Robison v. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: (1) Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15 is granted; (2) Plaintiffs complaint is dismissed with prejudice; (3) This matter is stricken from the Courts active docket; and (4) A Judgment shall be entered contemporaneously herewith.. Signed by Judge David L. Bunning on 02/07/2017.(KRB)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-98-DLB-JGW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
This is an action against an insurance company for the payment of benefits on a life
insurance policy. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1332(a) and 1441(a).
Defendant Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (Northwestern Mutual) removed
this case from Boone County Circuit Court in June of 2016. (Doc. # 8). Northwestern
Mutual moved for summary judgment on December 13, 2016. (Doc. # 15). Plaintiff did not
respond or move for an extension. Although the Local Rules provide that failure to timely
respond to a motion may be grounds for granting the motion, L.R. 7.1(c), the Court will
reach the merits.
Factual and Procedural Background
Defendant Northwestern Mutual is a Wisconsin corporation authorized to transact
business in Kentucky. (Doc. # 9 at ¶ 12). Northwestern Mutual issued a life insurance
policy with a face value of $340,000 on the life of Holli Theele Robison on August 28, 2007.
(Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 2; Doc. # 15-3 at 3, 5). Ms. Robison was both the insured and the owner
of that policy, numbered 17987822. (Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 3; Doc. # 15-3 at 5). When the policy
was issued, the designated direct beneficiary of Ms. Robison’s policy was Chip Robison,
her spouse. (Id.)
Ms. Robison’s policy allowed her, as the owner, to change the designated
beneficiary if she made a written request to Northwestern Mutual. (Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 4; Doc.
# 15-4 at 11-12). In September of 2010, Ms. Robison submitted a form revoking all prior
beneficiary designations and naming her mother, Pamela W. Theele, the direct beneficiary
of her policy. (Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 5; Doc. # 15-3 at 25). On the same form, Ms. Robison
named her father, Michael G. Theele, the contingent beneficiary (who would receive
payment if the direct beneficiary did not survive the insured). (Id.)
In March of 2013, Northwestern Mutual learned that Ms. Robison had passed away
in January of that year. (Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 6; Doc. # 15-4 at 2). Pamela W. Theele, the
direct beneficiary named in 2010, applied for the proceeds of Ms. Robison’s life insurance
policy. (Id.) Northwestern Mutual paid the benefits to Ms. Theele on March 26, 2013.
(Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 7; Doc. # 15-5 at 2).
In May of 2016, more than three years later, Chip Robison filed a complaint in Boone
County Circuit Court seeking payment of the full policy amount. (Doc. # 8-1). Chip
Robison is the guardian and next friend of C.M.R. and C.A.R., two minor children who Mr.
Robison claims are the beneficiaries of Holli Theele Robison’s Northwestern Mutual life
insurance policy. (Id. at 4-5). Chip Robison requested a binding declaration under
Kentucky’s Declaratory Judgment Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 418.040, that the minor
children are the intended beneficiaries of the policy. (Id. at 5). He also asked the circuit
court to order Northwestern Mutual to pay the full policy amount to the minor children, with
the money to be held by Chip Robison in a secure account until the children reach the age
of majority. (Id.) In addition, Chip Robison sought damages, post-judgment interest, costs,
and attorney’s fees. (Id.) The complaint made no allegations of fraud or improper conduct.
Northwestern Mutual promptly removed the case to this Court (Doc. # 8) and has
moved for summary judgment (Doc. # 15).
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute about any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under
governing law, entry of summary judgment is precluded. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the ultimate burden of persuading the
court that there are no disputed material facts and that they are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Id. Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment
by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the non-moving party’s claim or
establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 250. “[I]n the face of the defendant’s properly
supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff c[an]not rest on his allegations . . .
without any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.” Id. at 249
(internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient
evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id.
The Life Insurance Policy
The complaint seeks a binding declaration of rights under Kentucky’s Declaratory
Judgment Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 418.040, that the minor children C.M.R. and C.A.R.
are the intended beneficiaries of Holli Theele Robison’s life insurance policy. (Doc. # 8-1
at 5). It also seeks payment of the full policy amount to Plaintiff, damages, post-judgment
interest, and attorney’s fees. (Id.) Because Ms. Robison was a Kentucky resident when
she entered into the contract (see Doc. # 8-1 at 4; Doc. # 15-3 at 17), Kentucky law applies.
See Lewis v. Am. Family Ins. Grp., 555 S.W.2d 579, 581-82 (Ky. 1977) (Kentucky applies
the law of the state with the “most significant relationship to the transaction and the
parties”); Poore v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 208 S.W.3d 269, 271 (Ky. Ct. App. 2006)
(“In applying the most significant relationship test, Kentucky courts have recognized that
in most cases the law of the residence of the named insured will determine the scope of
Under Kentucky law, “‘[w]here the right to change the beneficiary is reserved by the
insured, this right is part of the contract from its inception, and may be exercised by the
insured at any time before his death, for not until then does the right of the named
beneficiary become vested.’” Bays v. Kiphart, 486 S.W.3d 283, 290 (Ky. 2016) (quoting
Farley v. First Nat’l Bank, 61 S.W.2d 1059, 1061 (Ky. 1933)). Ms. Robison was both the
insured and the owner of her life insurance policy, and her contract with Northwestern
Mutual provided that she could name and change the beneficiaries of her policy while she
was living. (Doc. # 15-2 at ¶ 4; Doc. # 15-4 at 11-12). She did just that in September 2010,
designating her mother, Pamela W. Theele, the direct beneficiary of her policy. (Doc. # 154
2 at ¶ 5; Doc. # 15-3 at 25). Plaintiff has set forth no facts in support of his contrary
assertion that C.M.R. and C.A.R. were the policy’s designated beneficiaries at the time of
Ms. Robison’s death or at any other time. Further, Ms. Robison’s life insurance benefits
were paid to Pamela W. Theele, the designated beneficiary, on March 26, 2013. (Doc. #
15-2 at ¶ 7; Doc. # 15-5 at 2). Plaintiff has set forth no facts to dispute the propriety of this
For all these reasons, the Court finds that the life insurance policy at issue has been
properly paid to the designated beneficiary, Pamela W. Theele, consistent with the
September 2010 change to the beneficiary form.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein, IT IS ORDERED as follows:
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 15) is granted;
Plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed with prejudice;
This matter is stricken from the Court’s active docket; and
A Judgment shall be entered contemporaneously herewith.
This 7th day of February, 2017.
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