United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
KEITH P. ELLISON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
John Hancock Life Insurance, Co. (âJohn Hancockâ) filed this
interpleader action asking the Court to resolve which of two
claimed beneficiaries is entitled to an annuity it manages.
The two claimants, and the defendants in this case, are the
Estate of Jennifer Lauren Wheatley and Louis Anthony Wheatley
(âLWâ), individually and as Administrator of the Estate
(collectively, the âEstate Defendantsâ); and Jennifer Lauren
Wheatley's (âWheatleyâ) ex-husband Jeremy G. Ward. Before
the Court is the Estate Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. No. 34). The Estate Defendants and Ward have
also filed Motions for Reconsideration. (Doc. No. 76, 78, 82,
considering the parties' filings, all responses and
replies thereto, and the applicable law, the Court finds that
the Estate Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment must
be GRANTED. Having determined that the
Estate Defendants are the entitled beneficiaries of the
annuity, the Court GRANTS the Estate
Defendants' Motions for Reconsideration as to the
dismissal of their counterclaims against John Hancock for
recovery of funds that John Hancock already remitted to Ward
prior to the present interpleader action. (Doc. No. 76, 98).
The Court DENIES the remaining Motions for
Reconsideration. (Doc. No. 78, 82).
1987, Wheatley settled a medical malpractice lawsuit against
the United States through a settlement stipulation. (Doc. No
74 ¶1). The settlement provided in part that the United
States would purchase an annuity that would pay Wheatley $1,
000 “per month, increasing at 4% compounded annually,
for life, commencing at age 18, guaranteed for 30
years.” (Doc. No. 74-1 at 2). Pursuant to the
settlement, the United States entered into an annuity
contract (the “policy” or “annuity
policy”) in 1988 with John Hancock.
annuity policy provided for both lump sum payments and
monthly payments. Only the monthly payments are at issue in
this case. Per the original terms of the annuity policy,
Wheatley was the annuitant who was to receive the monthly
payments throughout her lifetime. Id. at 3.
Wheatley's “executors or administrators” were
designated as the beneficiary who would receive the monthly
payments after Wheatley's death. Id. The United
States was designated as the owner of the policy.
December 2008, Wheatley submitted a Beneficiary
Designation-LIFE form (the “change of beneficiary
form”) to John Hancock. This change of beneficiary form
revoked previous beneficiary designations and named Ward,
Wheatley's spouse at the time, as the primary
beneficiary. (Doc. No. 1-2). The secondary beneficiary was
Annie M. Hall, Wheatley's then mother-in-law.
Id. John Hancock confirmed this change in
beneficiary in January 2009. (Doc. No. 1-3).
died in October 2017, before all of the monthly payments from
the annuity had been distributed. (Doc. No. 1 ¶15).
Wheatley's father, LW, was named the administrator of
Wheatley's estate by the General Court of Justice of
Guilford County, North Carolina. Id. ¶16.
this time, John Hancock began receiving conflicting claims to
the annuity proceeds. In November 2017, John Hancock received
a letter from the Estate Defendants claiming that they were
entitled to payments from the annuity. Id. ¶17.
In May 2018, John Hancock received a claim form from Ward
also seeking payment as the beneficiary of the annuity for
the period from December 2017 through May 2018. Id.
¶18. John Hancock remitted $12, 468.06 to Ward for the
monthly payments under the annuity from December 2017 through
May 2018 (the “Disbursed Payments”). Id.
¶19. John Hancock continued receiving correspondence
from the Estate Defendants claiming that they were the
entitled beneficiaries because the United States as the
designated owner of the annuity was required to approve any
change of beneficiary, and it did not consent to
Wheatley's 2008 change of beneficiary. Id.
the conflicting claims, John Hancock began withholding the
monthly payments in June 2018. John Hancock filed the present
statutory interpleader action in this Court pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1335 in August 2018. John Hancock is currently
paying the monthly annuity funds to the Court pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1335.
Estate Defendants and Ward both asserted counterclaims and
crossclaims in their Answers. The Estate Defendants asserted
counterclaims for declaratory judgment, breach of contract,
and negligence against John Hancock arising from the wrongful
payment of the Disbursed Payments, and a crossclaim for
declaratory judgment as to the Disbursed Payments against
Ward. (Doc. No. 17). The Estate Defendants subsequently
requested leave to amend their Answer to include a fourth
counterclaim against John Hancock for failure to pay and a
delay in payment of the annuity benefits under Texas
Insurance Code § 542.058 and attorneys fees. (Doc. No.
46). Ward asserted counterclaims against John Hancock for
breach of express written contract, breach of implied
contract and/or quasi contract, and promissory estoppel,
arguing that he is entitled to the annuity proceeds pursuant
to the change of beneficiary form. (Doc. No. 33). Ward also
asserted crossclaims against the Estate Defendants for
tortious interference with his contractual rights under the
annuity policy. Id. John Hancock moved to dismiss
Court dismissed all counterclaims against John Hancock in
March 2019 and ordered that, while John Hancock was to remain
a party in the case, the claims against it would be abated
pending the resolution of the interpleader action. (Doc. No.
61 at 12:10-21).
Estate Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment
seeking the Court's determination that they are the
beneficiaries entitled to the monthly annuity proceeds. They
have also filed numerous Motions for Reconsideration seeking
to revive their counterclaims against John Hancock to recover
the Disbursed Payments. The Court addresses each in turn, as
well as Ward's Motion for Reconsideration.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO ...