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Transamerica Life Insurance Co. v. Leclere

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 25, 2017

TRANSAMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
KAREN M. LECLERE INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE MINOR, BENJAMIN J. LECLERE,

          RULING

          JAMES J. BRADY JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on two Motions. The first is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 23) brought by the Plaintiff, Lisa Glover (“Glover”). One of the Defendants, Karen M. Leclere (“Karen”), filed an Opposition (Doc. 25). Glover filed a Reply (Doc. 29). Additionally, the other Defendants, David A. Leclere, II (“David”), Michael J. Leclere (“Josh”), and Daniel D. Holliday, as trustee of the David A. Leclere II Testamentary Trust, The Michael J. Leclere Testamentary Trust, and The Benjamin J. Leclere Inter Vivos Trust (“The Trusts”), joined Glover's Motion for Summary Judgment and submitted their own memorandum (Doc. 26).

         The second motion is a Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. 21) filed by the original Plaintiff-in-Interpleader, Transamerica Life Insurance Company (“Transamerica”). This Motion is unopposed.

         The Court's jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335. Oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons stated herein, Glover's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 23) is GRANTED and Transamerica's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. 21) is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This case is about a dispute over the proceeds of David A. Leclere's (“the Decedent”) life insurance policy. This is essentially a dispute between the Decedent's fiancée and his children, on the one hand, and his ex-wife, on the other hand.

         Most of the facts giving rise to this case are not in dispute. In 1999, Transamerica issued a life insurance policy to the Decedent. In March 1999, the Decedent executed a beneficiary designation form which provided that the proceeds of the policy would be split between his wife and sons. In 2005, the decedent divorced his wife, Karen Leclere.

         In January 2010, the Decedent executed a new beneficiary designation form which provided that the proceeds were to be divided between different trusts set up for his sons. Notably, Karen had been removed as a beneficiary. Transamerica received this form but sent the Decedent a letter informing him that the new designations could not be processed because additional information was needed. The Decedent took no further action regarding the proposed January 2010 beneficiary change.

         In December 2014, the Decedent attempted to execute another beneficiary designation change. The form provided that the proceeds were to be distributed as follows: 30% to Lisa Glover (who was listed as the Decedent's fiancée on the form), 40% to the Benjamin Leclere Testamentary Trust, 15% to David A. Leclere II, and 15% to Michael Joshua Leclere. Notably, the change form submitted by the Decedent contained the following language: “A confirmation of the change will be mailed to the owner's address of record, unless one of the below options is selected. If there is more than one owner, please designate one email address or fax number. By selecting the email or fax option below, I understand that confirmation will not be sent in paper form.”[1] The Decedent then provided his contact e-mail address and initialed the language on the form providing that: “I would like confirmation of this change, or any questions related to the requested change, securely mailed to me at the email address provided below.”[2]

         A few days after the Decedent sent this form, Transamerica wrote a letter to the Decedent confirming receipt of the beneficiary change form and noting that it could not process the request because the Decedent made two small errors on the form. He failed to initial a correction he made on the form to his son's birthdate, and he used the wrong name for the Trusts (he called them “Testamentary Trusts” whereas they are required to be called “Trusts Under Will”).

         The Decedent died in July 2015. This letter was never opened by the Decedent during his lifetime. The letter was sent to his office during a time when the Decedent was allegedly relocating.[3] Becky McDaniel (a paralegal at the Decedent's office) noted that she found the unopened letter after the Decedent died.

         Transamerica filed the instant interpleader action as a disinterested stakeholder noting that there were conflicting claims among the Defendants. Lisa Glover, the Decedent's fiancée, now moves for summary judgment arguing that the Court should find the December 2014 change of beneficiary form valid and enforceable. She argues that the Decedent “substantially complied” with the procedures for changing the beneficiary form. Karen Leclere, the Decedent's ex-wife, opposes the Motion. She spends the majority of her brief attacking the admissibility of Glover's evidence, and only a single page addressing the merits of Glover's Motion.

         II. Evidentiary Disputes

         Karen Leclere argues that Glover's Exhibits 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, and 10A are not competent summary judgment evidence because they were not authenticated. This Court disagrees for two overarching reasons. First, the majority of these exhibits are properly before the Court because Karen Leclere, in her Answer, accepted these documents.[4] Second, as to the other documents that were first presented to this Court in Glover's Motion, those documents are competent summary judgment evidence.

         The general rule is that a party is bound by the admissions in her pleadings.[5] “Indeed, facts judicially admitted are facts established not only beyond the need of evidence to prove them, but beyond the power of evidence to controvert them. A fact admitted by answer is no longer a fact in issue.”[6] A court may exercise its discretion to excuse a party from the consequences of its judicial admission in an appropriate case.[7] However, excusing a party from its admission should be rare: “In a real and legitimate controversy, a party should be left within the knot of his averments in pleadings and admissions in testimony, unless the Court can find an absolute demonstration from the evidence in the case, or from facts within judicial notice, like the laws of physics…that under no circumstances could the averments and admissions be true.”[8]

         Here, the Court finds that excusing Karen Leclere from her unequivocal admissions would be an abuse of discretion. In her Answer, Karen Leclere admitted “to the allegations of paragraphs XII through XVI of the Complaint, and state[d] that the Exhibits identified [in those paragraphs] are the best evidence of their contents.”[9] In paragraph XII of its Complaint, Transamerica described a beneficiary designation form from March 1999 and attached the form. Glover attached this form as Exhibit 1 to her Summary Judgment Motion.[10] In paragraph XIII, Transamerica described the January 2010 beneficiary designation form and attached this form. Glover attached this form as Exhibit 3 to her Summary Judgment Motion.[11] In paragraph XIV, Transamerica described a January 2010 letter from Transamerica to the Decedent rejecting the beneficiary change. Transamerica attached this letter to the Complaint. Glover attached it to her Summary Judgment Motion as Exhibit 4.[12] In paragraph XV, Transamerica described the December 2014 beneficiary designation change form and attached a copy. Glover attached this document to her Motion as Exhibit 5.[13] In paragraph XVI, Transamerica described the rejection letter it sent to the Decedent regarding the change form. It attached this letter. Glover attached this letter to her Motion as Exhibit 6.[14] Additionally, in her Answer, she admitted that the policy attached to the Complaint, was the “best evidence of its contents.”[15] Glover attached an excerpt of this policy to her Motion as Exhibit 7.[16]

         The Court finds Karen Leclere's argument, that these exhibits are not competent summary judgment evidence, overwhelmingly meritless. In her own Answer, Ms. Leclere accepted the allegations in the Complaint regarding the basic facts alleged in Glover's Motion. Additionally, she accepted Exhibits 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, as their own best evidence of the allegations presented in paragraphs XII through XVI. The Court finds no reason to excuse Ms. Leclere from these admissions given that Ms. Leclere has presented no evidence which casts doubt on the validity of these documents. Accordingly, these documents are properly before the Court.

         Ms. Leclere also argues that Exhibits 8 and 9 should not be considered by this Court because they are affidavits that contain sworn statements that were not made based on personal knowledge. Exhibit 8 is an affidavit by the Decedent's paralegal, and Exhibit 9 is an affidavit by an employee of Transamerica. The Court finds that both of these affidavits comply with Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To the extent that there are any “personal knowledge” problems with these affidavits, the Court has disregarded any statements in the affidavits that could not have been made on personal knowledge.

         Accordingly, Exhibits 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are properly before this Court. The Court does not address Exhibits 10 or 10A as they are not material to a resolution of this matter.

         III. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Standard

         Summary judgment should be granted if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[17] An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.[18] A dispute is considered genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.[19]

         A party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case.[20] If the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.[21] A court must resolve all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.[22] However, the nonmoving party's burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.[23] Additionally, when the only remaining conflict between the parties concerns the legal consequences flowing from undisputed facts, summary judgment is clearly appropriate.[24]

         B. Law & Analysis

         The Court finds that the material facts are undisputed, and therefore, it is proper to resolve the case at this stage. The only real conflict between the parties concerns the legal consequences that flow from the undisputed facts. Here, the conflict is over whether the Decedent “substantially complied” with the procedure for changing his beneficiary designations such that the 2014 beneficiary form should be given legal effect.

         Karen Leclere argues that there is a genuine dispute as to whether it was the Decedent who sent the 2014 beneficiary designation change form, and this dispute precludes summary judgment: “Glover argues that it is ‘not in dispute' that [the Decedent] filled out a beneficiary change form on December 1, 2014, then signed the form and submitted it to Transamerica, but there is a genuine dispute as to this material fact. Glover merely attaches an unsworn and unauthenticated copy of the alleged form, and even if it were attached to an affidavit of [the Transamerica employee], [she] lacks personal knowledge as to whether [the Decedent] signed the form.”[25] The Court finds this attempt to create a fact issue unavailing for two reasons. First, Karen Leclere already admitted that it was the Decedent who sent the December 2014 form.[26] Second, even assuming that she hadn't admitted that fact, this attempt at calling into question his signature is the type of unsubstantiated assertion that does not satisfy a nonmovant's burden.

         Both parties agree that this dispute is governed by Louisiana law. Generally, Louisiana law requires strict compliance with an insurance contract's terms to effect a change of beneficiary.[27]However, Louisiana recognizes the doctrine of substantial compliance in limited circumstances.[28]“[W]hen an insured does substantially all that lay within his power to effect a change of beneficiary, ” a change of beneficiary will be effected even though the beneficiary was not technically changed before the insured's death.[29] Substantial compliance applies when an insured complies with the requirements on the face of the policy, but some internal procedure is not completed.[30]

         Where an insured fills out a formal document provided by the insurer which manifests his intent to change a beneficiary, and this form complies with the procedures set out on the face of the policy, the change of beneficiary will be given effect even if the insured has not complied with every internal procedure of the insurance company.[31] In Philadelphia Life Ins. v. Whitman, a Louisiana appellate court was tasked with determining which individual was entitled to the proceeds of a life insurance policy.[32] The decedent had originally named his daughter as the sole beneficiary.[33]A few years later, the decedent began dating a woman and started living with her.[34]After living with this woman for a few years, he received a form letter from his life insurance company.[35] The form asked him to answer various questions including whether he wanted to change his beneficiary designation.[36] With the help of a family member, the decedent filled it out and named his girlfriend as the beneficiary.[37] The decedent sent the form to his ...


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