United States District Court, District of Columbia
ELIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN, as personal representative of the estate of John Joseph McLaughlin, Plaintiff,
HARTFORD LIFE & ANNUITY INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the nation's capital, a case brought by the estate of
John Joseph McLaughlin, longtime moderator of the raucous
political roundtable The McLaughlin Group.
On a scale from one to ten-with one being the chance of a
Washington, D.C. professional sports team winning a
championship this year and ten being absolute metaphysical
certainty-how certain is the Court that Mr. McLaughlin, upon
his divorce from his former wife Christina Vidal, intended
for her to benefit from two life insurance annuities that he
brought to the marriage? Any answer shy of nine would be . .
. Wrong! Mr. McLaughlin did not wish his
ex-wife to receive the annuity benefits. His estate is
therefore the proper beneficiary and is entitled to a
declaratory judgment saying so.
March 1996, before he married Ms. Vidal, Mr. McLaughlin
designated her as the beneficiary of two annuity contracts
that he purchased from Hartford Life & Annuity Insurance
Company (“Hartford”) and Allianz Life Insurance
Company (“Allianz”). Pl.'s Supp. Br. Ex. A.
Mr. McLaughlin and Ms. Vidal executed a prenuptial property
settlement agreement in 1997 and were married in June of that
year. Compl. ¶ 9. The agreement provided for a lump-sum
transfer of $1 million from Mr. McLaughlin to Ms. Vidal in
the event of their divorce and indicated that the payment
would settle all property rights arising out of their
marriage. Id. ¶ 11. The couple divorced in
2010. In granting the divorce, the District of Columbia
Superior Court found their prenuptial agreement fully
enforceable and incorporated it into the judgment. Pl.'s
Supp. Mem. Ex. C, at 2. Mr. McLaughlin died in Washington in
August 2016. Id. ¶ 14. He was not survived by a
spouse or children. Id.
who is Mr. McLaughlin's niece and the representative of
his estate, filed this suit seeking a declaration that the
estate is the sole beneficiary of the Hartford
annuity. She served Ms. Vidal personally with a
summons and complaint on May 10. Ms. Vidal did not answer or
otherwise respond to the complaint, and on June 26 the Clerk
of the Court entered default against her. ECF No. 25.
Plaintiff then moved for an entry of default judgment. ECF
No. 26. On August 29, the Court issued a Minute Order to Show
Cause why judgment should not be entered for Plaintiff and
gave Ms. Vidal until September 20 to respond. That deadline
passed over a month ago, and Ms. Vidal has not responded or
sought more time to do so.
motion for default judgment, Plaintiff relied exclusively on
the common law “doctrine of implied revocation, ”
which provides that a divorce and division of property
generally revokes a former spouse's status as beneficiary
of a will. Estate of Liles, 435 A.2d 379 (D.C.
1981). Plaintiff did not, however, cite authority supporting
the application of that doctrine to annuities, life insurance
policies, or other contract-based instruments, as opposed to
wills. Noting that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
has expressly declined to extend the doctrine to
contract-based instruments,  the Court by Order dated October
6, 2017 directed the parties to file supplemental briefing on
two related issues: (1) Whether the doctrine of implied
revocation operates to revoke a former spouse's status as
beneficiary of an annuity, and (2) assuming that the doctrine
does not apply to annuities, whether Plaintiff is
entitled to the requested declaratory judgment for another
reason. Plaintiff filed a supplemental brief and attached the
prenuptial agreement and the judgment of divorce as exhibits.
judgment is warranted “when the adversary process has
been halted because of an essentially unresponsive
party.” H.F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft
Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970).
Where a plaintiff has moved for default judgment, the Court
must ensure that default was properly entered and, if so,
decide whether the facts stated in the complaint, accepted as
true, entitle the plaintiff to judgment in her favor. See
Boland v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring, Inc., 763 F.Supp.2d
64, 67 (D.D.C. 2011).
Clerk properly entered default against Ms. Vidal, as she has
yet to respond to the complaint, to Plaintiff's motion
for default judgment, or to the Court's show cause order.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55. And, having resolved the
following issues, the Court finds that the facts stated in
the complaint entitle Plaintiff to declaratory relief.
number one: Subject matter jurisdiction! Do the facts alleged
establish it? Yes!
purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the representative of an
estate is “deemed to be a citizen only of the same
State as the decedent.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2). At
the time of his death, Mr. McLaughlin was a citizen of
Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶ 2. Ms. Vidal is a citizen of
Connecticut. Id. ¶ 5. The annuity contracts at
issue each have a value greater than $75, 000. Id.
¶ 9. Thus, because the declaratory relief sought in the
complaint would result in the disbursement of over $75, 000,
and because Plaintiff and Ms. Vidal are citizens of different
states, this Court has diversity jurisdiction over the case.
28 U.S.C. § 1332; see also, e.g., Thomas v.
Metro. Life Ins. Co., 921 F.Supp. 810, 811 (D.D.C. 1996)
(resolving issue of beneficiary designation through
issue! Does this Court have personal jurisdiction over Ms.
Vidal, a citizen of Connecticut? Certainly!
District of Columbia law allows for specific personal
jurisdiction over non-resident defendants “as to a
claim for relief arising from the person's . . .
transacting any business in the District of Columbia, ”
D.C. Code § 13-423, and this standard is
“coextensive with the Constitution's due process
limit, ” First Chi. Int'l v. United Exch.
Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1377 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Thus, the
Court may exercise specific jurisdiction if there is a
sufficient relationship between the gravamen of the
complaint-that Ms. Vidal is not the beneficiary of the
annuities-and the District of Columbia, “such that the
maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional
notions of fair play and substantial justice.'”
Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316
(1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463
(1940)). That is the case here. As explained below, the
primary issue here is whether Mr. McLaughlin and Ms.
Vidal's divorce-which resulted in the enforcement of a
prenuptial agreement and a settlement of $1 million-revoked
Ms. Vidal's status as beneficiary of the annuities. While
Hartford is a Connecticut business and Allianz is from
Minnesota, all other aspects of the transactions associated
with the annuities occurred in the District of Columbia.
Specifically: Mr. McLaughlin purchased the annuities and
designated Ms. Vidal as their beneficiary. Compl. ¶ 9.
Mr. McLaughlin and Ms. Vidal were married in Washington in
1997. Id. ¶ 6. While married, the couple lived
together here. Id. In 2010, Ms. ...