United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.
This civil case arises out of competing claims for the proceeds of a life insurance policy. Plaintiff, Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company ("Hartford"), has deposited the full sum of the life insurance policy with the court registry and has been dismissed from the case. Presently before the court is Defendant Diane Hayes's ("Diane") motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21), arguing that she is entitled to the life insurance proceeds as a matter of law because she was the sole surviving beneficiary listed on the policy at the time of the decedent-insured's death. Defendant Kenneth Hayes ("Kenneth") contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the decedent-insured had properly executed and mailed a change of beneficiary form that, through no fault of her own, was not on file with Hartford at the time of her death. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the motion for summary judgment.
The following facts are undisputed or, where disputed, reflect Kenneth's version of facts in the record, pursuant to this court's duty to view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
A. Procedural History
On August 27, 2013, Hartford filed the present interpleader action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335, to resolve Kenneth's and Diane's competing claims for Bernice Hayes's ("Decedent")'s life insurance policy. (Doc. 1.) On October 17, 2013, the court entered an order allowing Hartford to deposit the sum of $25, 000.00, plus any applicable interest, into the court's registry. (Doc. 8.) On May 29, 2014, the court entered a stipulated order discharging Hartford from any claims for Decedent's insurance benefits and dismissing Hartford from this action. (Doc. 20.) Therefore, in its present posture, this case presents only a dispute between the two defendants.
On June 30, 2014, Diane filed a motion for summary judgment and incorporated therein a statement of undisputed material facts. (Doc. 21.) On July 1, 2014, Diane perfected her motion by filing a brief in support. (Doc. 22.) On July 21, 2014, Kenneth filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 23) and a responsive statement of facts (Doc. 24). Diane filed a reply brief on August 5, 2014. (Doc. 30.) Thus, this matter has been fully briefed and is appropriate for the court's consideration.
Decedent was covered for a basic life insurance benefit in the amount of $25, 000.00 through a group policy ("the Policy") issued by Hartford to Decedent's former employer, the Board of Education of Prince George's County, Maryland (the "Employer"). (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 7-8.) On January 16, 2007, Decedent prepared and executed a "Designation of Beneficiary" form ("2007 Form") designating her son, Vidal E. Hayes ("Vidal") and his then-wife, Diane, as beneficiaries of the Policy, each to receive fifty-percent of the benefit amount. ( See Doc. 1-2, p. 55 of 61.)
At some point prior to 2009, Vidal and Diane separated. ( See Doc. 30, p. 3 of 13.) On July 1, 2009, Decedent signed a Last Will and Testament naming her sons, Vidal and Kenneth, as equal beneficiaries of her estate. ( See Doc. 23-1.) In Paragraph X, the Will stated: "It is my expressed intention for Diane Smerechniak-Hayes, not to receive any distribution of my Will, nor benefit from my demise, in any way." ( Id. at p. 9 of 9.) On that same date, Decedent also executed a Durable Power of Attorney ("POA"), appointing Kenneth as her agent.
Vidal pre-deceased Decedent. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.) On February 5, 2013, Decedent died of colon cancer. (Doc. 1-2, p. 57 of 61.) At the time of her death, the 2007 Form was the only beneficiary form on file with the Employer. (Doc. 1, ¶ 12.) However, on May 29, 2013, Hartford received a second "Beneficiary Designation" form ("2012 Form") that was signed and dated by Decedent on September 4, 2012 and which named Vidal and Kenneth as beneficiaries, each to receive fifty-percent of the benefit amount. (Doc. 1-2, p. 59 of 61.) The 2012 Form also designated Decedent's grandsons, Jalen Le Doux-Hayes and minor J.L.H. as contingent beneficiaries, each to receive fifty-percent of the benefit amount. ( Id. ) The 2012 Form was notarized by R. Paul Martinez ( see id.; Doc. 23-3, ¶ 5) and the signature was witnessed by Melissa Martinez, Teresa Le Doux-Hayes ("Teresa"), and Dorothy Sweet, a resident assistant at the nursing home where Decedent spent her final months. (Doc. 23-3, ¶¶ 4-5; Doc. 23-4, ¶ 17; Doc. 23-5, ¶¶ 4-5).
Pursuant to the terms of the Policy:
[An Employee] may designate or change a beneficiary by doing so in writing on a form satisfactory to Us and filing the form with the Employer. Only satisfactory forms sent to the Employer prior to Your death will be accepted.
Beneficiary designations will become effective as of the date You signed and dated the form, even if You have since died. We will not be liable for any amounts paid before receiving ...