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Dunn v. Robinson

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 17, 2017

TAMISHA RAE DUNN, Cross-Claimant / Cross-Defendant in Interpleader,
v.
KRISTEENA ROBINSON, in her capacity as guardian ad litem to I.R., Cross-Defendant / Cross-Claimant in Interpleader.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Paul Papak United States Magistrate Judge

         Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Prudential") filed this action in interpleader against Tamisha Rae Dunn (the domestic partner of Prudential's insured at the time of the insured's decease), minor child I.R. (Prudential's insured's minor daughter), and Kristeena Robinson ("Robinson, " Prudential's insured's former wife) in her capacity as guardian ad litem to I.R. on May 10, 2016. By and through its complaint in interpleader, Prudential alleged that prior to his decease, its insured Sean Robinson (Prudential's "insured") received life insurance coverage under a group insurance plan (the "Plan") Prudential issued to CUNA Mutual Group, the insured's then-employer. Prudential further alleged that the insured designated I.R. as his sole beneficiary in connection with Plan benefits on October 15, 2015, that on or around November 5, 2015, the insured expressed his intention to change that designation to name Dunn as his sole beneficiary of Plan benefits, and that on December 25, 2015, the insured died, triggering a $221, 000 life insurance benefit under the Plan. Prudential further alleged that on December 31, 2015, the insured's former employer made a claim on the Plan for the benefit on behalf of I.R., and that Dunn made a similar claim, on her own behalf, on February 8, 2016. By and through its complaint, Prudential sought judicial resolution of the competing claims for Plan benefits made on behalf of I.R. and Dunn.

         On July 11, 2016, Dunn filed a cross-claim against I.R. and Robinson seeking this court's declaration that she (Dunn) is the sole valid designee for puiposes of determining the beneficiary of the insured's Plan benefits, and on that same day Robinson filed a cross-claim against Dunn on I.R.'s behalf seeking this court's declaration that I.R. is the sole valid designee. On August 3, 2016, Prudential deposited money in the amount of the disputed life insurance benefit into escrow for the benefit of the insured's beneficiary, following which it was discharged from this action. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this interpleader action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2).

         Now before the court are Robinson's motion (#22) for summary judgment and Dunn's cross-motion (#23) for summary judgment as to the remaining parties' competing claims for declaratory relief. I have considered the motion, oral argument on behalf of the parties, and all of the pleadings and papers on file. For the reasons set forth below, Robinson's motion (#22) for summary judgment is granted, Dunn's motion (#23) for summary judgment is denied, and this court declares that I.R. is the insured's sole beneficiary for the purpose of Plan life insurance benefits, and is the person entitled to receive the entirety of the proceeds of those benefits from the escrow account into which they have been deposited.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if 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). A party taking the position that a material fact either "cannot be or is genuinely disputed" must support that position either by citation to specific evidence of record "including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " by showing that the evidence of record does not establish either the presence or absence of such a dispute, or by showing that an opposing party is unable to produce sufficient admissible evidence to establish the presence or absence of such a dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The substantive law governing a claim or defense determines whether a fact is material. See Moreland v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dept 159 F.3d 365, 369 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Summary judgment is not proper if material factual issues exist for trial. See, e.g., Celotex Corp, v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 318, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995), cert, denied, 116 S.Ct. 1261 (1996). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the district courts of the United States must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and may neither make credibility determinations nor perform any weighing of the evidence. See, e.g., Lytle v. Household Mfg., Inc., 494 U.S. 545, 554-55 (1990); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must consider each motion separately to determine whether either party has met its burden with the facts construed in the light most favorable to the other. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also, e.g., Fair Notts. Council v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). A court may not grant summary judgment where the court finds unresolved issues of material fact, even where the parties allege the absence of any material disputed facts. See id.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         I. The Parties

         Dunn is an Oregon resident who at the time of the insured's decease was his domestic partner. I.R. is the insured's minor daughter, Robinson is I.R.'s mother and guardian ad litem, and was the insured's ex-wife prior to his decease.

         II. Material Factual History[1]

         At all material times prior to his decease, the insured was employed by the CUNA Mutual Group, also known as CMFG Life Insurance Company ("CUNA"). See Dunn's Motion (#23) for Summary Judgment, Exh. 2 (Deposition of Brenda Schmidt (collectively with Robinson's Motion (#22) for Summary Judgment, Exh. A, "Schmidt Depo."), 6:21-23. During the tenure of his employment, CUNA provided the insured with a basic life insurance policy pursuant to an Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") plan (the Plan), in connection with which CUNA was the Plan administrator. See id., 7:2 - 8:4; see also Dunn's Motion (#23) for Summary Judgment, Exh, 4 ("Plan Summary"); Schmidt Depo., Exh. 2 ("Plan Document"). Pursuant to the Plan, Prudential agreed to pay the insured's designated beneficiary a benefit of twice the insured's annual salary in the event of the insured's death prior to the end of the month in which he attained age 70. See Plan Summary at 4, The Plan provided that the insured could "change the [designated] Beneficiary at any time without the consent of the present Beneficiary, unless [he] ha[d] made an irrevocable choice of Beneficiary." Id. at 27. It is undisputed that the insured herein never made an irrevocable choice of beneficiary at any material time. See Schmidt Depo., 12:19-25. The Plan further provided that such a change "must be filed through ...


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