper, accrued assets worth more than $19 million during their 28 years of marriage. Mr. Hopper, however, died "intestate," or without a signed will.
According to Texas state law, the couple's "community property," that is, assets acquired over the course of their marriage, were divided in half between his surviving spouse, Mrs. Hopper on one hand, and his estate and heirs – Dr. Hopper of Oklahoma and Ms. Wassmer of Kansas, his children from a prior marriage – on the other hand. However, the assets were undivided, meaning an administrator had to collect the assets, pay any outstanding debts, and release the assets to the beneficiaries – in this case, Mrs. Hopper and her stepchildren. JP Morgan Chase was chosen for this duty and appointed administrator after pitching the family as experts in independent estate administration matters.
But JP Morgan Chase proved itself far from expert. Instead of independently and impartially collecting and dividing the estate's assets, 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. Even today some assets – now more than seven years after Mr. Hopper's death – still have not been released to Mrs. Hopper.
The bank's incompetence caused more than just unacceptably long timelines; bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control. In at least one instance, stock options were allowed to expire. In others, Mrs. Hopper's wishes to sell certain stock were ignored. The resulting losses, the jury found, resulted in actual damages and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Hopper. With respect to Mr. Hopper's adult children, the jury found that they lost potential inheritance in excess of $3 million when the Bank chose to pay its lawyers' legal fees out of the estate account to defend claims against the Bank for violating its fiduciary duty.
JP Morgan Chase sold itself on its expertise and experience. But the family's chief representative at the bank, Susan Novak, a vice president and senior fiduciary officer in the private wealth management/estate settlement unit in Dallas, had only once in her career at the bank handled an intestate estate.
"Mrs. Hopper asked the jury to send a message loud enough for JP Morgan to hear it all the way to Park Avenue in Manhattan," said Alan Loewinsohn, lead attorney for Mrs. Hopper. "Hopefully, that message has been received."
The six-person jury deliberated a little more than four hours starting Monday night and returned its verdict at approximately 12:15 a.m. Tuesday in Judge Brenda Hull Thompson's courtroom.
The case is No. PR-11-3238-1: In Re: Estate of Max D. Hopper, Deceased, Jo N. Hopper v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., et al, in the Probate Court of Dallas County, Texas.
Mrs. Hopper is represented by Alan S. Loewinsohn and Kerry F. Schonwald, of Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon LLP, in Dallas (214) 572-1707. Dr. Hopper and Ms. Wassmer are represented by Anthony L. Vitullo of Fee, Smith, Sharp & Vitullo, LLP, in Dallas (972) 934-9100, and James B. Bell of James S. Bell, PC, in Dallas (214) 668-9000. JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A. is represented by lead counsel John C. Eichman of Hunton & Williams LLP, in Dallas.
SOURCE Loewinsohn Flegle Deary Simon LLP