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Locke v. Sinclair

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

June 5, 2019

KATELYNN LOCKE APPELLANT
v.
PATRICK SINCLAIR, STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, AND AMY LOCKE, JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE LONOKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 43CV-18-79] HONORABLE BARBARA ELMORE, JUDGE

          Ogles Law Firm, P.A., by: John Ogles and William J. Ogles, for appellant.

          Munson, Rowlett, Moore and Boone, P.A., by: Emily M. Runyon, for appellees Patrick Sinclair and State Farm Life Insurance Company.

          MEREDITH B. SWITZER, JUDGE

         Appellant Katelynn Locke appeals the Lonoke County Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment to appellees State Farm Insurance Company and Patrick Sinclair, a State Farm agent (collectively "State Farm").[1] We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Katelynn's father, James, died on May 9, 2015, when Katelynn was fifteen years old. Katelynn's mother is also deceased. On June 2, 2015, in the probate division of the Lonoke County Circuit Court (No. 43PR-15-172), an order was entered appointing Amy Locke, Katelynn's stepmother, as permanent guardian of the persons and estates of Katelynn and her brother, Brett, because they were incapacitated by reason of minority.[2]In that order, the circuit court found it was in Katelynn and Brett's best interest to have Amy appointed, the minors preferred her to be appointed as their guardian, and she was qualified and suitable to act as guardian of the persons and estates of the minors. The order authorized Amy to serve without bond and directed the court clerk to issue permanent letters of guardianship to Amy, which occurred the same day the order was entered.

         James had a $50, 000 insurance policy with State Farm, and his three children were designated as beneficiaries. At some time after receiving her letters of guardianship, Amy made claim as the guardian of Katelynn's estate for Katelynn's portion of the insurance proceeds. State Farm issued a check on October 9, 2015, in the amount of $16, 416.85 paid to "Amy Locke, Guardian of the Estate of Katelynn Locke."

         When Katelynn turned eighteen on December 2, 2017, she inquired of Patrick Sinclair about her portion of her father's life-insurance proceeds. It was then that she learned her share of the proceeds had been disbursed to Amy as the guardian of her estate in October 2015.

         In January 2018, Katelynn filed a complaint against State Farm, Sinclair, and Amy alleging negligence, breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy.[3]State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment alleging the life-insurance proceeds due Katelynn had been paid to Amy as the guardian of Katelynn's estate pursuant to the permanent order of guardianship and the letters of guardianship. This motion was granted on August 17, 2018. Katelynn was granted judgment against Amy in the sum of $19, 066.93 on October 18, 2018, and she filed her notice of appeal from the order granting summary judgment to State Farm on October 23, 2018.

         II. Standard of Review

         It is well settled that summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear there are no issues of material fact to be litigated, and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. of Ark., Inc. v. Hopkins, 2018 Ark.App. 174, 545 S.W.3d 257. Once the moving party has established a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment, the opposing party must meet proof with proof and demonstrate the existence of a material issue of fact. Id. On appeal, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolving all doubts and inferences against the moving party, we determine if summary judgment was appropriate based on whether the moving party's evidence in support of its motion leaves a material fact unanswered. Holman v. Flores, 2018 Ark.App. 298, 551 S.W.3d 1. Our appellate review is not limited to the pleadings, as we also focus on affidavits and other documents filed by the parties. Id.

         III. Argument

         Katelynn makes three arguments on appeal: (1) State Farm breached its contract with her; (2) payment was improperly made to Amy because the guardianship was defective; and (3) State Farm had an affirmative duty to investigate whether the guardianship was valid. Her overarching argument is that State Farm improperly released her portion of the insurance proceeds to Amy, who had no legal authority to receive the funds. We disagree. Summary judgment was ...


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