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Bayer v. Fluor Corp.

July 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.


Susan Bayer sues the defendants for money that she contends they should have paid to her after her husband, Herbert Bayer, died on September 18, 2004. The plaintiff filed her complaint in this case, which is her second lawsuit regarding these issues, on July 13, 2009.*fn1 On February 26, 2010, the Clerk of Court entered default against defendant Sinead Cooke Bayer, the woman who received the payments that Susan seeks. We previously dismissed or granted summary judgment on all of the other claims in Susan's complaint, except the one against Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. ("CGLIC") for the proceeds of one of Herbert's life insurance policies, the "CGLIC Policy."*fn2 Bayer v. Fluor Corp., 682 F. Supp. 2d 484, 498 (E.D. Pa. 2010).

Susan claims that under § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, which is codified at 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), she is entitled to the proceeds of the CGLIC Policy, which is worth about $223,000. CGLIC has filed a motion for summary judgment as to the CGLIC Policy, and the parties have submitted extensive briefs and exhibits regarding that motion.*fn3 For the reasons we discuss below, we will grant CGLIC's motion and, at long last, bring the curtain down on this dispute.

I. Factual Background

Susan claims, and no one has disputed, that she and Herbert were married in 1988 and never divorced. Herbert then "married" Sinead Cooke Bayer in Las Vegas in 1999, but viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Susan, we will assume that Herbert and Susan never divorced and that Herbert's "marriage" to Sinead was therefore invalid.*fn4 Herbert died on September 18, 2004, and Sinead contacted CIGNA Group Insurance, which is no longer a defendant in this case, regarding the CGLIC Policy. See Letter from Dan Shustock, CIGNA Life Claim Specialist, to Sinead Cooke Bayer (Oct. 6, 2004), Def. Ex. 17. Sinead submitted a Life Insurance Claim Statement, date-stamped October 14, 2004, in which she claimed that she was Herbert's "spouse." Life Insurance Claim Statement of Sinead Cooke Bayer (Oct. 14, 2004), Def. Ex. 18. She attached a copy of Herbert's Certificate of Death from Maine, which stated that Sinead was Herbert's most recent spouse. Id. In an October 21, 2004 letter, Shustock informed Sinead that he approved her claim for the CGLIC Policy. Letter from Dan Shustock to Sinead Cooke Bayer (Oct. 21, 2004), Def. Ex. 19.

More than nine months later, on June 23, 2005, Susan wrote to CGLIC and claimed that Herbert's death benefits were paid to the wrong woman. Susan stated that "the policy has always listed his wife as the sole beneficiary" but that "a claim was filed and funds were paid to an individual who is not his spouse." Letter from Susan Bayer to Dan Shustock (June 23, 2005), Def. Ex. 20. Shustock wrote to Susan on July 6, 2005 and informed her that although Herbert designated Susan as the beneficiary of the CGLIC Policy "at one time," he changed his beneficiary of record on July 9, 2001 and Susan would thus receive no money from the policy. Letter from Dan Shustock to Susan Bayer (July 6, 2005), Def. Ex. 21.

On January 4, 2006, Susan's attorney wrote to CIGNA regarding the CGLIC Policy and stated that Herbert's marriage to Sinead was invalid because Herbert and Susan never divorced. Letter from Wendy J. Ashby, Esq. to CIGNA Group Insurance (Jan. 4, 2006), Def. Ex. 22. Ashby explained that it was the plaintiff's "understanding that Mr. Bayer's policy named his wife as beneficiary" and demanded that the CGLIC Policy proceeds be paid to Susan. Id. Ashby included with her letter (1) Susan and Herbert's marriage license that confirmed they were married on December 31, 1988, (2) the Maine death certificate described above, (3) Sinead and Herbert's marriage license from Nevada, and (4) a "Marriage Certificate" for Sinead and Herbert from the Candlelight Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Id. Sinead and Herbert's marriage license stated that this was Herbert's second marriage and that he was divorced in 1986. There is no mention on this document of his 1988 marriage to Susan.

Shustock next wrote to Ashby and said he was "referring this matter to our Home Office to review the beneficiary issue." Letter from Dan Shustock to Wendy J. Ashby, Esq. (Jan. 5, 2006), Def. Ex. 23. On May 2, 2006, Beth Ann Miller, a Life Claim Examiner for CIGNA Group Insurance, wrote to Ron Miller --apparently one of Susan's attorneys -- and explained that the CGLIC Policy proceeds were paid to Sinead because she was the designated beneficiary on that policy. Letter from Beth Ann Miller to Ron Miller, Esq. (May 2, 2006), Def. Ex. 25. She stated that Herbert identified Sinead as his "spouse" when he designated her as the beneficiary, but that he also listed her "by name," and that even though their marital status "may now seem suspect," CGLIC "distributed the proceeds to the named beneficiary [Sinead] as designated on July 9, 2001 by Herbert Bayer." Id.*fn5

In December of 2007 yet another of Susan's lawyers contacted CIGNA regarding the LINA and CGLIC Policies. Letter from Debra Washington DeLain, Esq. to CIGNA Group Insurance (Dec. 14, 2007), Def. Ex. 26. She explained that Susan had been given Letters of Administration for Herbert's estate and demanded various documents. Id. Using much of the same language that Beth Ann Miller employed in her May 2, 2006 letter, Shustock told counsel that the CGLIC Policy proceeds were paid to Sinead because she was the beneficiary Herbert designated "by name," and this trumped the "suspect" marital status of Sinead and Herbert. Letter from Dan Shustock to Debra Washington DeLain, Esq. (Jan. 3, 2008), Def. Ex. 27. These letters and other communications between Susan, her several attorneys, and CGLIC or CIGNA failed to convince CGLIC that it should pay the money to Susan, and she then filed two lawsuits, the most recent of which is this matter.*fn6

The CGLIC Policy Certificate states that CGLIC "shall have the authority, in its discretion, to interpret the terms of the Plan, to decide questions of eligibility for coverage or benefits under the Plan, and to make any related findings of fact. All decisions made by [CGLIC] shall be final and binding on participants and beneficiaries to the full extent permitted by law." CGLIC Policy Certificate, Def. Ex. 12, at 62. That Certificate allowed Herbert to change the beneficiary at any time "on a form satisfactory to [CGLIC] and signed by the Owner." Id. at 44. To change the beneficiary, Herbert did not need to get consent from the previously designated beneficiary. Id.

Susan admits that "on the date of Herbert Bayer's[] death, a beneficiary designation on a CGLIC enrollment form dated 7/09/01 for Fluor Corporation and its Subsidiaries listed 'Sinead Cooke Bayer' as the primary beneficiary, 100%," but Herbert printed "SPOUSE" on that document (the "Form") next to the label "Relationship." Pl. Resp. at 12, ¶ 26. See also id. at 19-20, ¶¶ 44-46 ("It is admitted that Herbert Bayer[] submitted an enrollment form dated July 9, 2001, designating Sinead Cooke Bayer as the beneficiary" but arguing that Herbert did not strictly comply with the requirements to change a beneficiary because he filled out an "enrollment form" rather than a "beneficiary form"); Group Universal Life Enrollment Form of Herbert Bayer (July 9, 2001), Def. Ex. 13 at 2.

II. Analysis*fn7

Having canvassed the facts underlying the parties' sole remaining dispute over the CGLIC Policy, we now turn to CGLIC's motion for summary judgment. Given Susan's admissions regarding the authenticity of the Form and CGLIC's possession of it at the time of Herbert's death, no reasonable jury could conclude that the decision to pay the CGLIC Policy proceeds to ...

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