The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Miller, District Judge.
This suit is an interpleader action brought by the plaintiff
against the defendants, who are claimants to the proceeds of
a certain policy of insurance issued by plaintiff and upon
which plaintiff admits liability. Plaintiff has deposited the
face amount of the policy in the registry of the court, and
the court is called upon to determine which of the two
claimants is entitled to the same.
Both defendants have filed responsive pleadings, from which
it appears that Cora R. Menson is claiming as the wife of the
insured and Dorothearyn Menson Jones is claiming as the
daughter of the insured. The answer, and amendment thereof, of
the latter alleges that the correct name of the daughter is
Dorothearyn Menson Jones rather than Dorothy R. Menson James,
as alleged in the complaint. The various pleadings filed by
Cora R. Menson challenged the jurisdiction of the court and
prayed for the allowance of the statutory 12% penalty and an
attorney's fee, but the attorney for Cora R. Menson withdrew
said allegations at the trial of the case.
The case came on for trial to the court on April 26, 1951,
and at the conclusion of the presentation of evidence, the
court announced that it would take the case under advisement
pending receipt of citations of authorities from the
respective attorneys. The court has considered the pleadings,
evidence adduced, exhibits thereto, and the authorities cited
by the attorneys, and now makes and files herein its findings
of fact and conclusions of law, separately stated.
Plaintiff is a Mutual Life Insurance Company, organized
under the laws of the State of Massachusetts. Defendant Cora
R. Menson was at the time this action was commenced and is now
a citizen and resident of El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas.
Defendant Dorothearyn Menson Jones was at the time this action
was commenced and is now a citizen and resident of Toledo,
Lucas County, Ohio. The amount involved herein exceeds the sum
of $500.00, exclusive of interest and costs.
Lovel Menson, hereafter referred to as the insured, was a
colored man and during his lifetime resided in El Dorado,
Arkansas. He had one child, the defendant, Dorothearyn Menson
Jones, born in 1921. His then wife and the mother of
Dorothearyn died approximately a year and a half after the
birth of Dorothearyn, and he did not remarry until 1944, when
he married the defendant, Cora R. Menson. After the death of
his first wife, Dorothearyn went to live in the home of her
uncle and aunt, Eli and Rosa Modica, in which home her
grandmother also resided at the time.
The insured made contributions in an undetermined amount to
his daughter until
1935 or 1936. At that time he took up residence as a boarder
in the home of the defendant, Cora R. Menson, which had been
acquired by the latter from a former husband. This arrangement
continued until 1944 when the insured and said defendant were
married, and thereafter, they continued to live together as
man and wife in the latter's home until the death of the
insured November 19, 1950. The insured was illiterate, being
unable to either read or write. He worked as a laborer at
various jobs until sometime in 1947 when he went to work for
the El Dorado Water Company, a subsidiary of General Water
Works Corporation. On October 16, 1948, he applied for
coverage under a group life insurance policy available to the
employees of said corporation. The application for said
insurance reads, inter alia, as follows:
"Name of Menson Dorothy Ream Relationship Wife"
Beneficiary Last First Middle
The policy was issued to said insured effective January 15,
1949, for the face amount of $1,000.00, and the beneficiary
named in the policy is "Dorothy R Menson — Wife".
In March, 1949, the insured, while engaged in the
performance of his duties with the water company either
suffered an injury or a stroke, the exact nature of which was
not developed and is not important for present purposes, and
was either completely or partially disabled from that date
until the date of his death November 19, 1950.
At the time of insured's death plaintiff admits that the
policy of insurance was in full force and effect and that all
conditions precedent to liability on the policy have been duly
As stated above, the insured resided at the home of Cora R.
Menson whose name prior to her marriage was Cora Rogers. Her
maiden name was Cora Leslie. The exact nature of their
relationship prior to their marriage was not fully developed,
but Cora testified that the insured was a boarder. Cora had no
children from her marriage to Ellis Rogers, and she and the
insured had no children as the result of their marriage.
Certain testimony was introduced in her behalf to the effect
that her middle name was "Ruth", but it does not appear that
the insured ever referred to her as "Ruth", or that he had
knowledge of such middle name. The same is true of their
associates, who knew her merely as Cora.
It appears that the insured earned a living for the two
until his disability in March, 1949, after which Cora worked
and was the main source of income and support.
Cora testified that the insured brought the policy home and
gave it to her and that either at the time or later she
noticed that it was not made out in her name and questioned
the insured about this, but nothing was ever done by either to
have the beneficiary correctly and definitely named. The
policy has remained in Cora's possession until the present
After the death of the insured, the defendant, Cora R.
Menson, filed suit in the Chancery Court of Union County to
have the policy reformed so as to show Cora R. Menson — Wife,
beneficiary, rather than Dorothy R. Menson — Wife, the present
designation. The present proceedings were instituted thereafter
and resulted in a stay of that suit.
As above stated, the defendant, Dorothearyn Menson Jones,
was born to the insured and his then wife in 1921, and after
the first year and a half of her life was raised by her uncle
and aunt. She married Rufus Henry in 1940 and left El Dorado.
Until that time she saw her ...