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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Blyther

United States District Court, District Circuit

September 24, 2004

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
CIERA L. BLYTHER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge

This case stems from an effort by the interpleader plaintiff, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife” or “the plaintiff”), to ensure that the life insurance benefits of a deceased federal employee, Geneva Blyther, are paid to the proper beneficiaries. Pending before the Court are three motions: MetLife’s Motion for Interpleader Relief, ECF No. 34; and interpleader-defendant Tiana N. Blyther’s Motions for Reconsideration, ECF No. 41, of the Court’s prior Order, ECF No. 36, dismissing the defendants’ counterclaims and to Amend her Pleading, ECF No. 43. For the reasons set forth below, the interpleader plaintiff’s motion will be granted and Ms. Blyther’s two motions will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

On November 15, 2010, Geneva Blyther (“Geneva[1]”) died from artherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, leaving behind three living children and at least eight living grandchildren. See Compl. ¶¶ 2–13, ECF No. 1; Feb. 1, 2013 Hr’g Tr. (“Hr’g Tr.”) 17:21– 18:15.[2] A long time Federal employee, Geneva was covered under the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (“FEGLI”) plan and had a life insurance policy valued at $64, 000. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 23. On the death of a FEGLI-covered federal employee, “the life insurance benefits from her coverage under the FEGLI policy . . . bec[o]me payable to the proper beneficiary.” Id. ¶ 23. The life insurance benefits flow first to those individuals named “in a signed and witnessed writing received before death in the employing office.” 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) (2006).

On the face of the beneficiary designation forms, notice is provided that the designations on the most recent form will supersede any previous forms. See, e.g., Compl. Ex. A., ECF No. 1-1 at 1 (including above signature line declaration that the signatory is “canceling any and all previous Designations of Beneficiary under the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program and [is] now designating the beneficiary(ies) named above). Thus, the most recent valid beneficiary form is the operative form. See id.

Over her lifetime, Geneva completed three FEGLI beneficiary forms. The first, executed on January 10, 1983, named Geneva’s five children as her beneficiaries, each taking an equal share of the benefits: Sharron Blyther (“Sharron”), Calvin Blyther, Jr. (“Calvin”), Joseph Evans Blyther (“Joseph”), Germany Derris Blyther (“Germany”), and Tiana Nicole Blyther (“Tiana”). Compl. Ex. C, ECF No. 1-1. The second beneficiary form, signed on September 24, 2004, named as beneficiaries six persons: Germany, Tiana, Khadaria Bush (“Bush”), J.N., [3] M.L.M., and Crystal Blyther (“Crystal”). Id., Ex. B, ECF No. 1-1. The September 24, 2004 form directs thateach of the six beneficiaries take “1/5%” of the policy benefits. Id . Taken literally, the September 24, 2004 form standing alone would have disbursed only 1.2 percent of Geneva’s life insurance benefits.[4] Alternatively, this form could be interpreted as intended to give one-fifth of the total life insurance benefits to each beneficiary, which would result in disbursement of 120 percent of the benefits.

Finally, on September 30, 2004, Geneva signed a third life insurance beneficiary form, naming as beneficiaries three additional persons, C.M.B., Ciera L. Blyther (“Ciera”), and A.B., with each taking “1/5” of the life insurance benefits. Id., Ex. A. This form, standing alone, could be interpreted as disbursing only 60 percent of Geneva’s life insurance benefits, as each of the beneficiaries was to receive “1/5” of the proceeds. Id.

On December 3, 2010, Tiana filed a claim for Geneva’s FEGLI benefits. Compl. ¶ 24. On December 22, 2010, Tiana wrote a letter to MetLife explaining that Geneva’s intent was for the September 24 and September 30, 2004 forms to be read together, designating a total of nine beneficiaries for the life insurance policy. Compl. ¶ 25; Ex. F, ECF No. 1-3 at 2. According to the letter, Geneva wished to name more beneficiaries than the number of lines on a standard beneficiary form allowed and consequently filled out two beneficiary designation forms and submitted them. Compl. Ex. F. at 2. The second form “was dated by Ms. Doris E. Taylor, a Human Resources Representative for [Geneva’s] employer” and given a different date Geneva wrote on the first form. Compl. Ex. F at 2. Thus, the second form, which Tiana asserts is merely a second page to the first form, should have been given the same date as the first form, designating nine people[5] as beneficiaries with all sharing equally in the benefits of Geneva’s policy. Id.

The plaintiff avers that if the Court accepts that “the September 30, 2004 beneficiary form is in fact page 2 of the September 24, 2004 beneficary form, the FEGLI Benefits would then be payable in equal shares” to the nine beneficiaries listed on the two forms. Compl. ¶ 29.

B. Procedural History

MetLife filed an interpleader action, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 8715 (2006), [6] on October 18, 2012, averring that it was unable to determine which of the beneficiary forms, or which combination thereof, were valid. Compl. ¶ 26. MetLife named as interpleader defendants every beneficiary listed on all three beneficiary forms Geneva signed, for a total of twelve people. See Compl. Ex. A–C, ECF No. 1-1. On the same date, MetLife also moved for leave to deposit the proceeds of the insurance policy in the Registry of the Court. See Mot. Leave Deposit Interpleader Prop. Reg. Ct., ECF No. 3, at 1. The funds, plus interest accrued, were deposited in the Registry of the Court on January 16, 2013. See Docket Entry of Jan. 16, 2013.

On November 5, 2012, MetLife filed a redacted Exhibit E to its complaint which removed references to Tiana’s social security number which had been included in the unredacted version of the exhibit. See Redacted Document, ECF No. 5. This version was added to the complaint’s docket entry on November 6, 2012. See Docket Entry of October 18, 2012 (“Additional attachment(s) added on 11/6/2012” reflecting the addition of the redacted document to the complaint).

In their answer to the interpleader complaint, the defendants, [7] who are proceeding pro se, see Notices to Proceed Pro Se, ECF Nos. 6–11, 20, essentially confirmed the facts in MetLife’s complaint, noted that two of Geneva’s five children, Calvin and Joseph, predeceased Geneva, and corrected several dates mentioned in the complaint. See Answer, ECF No. 12, ¶¶ 12–13, 16– 17. The Answer also raised two “defenses, ”[8] as well as seven counterclaims. See Defenses & Counterclaims ¶¶ 35–78. The first counterclaim alleged “Abuse of Federal Process” based on the filing of the interpleader action and the remaining counterclaims alleged “Gross Negligence” based on the inclusion in the complaint of the full names of four minor defendants and the inclusion in exhibits to the complaint of the dates of birth of Geneva and Tiana, and Tiana’s social security number. See Counterclaims ¶¶ 51–78. In total, the defendants’ counterclaims demanded nearly $200 million in damages and various types of injunctive relief. See Counterclaims ¶¶ 51–78. MetLife subsequently moved to dismiss the defendants’ ...


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