Aetna Life Insurance Company v. Ritter et al

Filing 24

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER as set forth re 20 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Carolyn Ritter. Signed by Honorable Robert T. Dawson on December 23, 2014. (rw)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS HOT SPRINGS DIVISION AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY v. PLAINTIFF Case No. 14-6087 CAROLYN RITTER, as Administratrix of the Estate of Judy D. Ritter, as Administratrix of the Estate of David W. Ritter, and individually; DEBBIE COOLEY; DIEDRA LEE; and GEORGE DONNIE LEE RITTER DEFENDANTS MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Currently before the Court for consideration is Separate Defendant Judgment Carolyn and Ritter’s supporting (“Carolyn”) documents Motion (Docs. for Summary 20-22). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Motion should be GRANTED. I. Background Aetna Life Insurance Company (“Aetna”) filed a Complaint for Interpleader states that (Doc. David 1) W. on July Ritter 23, 2014. (“David”), The Complaint deceased, was a participant in a life insurance plan (the “Plan”) sponsored by his employer, policy of beneficiary the life benefits insurance election form of which issued (Doc. by were Aetna. 1-3) Page 1 of 6 on funded by David January a group signed 10, a 2007, listing his wife, Judy Denise Ritter (“Judy”) as the primary beneficiary1 of the Plan’s benefits and his mother, Carolyn, as the sole contingent beneficiary. On April conducted a 8, 2014, welfare the check Garland at the County home of Sheriff’s David, Office Judy, and Jonathan Ritter at the request of a family member who had not heard from them since April 5. The bodies of David, Judy, and Jonathan. officer discovered the David died due to gunshot wounds to the head, Judy died due to multiple gunshot wounds, and Jonathan wound. of died apparently from (Docs. 21-1, 21-2, 21-3). death for all three persons a self-inflicted gunshot The estimated date and time is listed on the coroner’s reports as April 5, 2014 at an unknown time. (Docs. 21-5, 21-6, and Ritter 21-7). David, Judy, and Jonathan pronounced dead on April 8, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. were each (Docs. 21-1, 21- 2, 21-3). Aetna individually David, as received as the a request contingent Administratrix of Administratrix of Judy’s Estate. for benefits beneficiary David’s and from as Estate, Carolyn, mother to and as Aetna also received notice that Judy’s two surviving sisters, Defendants Debbie Cooley and Diedra Lee, as well as David’s father, Defendant George Donnie 1 David W. Ritter’s son, Jonathan Ritter, was also listed as a primary beneficiary. However, Judy was designated to receive 100% of the Plan benefits. (Doc. 1-3). Page 2 of 6 Lee Ritter, could have claims for at least a portion of the Plan’s benefits. If Judy survived David, Judy would be the proper beneficiary and the benefits would pass to her estate. If Judy did not survive David, Carolyn, in her individual capacity, would be the proper beneficiary. Because Aetna could not readily determine the proper beneficiary, it filed the instant interpleader action. Pursuant to this Court’s order (Doc. 17), Aetna deposited the life insurance benefits payable under the Plan with the Clerk of Court. The Court dismissed Aetna from this action on October 6, 2014, and ordered Defendants to litigate their claims to the Plan’s benefits. II. (Doc. 19). Standard of Review Summary judgment is appropriate when “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.” Civ. P. 56(a). Fed. R. “The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and must identify those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (internal quotation omitted). Once the movant demonstrates that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact, the opposing party may not rest upon the Page 3 of 6 mere allegations or denials in the pleadings, but must provide a response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, that sets forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. 1998). The Ghane v. West, 148 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party “only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.” Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (quoting Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009)). III. Discussion In her Motion, Carolyn asserts that all other defendants are in default (Doc. 20, p. 2). Lee, and George Donnie Lee Separate defendants Cooley, Ritter each signed a waiver of service form (see Docs. 12–14), which advised that a response was to be filed with the Court by September 23, 2014. Defendants Cooley, Lee, and George Donnie Lee Ritter failed to file an answer period. or otherwise respond within the proper time Accordingly, the Court finds that Cooley, Lee, and George Donnie Lee Ritter are in default and have forfeited any claim of entitlement to the Plan’s benefits. See Viking Ins. Co. of Wisconsin v. Kemp, 2013 WL 6780571, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 19, 2013) (“[F]ailure of a named interpleader defendant to answer the interpleader complaint and assert a claim to the res can be viewed as forfeiting any claim of entitlement that might have been asserted.”) (internal quotation omitted). Page 4 of 6 The affidavits and other evidence on the record reflect that David, Judy, and Jonathan Ritter were alive on April 5, 2014. The estimated date of death for each person is April 5, 2014, and all three were pronounced dead on April 8, 2014. Under Arkansas law, if two people die within 120 hours of each other, they are considered to have died simultaneously and the effect is that each is considered to have predeceased the other. See Ark. Code Ann. § 28-10-202. (“[A]n individual who is not established by clear and convincing evidence to have survived the other individual by 120 hours is deemed to have predeceased the other individual.”) Here, even though the exact time and date of Judy’s death are unknown, it would not be possible for her to have survived David by 120 hours as both Judy and David were alive on April 5 and found dead on April 8. Because Judy could not have survived David by 120 hours, the contingent beneficiary is entitled to receive the Plan benefits. Accordingly, the Court finds that Separate Defendant Carolyn Ritter, individually, is the proper recipient of the Plan benefits, as she is the sole named contingent beneficiary. IV. Conclusion For the reasons set forth above, Defendant Carolyn Ritter’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 20) is GRANTED and it is ORDERED that Carolyn Ritter, individually, is the owner, and Page 5 of 6 entitled to possession, of the benefits of David W. Ritter’s life insurance plan. The bench trial set to begin Monday, April 20, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. is CANCELLED. A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with this order. IT IS SO ORDERED this 23rd day of December, 2014. /s/ Robert T. Dawson Honorable Robert T. Dawson United States District Judge Page 6 of 6

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