The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOGAN
This is an action brought to determine the rights of various potential beneficiaries to the life insurance proceeds of decedent Joseph P. Mobley, who was insured by the defendant, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"). For the reasons stated below, after considering the parties' arguments and exhibits, the Court will deny the plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment and set this matter for trial.
Joseph P. Mobley died on October 18, 1991. He was survived by at least two children, Jacqueline and Jason Mobley, and by his ex-wife, Thomasine Mobley. In addition, Susan Diane Brock claims that she was Joseph Mobley's common-law wife and that her daughter, Teara Kenya Brock, was Joseph Mobley's daughter. For purposes of clarity, the Court will subsequently refer to all parties by their first names.
At the time he died, Joseph had not named a beneficiary for the $ 35,000 in proceeds that were due and payable by MetLife. The policy had been issued pursuant to the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 8701-8716 ("FEGLIA"). In circumstances when no beneficiaries are named, the statute sets forth an order of precedence of beneficiaries. The proceeds are payable first to the widower or widow of the decedent. If no widow or widower exists, the proceeds are payable to the child or children of the employee. 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a).
Jacqueline and Thomas claimed that they were beneficiaries, and so did Teara, through her mother Susan. When MetLife learned that the status of Teara, and possibly of Susan, was disputed, it moved to deposit one-third of the proceeds with the Court after distributing the other two thirds to Jacqueline and Thomas. The Court granted the motion and MetLife deposited the funds.
Thomasine did not respond to the complaint and summons served upon her, and the clerk entered default against her. Thus, the parties' claims now stand as follows: Jacqueline brings this action against MetLife and against Susan as next friend of Teara. MetLife, properly treating this action as an interpleader, has filed a counterclaim against Jacqueline and a crossclaim against Susan. Susan has filed a counterclaim against Jacqueline.
On September 28, 1995, Jacqueline filed a "Motion for Declaratory Judgment" seeking a declaration that Teara is not a beneficiary, and requesting an award of punitive damages and attorney's fees against MetLife. The Court will treat this as a motion for summary judgment. MetLife has filed an opposition to the motion. Upon consideration of these submissions, as well as of the parties' pleadings and exhibits, the Court determines that Teara may be entitled to the deposited proceeds and therefore the Court will deny the motion for summary judgment.
In order prevail on a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, a moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Electric v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986).
The regulations interpreting the order of precedence provision in FEGLIA state that the term "child" includes "a legitimate child, an adopted child, or a recognized natural child." 5 C.F.R. § 870.901(a)(1). A "recognized natural child" is a child for whom the father:
(A) Has acknowledged paternity in writing;
(B) Has been judicially ordered to provide support;
(C) Has, before his death, been judicially decreed to be the father;
(D) Has been established as the father by a certified copy of the public record of birth or the church record of baptism if the insured was the informant and so named himself as father of the child; or
(E) Has established paternity on the public records, such as school or social welfare agencies, which show that with his knowledge the insured ...