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METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO. v. THOMPSON

February 1, 1966

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
Bessie THOMPSON and Edward Thompson, a minor, by his mother and natural guardian, Helen Mae Thompson



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

 The facts are not in dispute. Bessie Thompson is the decedent's mother. Edward Thompson is the issue of Cornelius R. Thompson and Helen Mae Thompson, who though living as husband and wife were never lawfully married under the laws of the State of New York, where they were at all times domiciled up to and including the date of Cornelius' death. It is conceded that under the laws of New York, Edward is illegitimate. Cornelius designated no beneficiary under the policy.

 The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 2093), pursuant to which the policy was issued, establishes the following order of distribution:

 
"First, to the beneficiary or beneficiaries as the employee may have designated by a writing received in the employing office prior to death;
 
"Second, if there be no such beneficiary, to the widow or widower of such employee;
 
"Third, if none of the above, to the child or children of such employee and descendants of deceased children by representation;
 
"Fourth, if none of the above, to the parents of such employee or the survivor of them;
 
"Fifth, if none of the above, to the duly appointed executor or administrator of the estate of such employee;
 
"Sixth, if none of the above, to other next of kin of such employee entitled under the laws of domicile of such employee at the time of his death."

 The narrow question for decision is whether an illegitimate child is a "child" within the meaning of the statute. If so, Edward prevails; if not, Bessie does. Congress has given us no definition of the word "child" as used in the Act. The threshold question is whether the determination of Congress' meaning is to be reached without reference to state law, or whether governing standards of applicable state law establish the relationship.

 The cases deciding the reference point for and the meaning of "child" or "children" within the terms of a federal statute are in hopeless confusion. Thus, in construing the Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 761, the court made no reference to state law and construed "children" to include illegitimate children. Middleton v. Luckenbach S.S. Co., 70 F.2d 326 (C.A.2, 1934), cert. den. 293 U.S. 577, 55 S. Ct. 89, 79 L. Ed. 674 (1934). Similarly, in Huber v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, 241 F. Supp. 646 (D.C.Md.1965), illegitimates were held entitled to compensation as "children" under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C.A. § 51 et seq., on the basis of federal law. Cf., however, Poff v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company, 327 U.S. 399, 66 S. Ct. 603, 90 L. Ed. 749 (1946), holding that the meaning of "next of kin" as used in the same statute is to be determined by state law.

 Then there are the cases construing the National Service Life Insurance Act. 38 U.S.C.A. § 701 et seq. Some cases have construed the meanings of designated family relationships in accordance with local family law principles, *fn1" while other cases, construing the same relationships under the same Act, have not relied on state law for their determination. *fn2"

 The National Service Life Insurance Act is analogous to the Act involved here. See Tatum v. Tatum, 241 F.2d 401, 405 (C.A.9, 1957). Plaintiff urges that this Act, the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, should be construed without reference to local law. Regretfully, I cannot agree.2a Family relationships are primarily matters of state concern; there is no federal law of domestic relations. De Sylva v. Ballentine, 351 U.S. 570, ...


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