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AETNA LIFE INS. CO. v. MITCHELL

February 12, 1960

AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a Connecticut Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
Elizabeth Harrington MITCHELL et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FOLLMER

This is an interpleader proceeding to determine the parties entitled to the proceeds of a life insurance policy. The facts on which the parties are in substantial agreement are as follows:

 On June 15, 1949, Aetna Life Insurance Company, a Connecticut corporation with its principal office in Hartford, Connecticut (hereinafter called 'Aetna'), issued its Certificate No. 3319 to John T. Harrington in connection with Group Life Insurance Policy No. 14795 issued to Clark Bros. Co., Inc., a New York corporation with its principal office in Olean, New York (hereinafter called 'Clark Bros.'). Clark Bros. is a division of the Dresser Operations, Inc., a Texas corporation with its office in Dallas, Texas (hereinafter called 'Dresser').

 Insured designated his wife, Mary M. Harrington, as his beneficiary and he made no subsequent change of beneficiary.

 Mary M. Harrington died May 29, 1954, as the result of a gunshot wound inflicted by her husband, the above named insured John T. Harrington, at that time in the employ of Clark Bros. John T. Harrington died on the same day, May 29, 1954, by suicide, leaving no direct heirs surviving him. The named beneficiary, Mary M. Harrington, left three minor children by a former marriage. The claimants are Edwin W. Hanley, duly appointed, qualified and acting Administrator of the Estate of Mary Harrington, Deceased, and Elizabeth Harrington Mitchell, Gertrude Harrington Liebel, Winifred Harrington Pikulski, Michael Harrington, Eugene Harrington, and Helen Harrington Feichter, brothers and sisters of the insured, John T. Harrington.

 Defendants, brothers and sisters, filed motion for judgment on the pleadings in their favor. Attached to the said motion was affidavit of Margaret J. Cecchi, Personnel Assistant in the employ of Clark Bros. The affidavit set forth that deponent had been in the employment of Clark Bros. for fifteen years; that as such Personnel Assistant it was her duty to keep and maintain all personnel records pertaining to employees of Clark Bros., including maintaining and keeping all insurance records, insurance applications and withholding certificates of the employees; that the said records indicated that assured had lived at various addresses in the State of New York from September, 1947, to December 4, 1951, and from December 4, 1951, to May 29, 1954, at Coudersport, Pennsylvania; and that Certificate No. 3319, dated June 15, 1949, issued to John T. Harrington was delivered to the said insured at the Personnel Office of Clark Bros. in Olean, New York.

 It would follow from the above that all of the moving factors in this case occurred in the State of New York. The master policy was delivered by Aetna to Clark Bros. at Olean, New York. The application for insurance was made at Olean, New York. Certificate to insured employee under said master policy was delivered to insured at Olean, New York. Insurance premiums were paid from Olean, New York. The rights of the parties must therefore be determined by the laws of the State of New York. In Newspaper Readers Service, Inc. v. Canonsburg Pottery Co., 3 Cir., 1945, 146 F.2d 963, 965, the court stated, inter alia:

 'Under the Pennsylvania conflict of laws rule the interpretation of a contract is determined by the law of the place of contracting. * * * By the law of Pennsylvania a contract is made when and where the last act necessary for its formation is done. * * * Since in this case the final act, the acceptance, was in Massachusetts we have consulted the law of that state. * * *'

 That, however, is not a matter of serious consequence here since the underlying principles of law applicable to the facts of this case are substantially the same in both states.

 The certificate of insurance here involved carries this paragraph:

 As above indicated, insured made no change of beneficiary, consequently, assuming that the beneficiary predeceased the insured, the contract of insurance would prevail and the proceeds of the policy would be payable to the first qualifying group, here the brothers and sisters of the insured. 'A policy, it has been held, may make special provision for the distribution of proceeds where the beneficiary predeceases the insured, in which event general statutes pertaining thereto would have no application.' 2 Appleman Ins. L. & P. § 1126.

 Pennsylvania's 'Property Rights of Slayers Act' of August 5, 1941, P.L. 816, § 11, 20 P.S. § 3451(b) provides as follows:

 'If the decedent is beneficiary or assignee of any policy or certificate of insurance on the life of the slayer, the proceeds shall be paid to the estate of the decedent upon the death of the slayer, unless the policy names some person other than the slayer or his estate as alternative beneficiary, or unless the slayer by naming a new beneficiary or assigning the policy performs an ...


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