State Farm Life Insurance Company v. Jefferson et al

Filing 79

ORDER denying 67 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge J. Randal Hall on 01/09/2018. (jlh)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF COURT FOR THE GEORGIA AUGUSTA DIVISION STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE CO., * Plaintiff, * v. * LATASHA JEFFERSON; VALERIE SMITH; CV 116-085 DAVID TURNER; * and BEVERLY * WILCHER WHITAKER, * * Defendants. * ORDER Before the Court is for summary judgment. remaining defendants (Doc. timely summary judgment motion right to file Defendant affidavits Cir. 1985) Valerie Smith, a response curiam), David Turner, (Docs. 75, has consideration. 78.) expired, Upon Defendant or other materials (Doc. 69.) have been in Jefferson's rules, of the opposition, and Therefore, 772 motion Court gave the summary judgment F.2d 822, satisfied. the notice 825 (11th Defendants and Beverly Wilcher Whitaker in opposition and Defendant in support. opposition of Griffith v. Wainwright, (per Jefferson's The Clerk of notice and the the consequences of default. requirements of 67.) Latasha filed Jefferson filed a reply The time for filing materials in and consideration the of motion the is evidence ripe of for record, relevant law, and the parties' respective briefs, Defendant Jefferson's motion for summary judgment is DENIED. I. On November Farm") issued ("Decedent") (Bussey 2, a application, State Farm Life life insurance the in Dep., 1999, BACKGROUND amount Doc. 43, policy of at Insurance Co. to Mr. $100,000.00 86-100.) his mother, and his older sister, (nee Beverly Turner), as the (Id. Virginia Taylor, as the Defendant Whitaker beneficiary of the Policy. at 104-05.) Approximately five years later, form insurance Julia Hankerson, successor beneficiary, final Turner "Policy"). the Decedent designated his then-wife, as the primary beneficiary, Michael (the On ("State dated December 1, 2004, on a change of beneficiary Decedent designated Kathy Harris and Joyce Johnson as the primary beneficiaries and his brother, Defendant (Id. at Turner, 103.) as the successor Approximately ten years beneficiary form dated April 7, brother and older sister, primary beneficiaries (nee Valerie (Id. at 102, beneficiary Johnson), 2015, Defendants and his younger as later, of the on a change 1-3.) of Decedent designated his Turner sister, and Whitaker, Defendant successor beneficiary of 108; see also Doc. Policy. the as Smith Policy. At some stroke. 47, of in 2014, (Turner Dep., at years point 13 (first prior to stroke strokes treatment at Dep. (Decedent 18 total); 73, Whitaker the various Doc. SI at 17; 4; following debilitating hospitals one in for Doc. 72, approximately 19 45, at 8-12.) morphine Whitaker Aff. Defendant SI his nursing (Jefferson Dep., care soon increasing pain. In 2016, 5. ) Jefferson, inpatient hospice for took early action facility Doc. 46, to and at thereafter, returned 14.) he to On at 29, 2016, Decedent Jefferson a general power of 110-15; beneficiary in was where he was Aff. his SI 5; daughter, from the residence. was continued placed to (Id. in receive at 29-30; at 34.) February Defendant he Turner strokes removed morphine and other pain-management medication. Whitaker Dep. series SI 4; (Turner him half Decedent Decedent where a Georgia. Decedent's have Doc. which Augusta, eventually placed in an inpatient nursing facility, given and suffered a year, Whitaker Aff., Doc. a see also Smith Dep., Decedent suffered Dep., suffered approximately death).) over (Turner Aff., at 44, occurred Decedent's subsequent received Doc. Decedent Jefferson form Dep. dated at 14-18.) March 1, purportedly attorney. By way 2016, of granted (Bussey Dep. a change Defendant of Jefferson attempted to substitute herself as the primary beneficiary of the Policy under her authority as Decedent's attorney-in-fact. (Bussey Dep. March 18, process at 2016, the 117; Jefferson Dep. State change at Farm notified of 16-18.) Decedent beneficiary request "due to lack of authority according to the document 119.) and the State "capable of appearance Farm of further signing the notified request Bussey, went 2016, to that that, [State (Id. Defendant at 19-20.) understood what beneficiary Mr. was request, Bussey to to which the affirmative. (Id. had Decedent a form hesitated negative. for to sign (Id. and at present with Decedent to sign, shook Mr. he at was would be Mr. a Eddie change of (Bussey Dep. at this relation Mr. at 22-23.) for Decedent 22.) then Dep. if Farm] fulfill asked happening 2016, (Id.) residence Jefferson was not [a]ttorney a State Farm insurance agent, Decedent's 1, (Bussey beneficiary request with respect to the Policy. 18-19.) would [p]ower of Decedent himself, it dated March self-dealing." able to make the requested change." On March 23, By letter dated appointment. twice to whether he change of responded in the allegedly Bussey then stated that he which his head Decedent to allegedly respond in the Bussey again repeated that he needed Decedent's signature and stated that Decedent could sign with an "X" if he wanted and handed him a pen. then purportedly executed the (Id. ) (now-disputed) Decedent change of beneficiary form designating Defendant Jefferson as the Policy's primary beneficiary by scrawling an "X" on the signature line thereon. (Id. thereafter. at (Id. 23-24, at 101.) 24.) Mr. State Farm Bussey confirmed beneficiary by notice dated April 5, 2016. Decedent Doc. 41-1, assigned funeral SI passed 5; Doc. $9,510.00 home away and, on 1-8.) of April That the on April 14, (Doc. 11, she shortly change (Wilcher to Jefferson the submitted Aff., relevant a claim to State Farm for the remaining proceeds of the Policy. (Docs. 9, 15, 1-10.) By Defendants letter Smith, insurance monies to State Turner, not be behavior on the part of Farm postmarked April and Whitaker disbursed due [Defendant] requested to of 1-7.) Defendant proceeds 2016, the 2016. same day, Policy's left 2016, "that alleged 1- any fraudulent Jefferson" and asserted that Decedent did not have the capacity to "conduct any business" due to medical complications from his prior strokes. (Bussey Dep. at 121-22.) After the several adverse months claims to of the interpleader under 28 U.S.C. Procedure State Farm's deposit (Doc. 6; Court's Court 22. the see (Doc. 1.) request disputed also Registry dismissed of Policy, to 7 27, proceed into (clerk's $91,813.55).) State Farm. (Doc. informally Farm Federal 2016, with the to State § 1335 and On June funds Doc. attempting filed Rule of certification of 29.) September On approved interpleader Registry On this of Civil the Court the resolve 2, August the and Court. deposit 2016, 11, in the 2017, Defendant Jefferson judgment. (Doc. filed genuine SUMMARY judgment dispute as to entitled to judgment as The Court shall depositions, together present is JUDGMENT for summary STANDARD appropriate any only material a matter of law." grant summary the affidavits, and any, "there no movant the is is Fed. R. Civ. P. judgment if if fact answers to interrogatories, with motion 67.) II. Summary her "if the 56(a). pleadings, and admissions on file, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to Corp. v. 2004); N. summary judgment Crossarm Co., 357 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). as a matter F.3d 1256, of 1259, law." 1260 Hickson (11th Cir. The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to whether Indus. there Co. is v. a genuine Zenith need Radio for trial." Corp., 475 Matsushita U.S. 574, 587 see Elec. (1986) (internal citation omitted). "[The] initial basis seeking responsibility for [record party its motion, before the of summary judgment informing and court] the identifying which it always district those Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If - the court of the portions of the demonstrate the believes absence of a genuine issue of material fact." bears Celotex Corp. and only if - v. the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment by demonstrating that there is indeed a genuine issue as Clark, to the Inc., "material" material 929 if F.2d they facts 604, could 608 242, 'genuine' 248 the case. Cir. Clark 1991). outcome of the v. Facts evidence ruling in the on & are suit under Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." When Coats A dispute of those material facts "is (1986). . . . [only] its (11th affect the governing substantive law. 477 U.S. of the motion, record in the the Court light most must Id. view all the favorable to the non- moving party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving party's favor. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. also avoid weighing conflicting evidence. 255; McKenzie 934 (11th v. Cir. Davenport-Harris 1987). Anderson, Funeral Nevertheless, The Home, the 834 Court must 477 U.S. at F.2d non-moving 930, party's response to the motion for summary judgment must consist of more than conclusory allegations, will not Cir. 1990); 1989) . material suffice. Pepper Walker v. and a mere "scintilla" of evidence v. Coates, Darby, F.2d 1573, F.2d 887 911 1493, 1498 1577 (11th Cir. "The non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of fact through speculation, conjecture, or evidence that is 'merely colorable' or "not significantly probative.'" v. (11th Dougherty Cty. Sch. Sys., 382 F. App'x 914, 917 Bryant (11th Cir. 2010) Cir. (quoting 2008); 249-50 Shiver v. Chertoff, and Anderson v. 549 F.3d Liberty Lobby, 1342, Inc., 477 (11th U.S. 242, (1986)). III. To constitute parties S.E.2d a thereto must O.C.G.A. § 494 DISCUSSION valid contract under have the capacity to 13-3-1; 492, however, Nelson (Ga. v. Ct. State App. be Farm 1986). Georgia able Life law, the to contract. Ins. "[W]herever Co., 344 possible," Georgia courts seek "to uphold contracts and to uphold the capacity of one to enter into a contract." Co. 1343 v. Wilson, Accordingly, 181 S.E.2d Georgia 914, "courts 916 with start (Ga. the Gulf Life Ins. Ct. App. general 1971). rule that every man is presumed to have all his mental faculties and to be of normal and ordinary intelligence, that it, one who the Nelson, burden 344 omitted); physical Therefore, mental executed is S.E.2d see at impairment incapacity contract upon also "[i]n a 494 Wilson, was who not to the void maker, he the at to execute incompetency." quotations S.E.2d a it is contended competent asserts (internal 181 where is never presumed. order of him and and 916 citations ("Mental or It must be proved."). contract must on have the been ground non of compos mentis, that is, entirely without understanding, at the time the contract was executed." Jones v. Smith, 56 S.E.2d 462, 466 (Ga. 1949) (citing 1944)); see temporary Thomas also v. Nelson, loss of Lockwood, 344 sanity 31 S.E.2d S.E.2d at or 494 791, 796 (Ga. ("[E]ven proof competency would of create a no presumption that i t continued up to the time of execution of the contract S.E.2d such . . 421, an . ." 423 (citing Cmty. (Ga. issue, evidence as to period it the both is App. 1940)). permissible state before investigation."1 of the and Corp. "[B]ut, to in receive [maker] ' s mind after v. the Bowden, determining and for 12 a consider reasonable transaction under Pantone v. Pantone, 57 S.E.2d 77, 81 (Ga. 1950) (citations omitted); 383, (Ga. 384 Ct. Loan & Inv. see 1967) also Williams ("[E]vidence v. as Williams, to the 155 state S.E.2d of the grantor's mind for a reasonable period both before and after the transaction may be considered, and might be such as would authorize a finding against contractual capacity at the time the deed was executed, despite evidence of witnesses who were present at the time and testified that the grantor did have such capacity."). 1 See also Pantone, of the jury to 57 S.E.2d at 82 pass upon issues ("Under our procedure it is the province of fact and to determine where the preponderance of evidence lies; and where, as here, there is proof from which the jury would be authorized to find that both before and after the time of the execution of the contract in question, the maker was without contractual capacity, such evidence as to such a previous state of mind or subsequent state mind of raises an issue to be passed upon by the jury and may be sufficient to authorize the jury to find against contractual capacity at the time the contract was executed, despite evidence of witnesses who were present at the time of execution and testified that the maker did have such capacity. It is the province of the jury to determine which of conflicting theories presented by the evidence they will accept, and not for this court to pass upon the weight and credit to be given to the testimony." (internal citations omitted)). Here, the Defendants provided sufficient Decedent shortly executed the 2016. before e.g. , at 12-13, 6-7, These 11.) evidence change a after of SISI the 3, time 14; 34; Whitaker Dep. have reasonable judgment direct beneficiary Aff. Defendants from which in being and/or Turner Turner Dep. summary of evidence disputed (See, opposing contact he form with purportedly on March 23, 1 7; Smith Dep. at Whitaker at 12-13; similarly provided factfinder have could Aff. sufficient conclude that Decedent's mental health had rapidly declined as a result of the numerous strokes he executed the suffered and that, at the time he allegedly disputed change of beneficiary form, Decedent was entirely without understanding as to the outside world and the (See, import of the transaction at hand. 4-6, 9-11, 21-34, at 14; 42-43; 7-8, Whitaker 11-15; see Dep. also Jefferson Dep. at 27-32.) including the 11 Whitaker Aff. State Farm at 4-6, 13-17, Bussey e.g., 8-11, 14; 23-24, Dep. at Turner Aff. 11 Turner at 33-34; 14, Dep. Smith Dep. 19-23, 60-64; That Defendant Jefferson and others - agent who was present during the execution of the disputed change of beneficiary form - believed that Decedent appeared to know and understand what he was doing when he scratched an "X" on the change of beneficiary form does not eliminate the need for a jury to determine whether Decedent in fact had the e.g. , Pantone, 57 capacity to effectuate such a change. See, S.E.2d at 82 (despite opposing testimony of 10 witnesses who were present at the time of execution, jury issue existed as to decedent's capacity to contract based on testimony that he lacked execution); despite such Wilson, capacity 181 insurance to know and [insurance] Therefore, S.E.2d agent's conversing with people policy" what at at and 916 testimony in an understand before that after (jury the was doing maker time of in time issue intelligent manner" he the of existed "was freely and "appeared surrendering executing the request). because a genuine dispute of material facts exists as to Decedent's capacity to contract at the time of the purported execution of the disputed change judgment is inappropriate. 477 U.S. 242, weighing of inferences judge, for a the from (1986) facts form, summary See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, ("Credibility evidence, the beneficiary are and the jury determinations, drawing functions, of not Inc., the legitimate those of a whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or directed verdict. believed, favor. 255 of The evidence of the non-movant is to be and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his Neither do we suggest that the trial courts should act other than with caution in granting summary judgment or that the trial court may not deny summary judgment in a case where there is reason to believe that the better course would be to proceed to a full trial." (citations omitted)). 11 IV. Based concludes judgment. upon that the CONCLUSION foregoing Defendant Accordingly, and due Jefferson IT IS is consideration, not HEREBY entitled ORDERED Jefferson's motion for summary judgment (doc. ORDER ENTERED at Augusta, January, Georgia, 67) this the to that Court summary Defendant is DENIED. y^^ day of 2018. J. £&NDAL HALL, CfllEF JUDGE UNITED STATES SOUTHERN 12 DISTRICT DISTRICT COURT OF GEORGIA

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