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MARION H. TORCHIA v. KATHLEEN M. TORCHIA (08/09/85)

filed: August 9, 1985.

MARION H. TORCHIA, GUARDIAN ON BEHALF OF ROBIN ANN TORCHIA, DEBRA TORCHIA AND MARK TORCHIA, APPELLEES,
v.
KATHLEEN M. TORCHIA, APPELLANT



Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Delaware County, No. 83-3497.

COUNSEL

Raymond, J. Quaglia, Philadelphia, for appellant.

E. Chandler Hosmer, III, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Wieand, Watkins and Geisz,*fn* JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 346 Pa. Super. Page 231]

If, pursuant to a postnuptial property settlement agreement, a father promises to maintain his three children as beneficiaries of his life insurance policy, may the children recover the proceeds of the policy from the deceased husband's second wife who, without fault on her part, was named beneficiary of the policy in violation of the agreement?

[ 346 Pa. Super. Page 232]

The trial court concluded that the second wife had been unjustly enriched and decreed that she should pay the proceeds of the policy to the decedent's children by his first marriage. The widow appealed. We affirm.

Marion Torchia and Joseph Torchia were married on May 1, 1964. They were divorced in 1979. As part of a written property settlement agreement on February 9, 1979, Joseph Torchia promised to "maintain his (three) children as beneficiaries of all insurance policies that he presently owns." On March 5, 1979, Torchia named his three children as beneficiaries on two policies of insurance maintained at his place of employment. He subsequently remarried and soon thereafter changed the beneficiary on the two policies, naming his second wife, Kathleen M. Torchia, as primary beneficiary and his children as contingent"A beneficiaries. Joseph Torchia died on November 5, 1982. His widow was paid $44,000.00 as named beneficiary of the two aforesaid policies.*fn1 Marion Torchia, as parent and guardian for her minor children, commenced an action in equity against Kathleen Torchia to recover the sum of $44,000.00 paid to her by the insurance company. The trial court, after hearing, decreed that the guardian was entitled to recover the sum of $44,000.00, plus interest. Exceptions were dismissed, and a final decree was entered. This appeal followed.

The findings of a chancellor, affirmed by the court en banc, have the effect of a jury verdict and may not be reversed unless a review of the record reveals that they are unsupported by the evidence or are predicated upon erroneous inferences and deductions or errors of law. Biglan v. Biglan, 330 Pa. Super. 512, 517, 479 A.2d 1021, 1024 (1984). See also: Presbytery of Beaver-Butler v. Middlesex Presbysterian Church, 507 Pa. 255, 263, 489 A.2d 1317, 1323 (1985).

[ 346 Pa. Super. Page 233]

To sustain a claim of unjust enrichment, a claimant must show that the party against whom recovery is sought either "wrongfully secured or passively received a benefit that it would be unconscionable for her to retain." Roman Mosaic & Tile Co. v. Vollrath, 226 Pa. Super. 215, 218, 313 A.2d 305, 307 (1973). "In order to recover, there must be both (1) an enrichment, and (2) an injustice resulting if recovery for the enrichment is denied." Samuels v. Hendricks, 300 Pa. Super. 11, 14-15, 445 A.2d 1273, 1275 (1982) (emphasis in original), quoting Meehan v. Cheltenham Township, 410 Pa. 446, 449, 189 A.2d 593, 595 (1963). "[A] showing of knowledge or wrongful intent on the part of the benefited party is not necessary in order to show unjust enrichment. Rather, the focus is on the resultant unjust enrichment[,] not on the party's intention." Crossgates Realty, Inc. v. Moore, 279 Pa. Super. 247, 252, 420 A.2d 1125, 1128 (1980).

The decisions in most jurisdictions have recognized that a contract not to change the beneficiary of a policy of life insurance, entered into by an insured and his designated beneficiary for a valuable consideration, is binding as between the insured, or his volunteer, and the contractually determined beneficiary and will be enforced in equity. In Hundertmark v. Hundertmark, 372 Pa. 138, 93 A.2d 856 (1952), a husband had promised as part of a postnuptial property settlement agreement not to change the beneficiary on a life insurance policy to anyone other than his wife unless the wife should remarry. The husband subsequently remarried and thereupon named his second wife as beneficiary "without any inducement by [the second wife]." Id., 372 Pa. at 140, 93 A.2d at 857. When the insured died, his first wife commenced an action in equity in the nature of a bill of interpleader ...


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