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Martin v. Arkansas Education Association

January 3, 2007

JUDY MARTIN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND JUDY MARTIN, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF FRANK MARTIN PLAINTIFF
v.
ARKANSAS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, UNUM PROVIDENT CORPORATION, UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, UNUM BENEFIT PLAN, CHARLES EVANS, JOHN DOE I, JOHN DOE II, AND JOHN DOE III DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Moody United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF UNUM DEFENDANTS

Pending is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Separate Defendants UnumProvident Corporation and Unum Life Insurance Company of America. Plaintiff has responded to the motion and the Unum Defendants have replied. The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Plaintiff against the Arkansas Education Association ("AEA") is also pending but will be dealt with by separate order.

Facts

The decedent, Frank Martin, was employed by the Arkansas Education Association ("AEA"), a union for school district employees, for 19 years before his retirement on October 7, 2003. Frank Martin was the Executive Director of the Little Rock Classroom Teachers Association and represented the Little Rock school teachers in all of their grievances and arbitrations. Through his job, Martin was enrolled in a Benefit Plan that provided $50,000 in life insurance benefits. Unum Life Insurance Company of America was the insurer of the life insurance policy.

As a result of his increasingly poor health, Martin chose to retire in 2003. Martin died a few months after his retirement in December 2003. In January 2005, Plaintiff Judy Martin, Plaintiff's widow, called Unum to inquire about recovering under her husband's life insurance policy. Plaintiff claims that someone in the Unum Claims Department told her that the administrator of her husband's Benefit Plan, the AEA, would have to submit her claim for benefits.

It is undisputed that Frank Martin did not convert the group life insurance policy provided under his Benefit Plan to an individual policy at the time of his retirement. According to Plaintiff, Frank Martin attempted to convert his policy through communications with Charles Evans, an employee of the AEA. However, Plaintiff claims that Charles Evans failed to handle the conversion.

Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendants for breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and conversion rights under Arkansas law. Defendants removed the case to this Court because the claims involve an ERISA-regulated Plan. The Court subsequently found that Plaintiff's state law claims are preempted by ERISA. The Unum Defendants then filed this Motion for Summary Judgment.

Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial -- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned that summary judgment should be invoked carefully so that no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues. Inland Oil & Transport Co. v. United States, 600 F.2d 725 (8th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 991 (1979). The Eighth Circuit set out the burden of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the moving party for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339. (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-274 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted)(brackets in original)). Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly ...


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