United States District Court, District of Columbia
March 29, 1999
THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-INTERPLEADER,
JUDITH A. MADOLE, DEFENDANT, V. ANNE K. KINSKEY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah Ann Robinson, United States Magistrate Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending for determination by the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge is
Defendant Anne K. Kinskey's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket
No. 20). Plaintiff, a mutual life insurance company, issued a
policy of life insurance payable to the executors, administrators
and assigns of its insured, Donald W. Madole. Defendant Anne K.
Kinskey is the daughter of Donald Madole. Defendant Judith Madole
is the widow of Donald Madole. Each defendant claims that she is
the sole beneficiary of Donald Madole's policy. Plaintiff
commenced this action pursuant to the Federal Interpleader Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1335, 1397, for a determination of defendants'
On January 1, 1990, plaintiff issued a life insurance policy
purchased by the law firm of Speiser, Krause & Madole, P.C.
Complaint, ¶ 8. Donald Madole married defendant Judith Madole in
August, 1990. See Complaint, Exhibit E. On October 9, 1996,
Donald Madole died. Complaint, ¶ 9. According to plaintiff's
files, the designated beneficiary on the policy at the time of
Donald Madole's death was his daughter, defendant Kinskey.
Complaint, ¶ 10. No beneficiary change form was on file with
plaintiff. Id. On or about November 15, 1996, plaintiff
received a claimant's certificate from defendant Judith Madole,
Donald Madole's widow and the executrix of his estate. Complaint,
¶ 9. On or about January 7, 1997, plaintiff received a claimant's
certificate from defendant Kinskey. Complaint, ¶ 11.
On February 10, 1997, plaintiff received from defendant Judith
Madole's counsel copies of two letters. Complaint, ¶ 12. The
first letter, "proportedly submitted" to plaintiff on July 31,
1990, was from Cathy Sweetman, the insurance coordinator for the
firm of Spieser, Krause & Madole, P.C. The writer states that
Donald Madole "does wish to add his new wife to his insurance
coverage" effective September 1, 1990, and that "[e]nclosed you
will find a beneficiary change form[.]" Id. Plaintiff maintains
that no beneficiary change form was attached. Id. The second
letter, "proportedly sent" to plaintiff on August 6, 1990 by
Donald Madole requests that Judith Madole be added to his
insurance coverage. Complaint, ¶ 13. Plaintiff has been unable to
locate or confirm receipt of either letter, or of any beneficiary
change form. Complaint, ¶ 14.
On or about October 16, 1997, Cathy Sweetman, whose name
appears as the author of the July 31, 1990 letter, sent a letter
to plaintiff in which she stated that she had "no independent
recollection of writing the [July 31, 1990] letter or any
conversation with Donald Madole concerning the contents of the
letter. Also, I have no recollection of mailing the letter."
Complaint, Exhibit 1. Ms. Sweetman stated that she had "no other
documents concerning this matter in [her] files." Id.
In her answer to the Complaint, defendant Kinskey maintains
that the documents upon which defendant Madole relies "do not
alter or impact upon the unambiguous identification of Mrs.
Kinskey as the sole beneficiary of the Life Insurance Policy in
question, nor do the documents comply with the written terms of
the Guardian policy for affecting a change in the named
beneficiary under the Life Insurance portion of the Guardian
policy." See Defendant Kinskey's Answer at 1.
In her answer to the Complaint, defendant Madole "denies any
inference that the reference to the beneficiary change form is
not effective and valid as to a change in designated beneficiary
to that of defendant Madole." Defendant, Judith Madole's, Answer
and Claim Under Federal Interpleader Act, ¶ 19.
Defendant Kinskey seeks summary judgment in her favor in
accordance with Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In the memorandum in support of her motion, defendant Kinskey
maintains that her name appears as the designated beneficiary of
Donald Madole's life insurance policy, and that there is no
evidence that any change of beneficiary form exists. See
Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant
Motion for Summary Judgment ("Kinskey's Memorandum") at 2-5.
Defendant Kinskey maintains that the dispute at issue in this
action is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. Defendant Kinskey
submits that "in order to determine the proper beneficiary in
this case, the Court must look solely to the written terms of the
Guardian plan[,]" Kinskey's Memorandum at 7, and that there is no
evidence that Donald Madole affected a change in the named
beneficiary in the manner prescribed by the Guardian plan. Id.
at 8. Finally, defendant Kinskey maintains that even if the Court
finds that the issues presented are not governed by ERISA, "the
result is the same under the law of this jurisdiction." Kinskey's
Memorandum at 10. In support of her motion, defendant Kinskey
includes a Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute supported
by references to the record. The statements include
13. It is undisputed that at the time of enrollment,
Mr. Madole named Mrs. Kinskey as the beneficiary on
his enrollment form. See Exhibit 2, p. 2.
14. In Mrs. Kinskey's Request for Admissions, she
asked Ms. Madole to admit the following:
4. Defendant Madole does not have in her possession
any document written by the Guardian or at its
direction which notifies Mr. Donald W. Madole of a
change in the named beneficiary of the Guardian Life
Insurance Policy which is the subject of his
In response, Ms. Madole admitted that she does not[.]
Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute in Support of
Defendant Kinskey's Motion for Summary Judgment at 5, ¶¶ 13-14.
Defendant Madole, in her opposition to defendant Kinskey's
motion for summary judgment, submits that ERISA does not apply,
and that substantive common law must be applied to determine the
proper beneficiary. See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in
Opposition to Defendant Kinskey's Motion for Summary Judgment
("Madole's Opposition") at 7. Defendant Madole maintains that
"the insured undertook affirmative acts designed to comply with
the requirement as to change of beneficiary[,]" and that "[his]
intentions should be given effect." Id. at 10. Without direct
citation to the record, defendant Madole identifies but one issue
she contends must necessarily be litigated:
1. There is a genuine dispute . . . as to whether Mr.
Madole satisfied the requirements to effectuate a
change in beneficiary under the laws of the District
of Columbia, to be determined on the basis of further
discovery and/or the testimony of Ms. Sweetman, Ms.
Madole, Ms. Kinskey, Mr. Lear and Mr. Konikow.
Defendant, Judith Madole's Statement of Material Facts as to
Which There Exists a Genuine Issue to be Litigated at 1, ¶
Defendant Kinskey, in her reply, argues that "defendant Madole
has failed to demonstrate the existence of any disputed facts
relative to the law of ERISA[.]" Defendant Kinskey's Reply Brief
in Support of Summary Judgment ("Kinskey's Reply") at 5.
Additionally, she maintains that defendant Madole has had "more
than adequate time" to conduct discovery, and that "[n]o purpose
would be served in extending discovery, as there is no other
place to look to discover documents relative to this case." Id.
A. Standard of Review of Motion for Summary Judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary
judgment shall be granted in favor of a moving party if the
record indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists
and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED.CIV.P. 56(c).
Material facts are those which "might affect the outcome of the
suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To
avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party must demonstrate
that a genuine dispute exists, and provide evidence sufficient
for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505; see
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 323, 106 S.Ct.
2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In considering a motion for summary
judgment, the Court must view all of the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct.
1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). However, the non-moving party's
opposition must consist of more than unsupported allegations.
Rather, the opposition, must be supported by affidavits or other
competent evidence setting forth specific facts showing there is
a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, The
non-moving party may not rely upon the mere allegations or
denials in its pleadings as support for its position; instead,
the party opposing summary judgment must establish specific facts
through affidavits based upon personal knowledge. See
Affidavits submitted with an opposition to a motion for summary
judgment must satisfy the requirements of Rule 56 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides, in pertinent part, that
[w]hen a motion for summary judgment is made and
supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party
may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of
the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's
response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in
this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse
party does not so respond, summary judgment, if
appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse
Additionally, Local Rule 108(h) mandates that each motion for
summary judgment be accompanied by a statement of material facts
as to which there is no genuine issue. This statement must be
supported by references to the record. The same rule requires
that an opposition to a motion for summary judgment be
accompanied by a
separate concise statement of genuine issues setting
forth all material facts as to which it is contended
there exists a genuine issue necessary to be
litigated, which shall include references to the
parts of the record relied on to support the
Local Rule 108(h). Furthermore,
[i]n determining a motion for summary judgment, the
Court may assume that facts identified by the moving
party in its statement of material facts are
admitted, unless such a fact is controverted in the
statement of genuine issues filed in opposition to
Local Rule 108(h).
First, the undersigned finds that ERISA governs the issues
presented in this action. ERISA regulates employee welfare
benefit plans which provide life insurance policies.
29 U.S.C. § 1002(1)(A). Except as provided with respect to circumstances not
applicable here, ERISA "shall apply to any employee benefit plan
if it is established or maintained — (1) by any employer engaged
in commerce or in any industry or activity affecting commerce[.]"
29 U.S.C. § 1003(a). ERISA "is a comprehensive statute designed
to promote the interests of employees and their beneficiaries in
employee benefit plans." Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.,
463 U.S. 85, 90, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 77 L.Ed.2d 490 (1983). In enacting
ERISA, "Congress intended to provide uniform federal regulation
of employee retirement benefit plans and to make regulation
of benefits an entirely federal concern." Pilot Life Ins. Co. v.
Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 45-46, 107 S.Ct. 1549, 95 L.Ed.2d 39
(1987). ERISA's preemption provision "shall supersede any and all
State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any
employee benefit plan" not otherwise exempt. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a).
To further that end, Congress made ERISA's preemption provision
broad in scope. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts,
471 U.S. 724, 739, 105 S.Ct. 2380, 85 L.Ed.2d 728 (1985); see
Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133, 138, 111 S.Ct.
478, 112 L.Ed.2d 474 (1990) (Congress was "deliberatively
expansive" in enacting ERISA's preemption provision).
The Supreme Court has stated that a law "relate[s] to" a
covered employee benefit plan for purposes of 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a)
"`if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan.'"
District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Bd. of Trade,
506 U.S. 125, 129, 113 S.Ct. 580, 121 L.Ed.2d 513 (1992) (citations
omitted); see Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. at 139,
111 S.Ct. 478; FMC Corp. v. Holliday, 498 U.S. 52, 58, 111
S.Ct. 403, 112 L.Ed.2d 356 (1990); Mackey v. Lanier Collection
Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 829, 108 S.Ct. 2182, 100
L.Ed.2d 836 (1988); Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. at
48, 107 S.Ct. 1549; Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v.
Massachusetts, 471 U.S. at 739, 105 S.Ct. 2380. However, the
preemption provision is not limited to state laws "specifically
designed to affect employee benefit plans[,]" but also applies to
"common law causes of action . . . based on alleged improper
processing of a claim for benefits under an employee benefit
plan[.]" Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. at 47-48, 107
S.Ct. 1549; see Thayer v. Group Hospitalization and Medical
Services, Inc., 674 F. Supp. 924, 925-26 (D.D.C. 1987).
A civil action may be brought "by a participant, beneficiary or
fiduciary . . . to obtain other appropriate equitable relief . .
. to enforce . . . the terms of the plan[.]"
29 U.S.C. § 1132(3)(B). See Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. v. Blue Cross and Blue
Shield Mut. of Ohio, 982 F.2d 1031, 1035 (6th Cir. 1993)
("[w]hen an insurance company administers claims for an employee
welfare benefit plan and has authority to grant or deny the
claims, the company is an ERISA `fiduciary' under
29 U.S.C. § 1002(21)(A)(iii)"); cf. Thayer v. Group Hospitalization and
Medical Services Inc., 674 F. Supp. at 925 (insurance company was
the decisionmaker as to whether party would continue to receive
benefits under the plan governed by ERISA, and was thus an ERISA
The undersigned finds that the life insurance policy of Donald
Madole "relates to" an employee benefit plan, as it was issued by
his employer pursuant to an ERISA health benefit plan. See
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Marsh, 119 F.3d 415, 419 (6th Cir.
1997); Brandon v. Travelers Ins. Co., 18 F.3d 1321, 1325 (5th
Cir. 1994) (designation of a beneficiary "relates to" the
provision of an ERISA plan to a sufficient degree to be preempted
by the statute); Local 639 Employer's Pension Trust v. Johnson,
1992 U.S.Dist. Lexis 11248, *1 (D.D.C. 1992). The undersigned
further finds that because the issue presented here concerns the
designation of a beneficiary of a life insurance policy covered
by ERISA, state law is preempted.*fn2 Indeed, courts have
consistently held that
[t]he designation of beneficiaries plainly relates to
these ERISA plans, and we see no reason to apply
state law on this issue.
McMillan v. Parrott, 913 F.2d 310, 311 (6th Cir. 1990); see
also Krishna v. Colgate Palmolive Co., 7 F.3d 11, 14-16 (2nd
Cir. 1993) (court "not persuaded that New York law should be
applied" to determine beneficiary of ERISA life insurance policy
where plan "includes a clear provision calling for the filing of
written designations to name or change a beneficiary");
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Hanslip, 939 F.2d 904, 906 (10th
Cir. 1991) ("[b]ecause the designation of beneficiaries to this
life insurance policy `relates to' the ERISA plan, the preemption
Here, there is no dispute that the terms of the Guardian plan
specify the procedures an employee must follow to change the
beneficiary of the Life Insurance portion of the policy:
The Beneficiary: The employee decides who gets this
insurance if he dies. He should have named his
beneficiary on his enrollment form. The employee can
change his beneficiary at any time by giving us
written notice, unless he's assigned this insurance.
But, the change won't take effect until we tell him
we've received the notice.
Kinskey's Memorandum, Exhibit 8 (emphasis supplied).
Additionally, it is undisputed that Donald Madole designated
defendant Kinskey as the beneficiary on his enrollment form.
Finally, it is undisputed that Donald Madole was never notified
of a change in the named beneficiary of the life insurance
policy. See Kinskey Memorandum, Exhibits 14, 15. Applying the
provisions of the plan for effecting a change of the beneficiary
of a life insurance policy, there is no dispute that defendant
Kinskey is the beneficiary. Such result is consistent with the
intent that "ERISA plans . . . be administered according to their
controlling documents." McMillan v. Parrott, 913 F.2d at 312.
[i]f the designation on file controls, administrators
and courts need look no further than the plan
documents to determine the plan beneficiary, thus
avoiding expensive litigation as has occurred in the
case before us.
Upon consideration of Defendant Anne K. Kinskey's Motion for
Summary Judgment, the memoranda in support thereof and in
opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, it is, this
29th day of March, 1999,
ORDERED, on the basis of the findings set forth herein, that
Defendant Anne K. Kinskey's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket
No. 20) is GRANTED, and that defendant Madole's claim is
dismissed with prejudice; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED, that Defendant, Judith Madole's Motion to
Set a Trial (Docket No. 25) is DENIED.