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Primerica Life Insurance Co. v. Woodall

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

June 3, 2019

PRIMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
BETTY JO WOODALL and ILA ELAINE REID DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Primerica Life Insurance Company (“Primerica”) filed an interpleader complaint pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction and Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for a determination of the rights of Betty Jo Woodall (“Betty Jo”) and Ila Elaine Reid (“Ila”), adverse claimants to life insurance proceeds on a policy (the “Policy”) issued to Garvin Reid (“Garvin”).[1] Ila counterclaimed, charging Primerica with breach of contract for failure to pay her the policy proceeds. Now before the Court are (1) Primerica's motion for summary judgment as to Ila's counterclaim [ECF Nos. 58, 59, 60], Ila's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 71, 72, 73], and Primerica's reply [ECF No. 74]; (2) Betty Jo's motion for summary judgment as to the rightful beneficiary [ECF Nos. 65, 66, 67] and Ila's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 75, 76, 77]; and (3) Ila's motion for summary judgment as to the rightful beneficiary [ECF Nos. 69, 68, 70], Betty Jo's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 78, 79, 80], Primerica's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 83, 84, 85], [2] and Reid's reply [ECF Nos. 86, 87]. After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, the Court grants Primerica's motion for summary judgment as to Ila's counterclaim and grants Ila's motion for summary judgment as to the rightful beneficiary entitled to policy proceeds.

         I.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate “an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must “do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)

         The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading but must come forward with ‘specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 587. “[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party.” RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995).

         II.

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. On August 25, 1986, Primerica, then known as Massachusetts Indemnity and Life Insurance Company, issued a life insurance policy to Garvin (the “Policy”) insuring his life in the face amount of $100, 000. The Policy included spousal term insurance or a spousal rider, which provided a $50, 000 payment to Garvin, if alive, upon the death of the insured spouse. The Policy named “Betty Jo Reid” as both the principal beneficiary and the insured spouse, and Garvin and Betty Jo's children (Kristy, Misty, Jodie, and Jerry) were the designated contingent beneficiaries.

         Garvin and Betty Jo divorced in 1992, and Betty Jo is now named Betty Jo Woodall. Garvin married Ila on July 10, 1993. In October 2001, Garvin contacted Primerica to confirm the identity of the Policy beneficiary, and by letter dated October 5, 2001, Primerica informed Garvin that “Betty Jo Reid” was still listed as the principal beneficiary.

         On April 10, 2002, at Garvin's request, Primerica mailed him a form titled “MULTIPURPOSE CHANGE FORM.” Later that month, Primerica received a MULTIPURPOSE CHANGE FORM, dated April 21, 2002, signed by Garvin, Ila, and two witnesses.[3] The form had three main sections, clearly separated by box borders. The first section was titled “NAME CHANGE;” the second, “TRANSFER OWNERSHIP;” and the third, “CHANGE BENEFICIARY.” The “CHANGE BENFICIARY” section had three subsections: “PRINCIPAL BENEFICIARY, ” “CONTINGENT BENEFICIARY, ” AND “SPOUSE RIDER BENEFICIARY.”

         Garvin completed the NAME CHANGE and CHANGE BENEFICIARY sections of the form that he submitted to Primerica. In the “NAME CHANGE” section, a handwritten checkmark appeared beside the selection “Insured Spouse;” “Betty Reid” is written on a line reserved for “Prior Name;” “Ila Elaine Reid” is written on a line reserved for “New Name;” and “marriage” is written on a line reserved for “Reason for Change.”[4] Under the “CHANGE BENEFICIARY” section, which appears on page 2 of the form, the following language appears:

All designations of present beneficiaries and elections of settlement options pertaining to death benefits on the referenced Policy are hereby revoked and the proceeds payable under said Policy are to be paid to the following named person[s] as specified below pursuant to the payment provisions of said Policy, with the right to change the designation reserved.[5]

         Immediately following the foregoing language, the name “Ila Elaine Reid” is handwritten on a line reserved for the “Principal Beneficiary, ” the number “100” appears on a line reserved for beneficiary percentage allocation, [6] and the word “wife” is written on a line reserved for relationship to the insured. Garvin also supplied Ila's social security number and birth date, as the form required.

         The Policy sets forth the procedure for changing beneficiaries as follows:

CHANGE OF BENEFICIARY - A change of Beneficiary may only be made by Notice to Us. Such Notice to Us must be signed by you while the insured is still alive. A Beneficiary designated irrevocably may not be changed except with the consent of that Beneficiary. A change of Beneficiary will not be effective until received at our Executive Office. When so received, even if the insured is not then living, the change of beneficiary will take effect on the date the Notice to Us was signed, subject to any payment made by us in good faith before receiving the change.[7]

         The Policy defines “You” as “owner of the Policy” and “Notice to Us” as “information we have received at our Executive Office which is written, signed by you, and is acceptable to us.”[8]

A letter to Garvin from Primerica, dated May 6, 2002, reads as follows:
Dear Policyholder:
We have received your request to process a change on your policy. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete this request without the ...

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