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Deborah L. Baldwin v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Upmc); Life Insurance

March 29, 2011

DEBORAH L. BALDWIN, AS GUARDIAN OF C.L.D., A MINOR, K.K.D., A MINOR, AND C.M.D., A MINOR, APPELLANT
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CENTER (UPMC); LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Civil Action No. 09-cv-1220) District Judge: Honorable Joy Flowers Conti

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garth, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued February 10, 2011

Before: JORDAN, GREENAWAY, JR., and GARTH, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

This appeal by the plaintiff-appellant Deborah L. Baldwin as the adoptive mother of three Trent children requires us to decide Baldwin‟s standing to claim the insurance proceeds of policies subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461, which were purchased by the children‟s biologic mother. The District Court denied relief to Baldwin, holding that she, as the adoptive mother to Trent‟s three children, has no standing to receive the insurance proceeds on behalf of the children under ERISA. We hold that Baldwin is entitled to offer evidence as to Trent‟s intent, i.e., understanding of the terms of her insurance policies, in order to establish the facts she alleges in her complaint. As a consequence, we will reverse the District Court‟s judgment and remand to the District Court for further proceedings as directed in this opinion.

I. In 2001, Victoria Trent, biologic mother of three minor children, C.L.D., K.K.D., and C.M.D., began working for appellee University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). On June 6, 2003, at Trent‟s urging, Trent‟s lifelong family friend, Deborah Baldwin, adopted the children and became their legal guardian. New birth certificates were issued for the children. Notwithstanding the adoption, Trent maintained a parental relationship with the children, who still referred to her as "Mom": she lived with Baldwin and the children for three years after they were adopted by Baldwin, and Trent spent all holidays and festivals with Baldwin and the children.

Trent was employed at UPMC from 2001 to 2008. Trent enrolled in four insurance plans offered by UPMC for the year 2008. The premiums for these were deducted from her salary each pay period: 1) a $25,000 basic life insurance policy; 2) a $25,000 basic accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance policy; 3) a $100,000 supplemental group life insurance policy; and 4) a $200,000 supplemental AD&D insurance policy. Trent designated a beneficiary -- Baldwin -- for the $25,000 basic life policy, but did not designate a beneficiary for the three remaining policies.

Each of the life policies, as distinct from the ERISA statute, contains the following language:

If there is no named beneficiary or surviving beneficiary, Death Benefits will be paid to the first surviving class of the following living relatives: spouse; child or children; mother or father; brothers or sisters; or to the executors or administrators of the Insured‟s estate.

To similar effect, the AD&D policies provide:

If there is no named beneficiary or surviving beneficiary, or if the Employee dies while benefits are payable to him, We may make direct payment to the first surviving class of the following classes of persons:

1) spouse;

2) child or ...


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