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Kreger v. Hartford Life And Annuity Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

LISA KREGER, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ANNUITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES S. WILCOX, Third-Party Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KIM R. GIBSO, NUNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Third-Party Defendant Charles Wilcox (ECF No. 25). The Motion is fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 26, 27, 42, 43, 44) and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY Charles Wilcox's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. Jurisdiction

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the parties are completely diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

         III. Background

         The case involves a dispute between Kreger and Charles Wilcox about which one of them is the rightful beneficiary of a life insurance policy held by Janet Wilcox, now deceased. The Court will briefly summarize the relevant procedural history before turning to the facts.

         A. Procedural History

         Kreger filed an action against Hartford Life and Annuity Insurance Company ("Hartford") in the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County on March 15, 2017. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Kreger asserted two counts against Hartford: (1) a claim for declaratory judgment that Kreger is the Beneficiary under Ms. Wilcox's Hartford Life Insurance Policy ("Policy") and (2) a claim for breach of contract for Hartford's failure to distribute the Death Benefits payable under Ms. Wilcox's Policy to Kreger upon Ms. Wilcox's death. (Id. at 5-14.)

         Hartford removed the action to this Court on April 10, 2017. (Id.) Shortly thereafter, Hartford filed a Third-Party Complaint for Interpleader against Charles Wilcox who, like Kreger, submitted a claim to Hartford for the Death Benefit payable under Ms. Wilcox's Policy. (ECF No. 2.) Charles Wilcox filed a crossclaim against Kreger, seeking a declaratory judgment that he- rather than Kreger-is the Beneficiary under Ms. Wilcox's Policy. (ECF No. 11.)

         Pursuant to a Consent Order entered by the Court on February 16, 2018, Hartford deposited Ms. Wilcox's Death Benefit (totaling $120, 490.00) with the Clerk of Court. (ECF No. 33.) The Consent Order discharged Hartford "from any and all liability to Kreger and [Charles] Wilcox relating to or arising out of the Policy and/or Death Benefit, and all claims, rights, interests, and actions that Kreger and [Charles] Wilcox might otherwise have held against Hartford . . . ." (Id. at 2.) Accordingly, Hartford is out of the case. The only remaining issue is whether Kreger or Charles Wilcox is the Beneficiary of the Death Benefit which Hartford paid pursuant to Ms. Wilcox's Policy.

         B. Undisputed Facts[1]

         Ms. Wilcox obtained her Policy from ITT Life Insurance, predecessor to Hartford, in 1993. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 1; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 1.) Ms. Wilcox died on December 6, 2016, as a result of a "sudden cardiac event." (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 6; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 6.) As a result of her death, a Death Benefit of $120, 490.00 is payable under Ms. Wilcox's Policy. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 2; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 2.)

         Ms. Wilcox listed Charles Wilcox as the Beneficiary on her application for the Policy. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 5; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 5.) On March 29, 2015, Ms. Wilcox signed two change of beneficiary forms stating that Ms. Wilcox wished to insert Kreger as her Beneficiary. (ECF No. 26 at 6; ECF No. 42 at ¶¶ 11, 13, 16.) Hartford received these forms and, in a letter dated April 24, 2015, informed Ms. Wilcox that it was "unable to process the request at this time" for two reasons: Ms. Wilcox had submitted old forms which Hartford no longer accepted and the forms she submitted contained corrections, whiteouts, and/or erasures. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 17; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 17.) The April 24, 2015 letter informed Ms. Wilcox that she needed to submit a valid change of beneficiary form to complete her change of beneficiary request. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 17; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 17.) According to Hartford's letter, Hartford enclosed a valid change of beneficiary form in the notice it sent back to Ms. Wilcox. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 17; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 17.) Hartford "mailed" the April 24, 2015 letter to Ms. Wilcox's residential address. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 18; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 18.)

         Ms. Wilcox never filed a valid change of beneficiary form. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 19.) In fact, Hartford never received any additional correspondence or communication from Ms. Wilcox regarding changing the Beneficiary of her Policy. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 19.) Between April 24, 2015 and her death, Ms. Wilcox was mentally sound and capable of filling out a change of beneficiary form. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 21; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 21.)

         Kreger is the executrix of Ms. Wilcox's estate. (ECF No. 27 at ¶ 25; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 25.)

         C. ...


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