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BUTLER v. METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO.

October 24, 1980

Etta K. BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment in the above captioned case. Plaintiff is Etta K. Butler, mother of William Kitrell, the deceased. Defendant insured Kitrell's life pursuant to the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA) 5 U.S.C. § 8701 et seq. The undisputed facts in the above captioned case may be summarized as follows:

 William Kitrell, a resident of the District of Columbia, was born on April 4, 1949, the child of Etta Kitrell Butler and William Grandberry. The parents were never married, and Grandberry deserted Plaintiff and his son before Kitrell was born. Grandberry never contributed to the support of Kitrell, nor did he acknowledge paternity in a judicial proceeding. Grandberry never offered comfort or emotional support to his son. Their first encounter occurred at Kitrell's initiation when he was 16; subsequent encounters occurred very sporadically.

 FEGLIA mandates that, when an insured fails to name a beneficiary and is not survived by a spouse or issue, proceeds are to be paid "to the parents" of the insured. 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a). The sole question before the Court is whether Grandberry is a "parent" within the meaning of that provision.

 Defendant asserts that because Grandberry is Kitrell's biological father, it correctly paid Grandberry one-half of the insurance proceeds. This contention is without merit. Biology in and of itself is not determinative of an individual's status as a "parent"-FEGLIA requires the Court to scrutinize the legal status of claimants, in order to assess the merits of their claims. See Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Manning, 568 F.2d 922, 926 (2d Cir. 1977). Since there are no federal laws of domestic relations or inheritance, this Court must analyze Grandberry's legal status in the context of District of Columbia local law, as the place of Kitrell's domicile at the time of his death. Id., at 926; Green v. Green, 365 A.2d 610 (D.C.App.1976).

 In the District of Columbia the biological father of an illegitimate child is not automatically treated as the legal "parent" for all purposes of the law. (See, e.g., 19 D.C.Code 316, which provides that it is the mother of the illegitimate child who is entitled to the real and personal estate of the child upon his death, when he leaves no descendants, or brothers or sisters.) In order to establish the relationship of natural parent and natural child, for all purposes under the law, an individual can either 1) adopt the child, 16 D.C.Code 312, or 2) marry the child's mother and acknowledge the child, 19 D.C.Code 318. Grandberry pursued neither of these options. Thus, he need not be considered Kitrell's "parent" for purposes of determining the lawful recipient of the life insurance proceeds under 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a).

 Defendant correctly alleges, however, that the biological father of an illegitimate child is not deemed to be the child's parent because of the many difficulties in ascertaining who the natural father is. Admittedly, this problem does not present itself in the instant litigation.

 This Court need not and does not base its judgment upon a rigid application of the "illegitimacy" statutes, because such an application might effectuate a disservice to the policy underlying FEGLIA. FEGLIA was enacted to allow federal employees to be "better enabled ... to carry out their responsibilities to their families." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Thompson, 368 F.2d 791, 793 (3d Cir. 1966). Grandberry's failure to marry Plaintiff in and of itself does not necessarily show that he abandoned Kitrell. To address the relationship between Grandberry and the deceased, the Court must inquire whether Grandberry is a "parent" as delineated in the District of Columbia Code.

 31 D.C.Code § 309 provides the only definition of "parent." That section defines a "child" as someone under twenty-one years of age, and a "parent" as a person who is either the natural parent, stepfather or stepmother, or adoptive father or mother and "has custody or control of such child." Grandberry never maintained custody or control over Kitrell; indeed, he never met Kitrell until the latter was sixteen. Under this definition, then, Grandberry is not a "parent."

 Defendant claims that this conclusion will work an administrative nightmare on the processing of FEGLIA claims. This contention is without merit. The facts presented in the instant case do not bespeak repetition. Whenever conflicting claims are presented that promote uncertainty, Defendant can pay the proceeds into the registry of the Court and file an action in interpleader. See Brantley v. Skeens, 266 F.2d at 450; Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Manning, 568 F.2d at 924. Having full knowledge of the conflicting claims in the instant case, Defendant should have pursued this course of action. Its failure to do so cannot deprive Plaintiff of her entitlement to the insurance proceeds.

 Plaintiff has requested punitive damages in the instant litigation. It has proffered no evidence reflecting bad faith, and is therefore ...


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