Tennessee Supreme Court Reinstates Conviction For Presenting A False Or Fraudulent Insurance Claim

December 20, 2019

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated the conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim of the defendant, Reuben Eugene Mitchell.

In 2011, the defendant applied to Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company for a homeowner’s insurance policy.  Just days after the policy was issued, a fire caused extensive damage to the defendant’s residence.  The defendant called the insurance provider to report the fire and accepted an advance payment of $1,000.  He was later charged and convicted of one count of arson and one count of presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s arson conviction but reversed his conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim, emphasizing that the defendant did not meet the insurance policy’s technical requirements for filing a claim.  The Supreme Court granted review of the case to address whether the proof presented at trial was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court determined that the jury was entitled to conclude that the defendant had violated Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-133, the statute prohibiting the presentation of a false or fraudulent insurance claim.  It explained that, although the defendant did not comply with all of the technical requirements for filing a “claim” under his insurance policy, the statute’s clear and unambiguous intent is to criminalize intentional efforts to obtain monies under an insurance contract through the presentation of false or fraudulent information to the insurer.  The Court concluded that the defendant’s conduct satisfied the statutory elements because, in making verbal representations to Allstate implying that the fire was accidental, accepting the $1,000 advanced payment, and signing the corresponding advanced payment agreement, the defendant was clearly asserting a right to payment under his homeowner’s policy.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstated the conviction. 

To read the unanimous opinion in State v. Reuben Eugene Mitchell, authored by Justice Roger A. Page, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.