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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Douglas

July 29, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


This is an interpleader action involving competing claims as beneficiary(ies) to the proceeds of a group life insurance policy issued by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife") to James D. DuVall ("DuVall") through his employer, FirstEnergy Group. The competing claimants are Mr. DuVall's natural children, Gerard, David and Amanda DuVall and his alleged fiance, Mary Lynn Douglas. The Court conducted a non-jury trial on July 15, 2008. Based on the evidence presented during the trial and the applicable law, the Court enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 52.

Findings of Fact


1. DuVall was married to Linda Ann DuVall, now Linda Daube, for twenty-six years, during which they had three children, Gerard (born 9/29/83), David (born 1/18/87) and Amanda (born 11/11/89). James filed for divorce in March 2006 and left the marital domicile in May 2006. The divorce became final in October 2006. As part of the divorce settlement agreement, Linda relinquished all of her rights in and to DuVall's employment-related savings, retirement and death benefits.

2. DuVall apparently began dating Mary Lynn Douglas, a co-worker, in the summer of 2006. In October 2006, DuVall became ill and began to miss work. Around Thanksgiving, DuVall was diagnosed with cancer and spent two weeks in the hospital. After his hospitalization, DuVall moved in and resided with Douglas in her home until immediately prior to his death on February 5, 2007. Following his hospital stay, DuVall was on disability and never returned to work. Douglas testified that she and DuVall had agreed to get married after DuVall recovered, but DuVall never actually gave her an engagement ring.

3. DuVall was a long-time employee of Duquesne Light Company, but in 2000 the business was sold to FirstEnergy Group and DuVall coninued as an employee of FirstEnergy. DuVall had numerous benefits associated with his employment, including but not limited to medical insurance benefits, a 401(k) savings plan, a retirement pension benefit and life insurance.

4. Pursuant to the terms of the union collective bargaining agreement, DuVall participated in an employer-sponsored group life insurance policy issued by MetLife. The face amount of the policy death benefit is $64,000 plus interest.

Beneficiary Designation Forms

5. On June 6, 2006, DuVall executed a MetLife Beneficiary Designation form, which named his children as primary beneficiaries (Gerard - 34%, David and Amanda - 33% each) and named his brother, Ralph, and his mother, Sarah, as contingent beneficiaries (50% apiece) on the referenced group life insurance policy. This beneficiary designation was on file at Met Life and/or FirstEnergy at the time of DuVall's death. The validity of this document has not been contested.

6. Glen Camp, a co-worker of DuVall since 1982, testified that he had served as an employee benefits representative for the electrical workers Local Union 29 since 1987, and was a liaison for union members with FirstEnergy on issues regarding employee benefits. In that role, Camp met privately with DuVall at DuVall's request on December 20, 2006 in order to review DuVall's employee benefits entitlement, provide him with requested change of beneficiary designation forms and answer any questions he may have regarding employment-related benefits.

7. At the meeting, Camp learned that DuVall was divorced and living with Douglas and that DuVall wanted to have Douglas named as his primary beneficiary of all of his employment-related benefits. Camp advised DuVall that since he was divorced, he was free to leave his benefits to whomever he may choose. Camp provided change of beneficiary designation forms to DuVall for his Met Life group life insurance policy, 401(k) savings plan and retirement pension benefit and he instructed DuVall how to complete the forms.

8. Following the December meeting, Camp spoke to DuVall a number of times by phone to answer his questions regarding benefits. Sometime in January 2007, DuVall told Camp that he had changed all of his beneficiary designations to Douglas.

9. A MetLife Beneficiary Designation form, dated January 11, 2007 (the "January 11 Designation"), named Douglas as the sole primary beneficiary on DuVall's group life insurance policy. The form also designated Ralph DuVall as a 50% contingent beneficiary, with the children named as 50% contingent beneficiaries (Gerard and Amanda - 16.67% each, David-16.66%). This beneficiary designation form, along with others for the savings plan and retirement pension benefits were purportedly signed by DuVall and were personally delivered by Douglas to April in the Human Resources department at FirstEnergy on January 12, 2007. By correspondence of January 29, 2007, MetLife rejected this beneficiary designation for the ...

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