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McKenzie v. McKenzie

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

April 9, 2019

ANTWONIQUE MCKENZIE, Plaintiff,
v.
TRESSA MCKENZIE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION, FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          HENRY J. BEMPORAD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         A bench trial was held in this case on March 28, 2019. The Court exercises jurisdiction in this case pursuant to the consent of the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the Court enters this Memorandum of Decision, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. For the reasons set out below, the Court finds in favor of Defendant Tressa McKenzie in this matter.

         I. Background.

         This case began as an interpleader action brought by Dearborn National Life Insurance Company ("Dearborn"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. (See Docket Entry 1, at 1.) Dearborn had issued a term life insurance policy ("the Policy") to Aaron McKenzie through his employer, Star Shuttle, Inc. ("Star Shuttle"). (Id.) The death benefit under the policy was $80, 000. (Docket Entry 36, at 3.)

         After Aaron McKenzie's death, both Plaintiff and Defendant filed claims seeking life insurance benefits. In light of the parties' dispute, Dearborn filed this interpleader action. Both Plaintiff and Defendant filed answers making claims to the proceeds. (Docket Entries 7, 8.) The Court approved Dearborn's interpleader request, dismissing it from the case and ordering that proceeds from the Policy (less costs and reasonable attorney's fees) be placed in the registry of the Court. (Docket Entry 12.) Accordingly, the amount of $77, 100 was placed in the Court's registry on July 31, 2017. (See Docket Entry 14.)

         Both Plaintiff and Defendant testified at the trial before the Court. Additionally, three defense exhibits were admitted by stipulation. (See Docket Entries 53, 54.)

         II. Findings of Fact.

         The following findings include findings adapted from the parties' stipulations at trial (see Docket Entry 53) and proposed findings (Docket Entries 56 and 57), as well as the Court's own findings based on the trial evidence:

1. Antwonique McKenzie is Aaron McKenzie's natural born daughter from his previous marriage to Latasha Nicole Johnson (a/k/a Latasha Brown). The marriage ended in divorce at some time before July 26, 2009.
2. Tressa McKenzie and Aaron McKenzie were married on July 26, 2009, and the marriage was never subject to divorce or annulment.
3. Aaron McKenzie began working for Star Shuttle on October 12, 2009, and worked there until November 11, 2016.
4. On or about May 20, 2016, Aaron McKenzie purchased the Policy from Dearborn through Star Shuttle. A third party, Sun Life Financial, acted as the enroller for the Policy. The Policy states that it is an "employee welfare benefit plan" as defined by ERISA. (Trial Ex. 2; Docket Entry 31 -2, at 46.)
5. Premiums for the insurance were deducted out of Aaron McKenzie's employment paycheck. As Aaron McKenzie purchased the Policy during his marriage to Tressa McKenzie, he used community funds to pay the premiums of the Policy.
6. From approximately April to December 2016, Tressa and Aaron McKenzie were living apart.
7. With regard to naming a beneficiary for death benefits, the Policy provides:
Who will receive Your Life Insurance Benefits?
Your beneficiary designation must be made on a form which We[1]provide or on a form accepted by Us. If two or more beneficiaries are named, payment of proceeds will be apportioned equally unless You had specified otherwise. The Policyholder may not be named as beneficiary. Unless You provide otherwise, if a beneficiary dies before You, We will divide that beneficiary's share equally between any remaining ...

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