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Standard Insurance Co. v. Burch

March 3, 2008

STANDARD INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RALEIGH L. BURCH, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Standard Insurance Company of Portland, Oregon, ("Standard") provides group life insurance to employees of the District of Columbia, including the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Notified by DCPS that teacher Priscilla Davila-Burch had died, with a packet that included a death certificate and a designation of beneficiary form, Standard quickly distributed insurance proceeds to the two daughters and husband of Ms. Davila-Burch. Much to Standard's chagrin, one of the daughters then provided an updated beneficiary designation form which omitted Mr. Burch and directed that the insurance be evenly split between the two daughters. Examining and crediting the second designation form, Standard then attempted to contact Mr. Burch by phone, letter and, finally, lawsuit to recover the $172,033.99 paid to him. Standard now asks the Court for a declaratory judgment that the second beneficiary designation form is valid and a ruling that Mr. Raleigh L. Burch, Jr. has been unjustly enriched by the monies he has refused and failed to return. Standard, Mr. Burch, Mrs. Kimberly (Davila) Leftenant, and Ms. Ehuniz Davila, all represented by counsel, were parties to a two-day bench trial.

From the evidence of record, including the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses, the Court finds that Priscilla Davila-Burch executed the second beneficiary designation form prior to her death and delivered it to DCPS. Therefore, according to the terms of the policy, Mses. Davila and Leftenant are the only proper recipients of insurance proceeds. Mr. Burch has been unjustly enriched by holding, and spending, the insurance proceeds which, despite a court injunction to the contrary, were severely depleted.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

1. The relevant insurance policy between Standard and the District of Columbia ("D.C.") is dated March 1, 2001, and had a policy number of 641332-A ("Policy"). See Plaintiff's Exhibit ("Pl.'s Ex.") 1. Under the Policy, a "beneficiary" was "a person you name to receive death benefits." Id. at 18.

2. A person insured under the policy "may name or change Beneficiaries at any time without the consent of a Beneficiary." Id.

2. To change a Beneficiary designation, an insured employee had to submit a designation form that was: (1) dated and signed by the insured; (2) delivered to the Policyowner or Employer (DCPS) during the insured's lifetime; and (3) related to the insurance under the Policy. Id. at 19. In such an event, the change in designation of Beneficiary took place upon delivery of the form to DCPS. Id.

3. The Policy granted significant authority to Standard to determine its administration. Standard retained "full and exclusive authority to . . . resolve all questions arising in the administration, interpretation, and application" of the Policy. Id. at 20. This included the "right to determine: . . . b. [e]ntitlement to benefits; . . . [and] d. [s]ufficiency and the amount of information we may reasonably require to determine . . . b. . . . above." Id.

4. Ms. Priscilla Davila-Burch was a teacher with DCPS who was covered by the Policy. She married Raleigh L. Burch, Jr., in December 1999 and, in completing a Beneficiary Designation Form in 2004 ("2004 Designation Form"), identified Mr. Burch as the beneficiary for 50% of her life insurance benefits, with 35% distributed to her younger daughter, Ehuniz, and 15% to her older daughter, Kimberly. See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (2004 Designation Form).

5. Ms. Davila-Burch left her husband in August 2005. On August 29, 2005 Mr. Burch signed a civil protection order to stay away from Ms. Priscilla Davila-Burch for a period of 12 months. See Davila Defendants' Exhibit ("Davila Ex.") 4. Ms. Davila-Burch filed a complaint for legal separation on August 29, 2005. See Davila Ex. 5. She and daughter Ehuniz Davila moved to a different home and Ms. Davila-Burch began to drop "Burch" from her last name, although she had not formally divorced Mr. Burch. See id. (Ms. Davila-Burch choosing to "return to [her] birth name or another legal name [she] used before [her] marriage" and writing Priscilla Durham-Davila).

6. Ms. Davila-Burch suffered from Hepatitis-C and, starting in January 2006, was repeatedly hospitalized. During one of those hospitalizations, in March 2006, she directed her daughter Ehuniz to bring certain papers to the hospital; these included an application for disability retirement from DCPS and a Beneficiary Designation Form ("2006 Designation Form").

7. Ehuniz Davila filled out the top portion of the 2006 Designation Form at her mother's direction, although she did not understand the nature of the form. She erred in inserting a social security number and just crossed it out. When Kimberly Leftenant came to visit her mother in the hospital, she completed parts of the form as well. Mrs. Leftenant departed and, at some point, Ms. Priscilla Davila-Burch signed the form in the presence of her mother, Barbara Durham, and attending nurse Laura Greer, who each signed as witnesses. See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (2006 Designation Form).

8. During that hospitalization, on March 5, 2006, Mr. Burch and his son came to visit Ms. Davila-Burch. No other family member was present.

9. Priscilla Davila-Burch was released from the hospital and, on March 18, 2006, delivered the 2006 Designation Form and the disability application form to the Human Resources office of DCPS. The 2006 Designation Form was stamped by DCPS as received on March 18, but was ...


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