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Miller v. Miller

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 31, 2019

JEANETTE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRELL MILLER and RODERICK MILLER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SAM A. LINDSAY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is the Motion of Jeanette Miller to Withdraw Funds from Court Registry (Doc. 22), filed February 13, 2019. The court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law by a preponderance of the evidence[1] pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure[2] following a hearing and bench trial as to whom is entitled to receive the benefits of a group life insurance policy that falls under an employee benefit plan covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). For the reasons set forth herein, the court grants the Motion of Jeanette Miller to Withdraw Funds from the Court Registry (Doc. 22).

         I. Procedural Background and Findings of Fact[3]

         On September 6, 2017, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) filed its Complaint for Interpleader (“Complaint”)[4] (Doc. 1). MetLife filed this action because it did not wish to be exposed to double liability if it paid the wrong beneficiary.

         Daniel Miller (“Mr. Miller” or “Decedent”), a retiree from the General Motors Company (“GM”), was a participant in GM's Basic Life Insurance Plan No. 15500-G (the “Plan”), an ERISA-regulated employee welfare benefit plan sponsored by GM and funded by a group life insurance policy issued by MetLife. MetLife, as claim fiduciary, was required to administer claims in accordance with ERISA and the documents and instruments governing the Plan. 29 U.S.C. §1104(a)(1)(D). ERISA defines a beneficiary as “[a] person designated by a participant, or by the terms of an employee benefit plan, who is or may become entitled to a benefit thereunder.” 29 U.S.C. §1002(8). At the time of his death on November 23, 2016, Mr. Miller was married to Jeanette Miller (“Mrs. Miller”). Mr. Miller and Mrs. Miller were married in Tarrant County, Texas, on May 27, 2003.

         The Plan establishes on page 32 the right of a Plan participant to name his or her beneficiary. The Plan was amended by a rider, effective January 2009, to state the following:

4. No Beneficiary at YOUR Death
If there is no Beneficiary at YOUR death for any amount of benefits payable because of YOUR death, that amount will be paid to one or more of the following persons who are related to YOU and who survive YOU:
(a) SPOUSE
(b) child
(c) parent However, we may instead pay all or part of that amount to YOUR estate. Any payment will discharge our liability for the amount so paid.

Ex. 1.1 to Compl.

         The only accepted beneficiary designation form on file for the Decedent is dated August 5, 2016, and names Darrell and Roderick Miller (“Darrell” and “Roderick” or the “Miller Brothers”), two of Mr. Miller's sons from a previous marriage, as the primary beneficiaries with each receiving a fifty-percent share of the life insurance benefits. Mr. Miller's previous wife, Ms. Ida Miller and the mother of Darrell and Roderick, died in 2002.

         On or about September 9, 2016, Mrs. Miller provided a beneficiary designation form naming herself as the sole primary beneficiary, along with the Decedent's Living Trust and the Insured's Estate. Mrs. Miller signed this beneficiary designation form as the power of attorney for the Decedent and provided MetLife with the Statutory Durable Power of Attorney of Daniel Miller. The beneficiary designation form was rejected because the boxes indicating which coverages applied were not checked. Later, Mrs. Miller provided a second beneficiary designation form naming herself as the sole primary beneficiary. This beneficiary designation form was rejected because the boxes indicating which coverages applied were not checked.

         Mr. Miller died on November 23, 2016. At the time of his death, Mr. Miller was enrolled for life insurance coverage in the amount of thirty four thousand seven hundred and eighty eight dollars and zero cents ($34, 788) (the “Life Insurance Benefits”). The Life Insurance Benefits became payable to the proper beneficiary (or beneficiaries) upon his or her death.

         On or about November 30, 2016, Roderick and Darrell each signed an Assignment of Insurance Proceeds with Golden Gate Funeral Home in the amount of $7, 221.90 and an Irrevocable Assignment and Power of Attorney. The Irrevocable Assignments ...


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