Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Scott et al
ORDER & REASONS denying 24 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Martin L.C. Feldman on 9/2/2015. (caa)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
LYNDA TORRY SCOTT, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is a second motion for summary judgment filed
by Terrell McMaster.
For the reasons the follow, the motion is
This civil interpleader action calls on the Court to determine
whether a widow murdered her husband without justification such
On October 13, 2012, Cornelius Scott was killed by a "lethal
stab wound to the chest."
Mr. Scott is survived by his widow,
Lydia Torry Scott, and his son, Terrell McMaster.
death, Mr. Scott worked for Laitram, L.L.C., an ERISA-regulated
employee welfare benefit plan sponsored by Laitram and funded by
group life insurance policies issued by Metropolitan Life Insurance
At the time of his death, Mr. Scott was enrolled under
the Plan for life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment
coverage totaling $482,000.00.
The latest beneficiary designation on file with the Plan for
Mr. Scott names Mrs. Scott as the sole primary beneficiary of the
life insurance benefits, and Mrs. Scott initiated the application
process to claim the Plan benefits.
However, Mrs. Scott has not
been ruled out as a suspect in Mr. Scott's death.
determine the proper beneficiary or beneficiaries of the group life
insurance policy it issued and administers as claim fiduciary for
Laitram, MetLife filed a complaint in interpleader in this Court on
February 5, 2015.
MetLife cannot determine whether a court would
find that Mrs. Scott is disqualified from receiving the Plan
benefits based on federal common law and state laws that preclude
an individual from receiving funds if that person is convicted in
the death of the insured.
If Mrs. Scott is disqualified, then the
Plan benefits are payable to Mr. McMaster under the Plan's facility
of payment provision. Accordingly, MetLife filed this interpleader
action as a mere stakeholder that is ready, willing, and able to
pay the Plan benefits to whomever the Court determines benefits
should be paid.
The Court granted MetLife's motion to deposit
funds into the Court's registry on February 11, 2015.
On May 18, 2015, Mr. McMaster, pro se, requested summary
relief in his favor and against Mrs. Scott; he avers that Mrs.
Scott is precluded from receiving his father's benefits because she
No opposition to Mr. McMaster's motion was filed.
On June 3, 2015, the Court denied the motion, without prejudice, as
In so doing, the Court noted generally that, under the
so-called Slayer Rule invoked by Mr. McMaster, "conviction triggers
The Court noted that "Mr. McMaster may re-file a
motion for summary judgment that can be supported by additional
factual evidence, such as proof of conviction, or if he can direct
the Court to binding or persuasive case law that holds that one
suspected [as opposed to convicted] of murder is disqualified from
receiving the decedent's benefits." Mr. McMaster now seeks summary
relief for a second time.
Again, no response or opposition papers
have been filed.1
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary
judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to
any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.
No genuine dispute of fact exists if
the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact
to find for the non-moving party.
See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
v. Zenith Radio., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
A genuine dispute of
fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the non-moving party."
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
This is so despite the fact that the Court issued an
order continuing the submission date on Mr. McMaster's motion to
allow additional time for submission of opposition papers.
The Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a
factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported
colorable, or is not significantly probative," summary judgment is
Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted).
is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish
an essential element of his case.
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
In this regard, the non-moving party
must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving
See Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d
646, 649 (5th Cir. 1992).
Rather, he must come forward with
competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress
Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents that
cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence
at trial do not qualify as competent opposing evidence.
John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir.
1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2).
"[T]he nonmoving party cannot
unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence."
Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)(internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
In deciding whether a fact
issue exists, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Although the Court must
"resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party," it
must do so "only where there is an actual controversy, that is,
when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts."
Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830 (5th Cir.
2013)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
For a second time, Mr. McMaster seeks summary relief in his
Entering judgment in Mr. McMaster's favor, on the civil
question of a beneficiary's right to property, requires a finding
that Mr. Scott's widow is disqualified from claiming the plan
benefits, thereby entitling Mr. McMaster to recover his father's
determine as a matter of law that Mrs. Scott is disqualified as
beneficiary, the Court must find, by a preponderance of the
evidence, that she participated in the intentional, unjustified
killing of her husband, Mr. Scott.
On this record, the Court
cannot make such a finding without indulging some speculation.
intentional, unjustified killing of her husband remains a triable
"[A] murdering heir is not entitled to receive property as a
result of the killing."
See Egelhoff v. ex rel. Egelhoff Breiner,
recovering insurance proceeds: at federal common law, and as
codified by most states, one who willfully causes the death of an
insured is ineligible to collect life insurance proceeds as a
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. White, 972 F.2d 122,
124 (5th Cir. 1992).
Endorsing this principle, Louisiana forbids a beneficiary from
receiving insurance benefits when the beneficiary's intentional
acts caused the benefits to accrue.
Specifically, La.R.S. 22:901D
(1) No beneficiary, assignee, or other payee under any
personal insurance contract shall receive from the
insurer any benefits under the contract accruing upon the
death, disablement, or injury of the individual insured
when the beneficiary, assignee, or other payee is either:
(a) Held by a final judgment of a court of competent
jurisdiction to be criminally responsible for the death,
disablement, or injury of the individual insured.
(b) Judicially determined to have participated in the
intentional, unjustified killing of the individual
(2) Where such a disqualification exists, the policy
proceeds shall be payable to the secondary or contingent
beneficiary, unless similarly disqualified. . . .
Nothing contained in this Section shall prohibit payment
pursuant to an assignment of the policy proceeds where
such payment defrays the cost and expenses of the
insured's funeral or expense incurred in connection with
medical treatment of the insured. Nothing contained in
this Section shall prohibit payment of insurance proceeds
pursuant to a facility of payment clause, so long as such
payment is not made to a beneficiary, assignee, or other
payee disqualified by this Section.
Notably, by its express terms, a criminal conviction is not the
See California-Western States Life
Ins. Co. v. Sanford, 515 F. Supp. 524, 527 (E.D.La. 1981)(Sear,
"conviction" was not chosen by the legislature).
a criminal conviction nor its absence is conclusive on the issue of
criminal liability. Id. (citing cases). Mindful that a finding by
this Court that Mrs. Scott intentionally and without justification
took Mr. Scott's life would constitute the requisite judicial
determination necessary to preclude Mrs. Scott from recovering her
late husband's life insurance benefits, the Court turns to consider
the summary judgment evidence.
The summary judgment record consists of what purports to be a
Kenner Police Department report dated October 14, 2012, as well as
Mr. Scott's death certificate, which states that Mr. Scott's manner
of death was "homicide"; that Mr. Scott's cause of death was by
"lethal stab wound to the chest"; and finally describes that Mr.
Scott was "stabbed by another person."
The record also indicates
that MetLife has reached out to the Kenner Police Department on
numerous occasions in an attempt to determine whether Mrs. Scott
had been ruled out as a suspect, or otherwise obtain additional
information about the status of the investigation into Mr. Scott's
Apparently to no avail.
All that MetLife has ostensibly
discovered is that Mrs. Scott had not yet been ruled out as a
suspect in her husband's death.
10/14/12 police report contains this narrative:
On 10-13-12 at 1838 hours, I, Officer Brian Saucier,
was dispatched to 2208 Idaho Apt. C in reference to a
call for service regarding a subject that had collapsed,
and was possibly not breathing. Upon arrival on scene at
1842 hours, I was meet [sic] by Lynda Scott, and entered
I located the subject, Cornelius Scott, on the sofa
in the front living room of the residence. I assessed
Cornelius Scott's condition. He did not have a pulse nor
was he breathing. He had a laceration on the left side
of his chest just below the nipple the laceration was
approximately 1 inch long, but did not have any blood
flowing from it or around it. As I prepared to begin
CPR, KFD Unit E385 arrived on scene at 1844 hours, and
began C.P.R. at 1845 hours. I notified headquarters that
C.P.R. was in progress. EJ EMS arrived on scene at 1849
hours, and treatment of Cornelius Scott was relinquished
Lynda Scott advised that she heard a crashing sound
from the kitchen, and found Cornelius Scott, 58, laying
on the floor. He appeared to have fallen onto the glass
table in the room, which caused it to tip over. All of
the items on the table fell to the ground including a
lamp, and a vase. The vase and lamp shattered leaving
pieces of broken glass on the floor. It was believed
that Cornelius Scott landed on a piece of glass which
caused the laceration on his chest. While speaking with
Lynda Scott, she began to have a seizure, and I was
unable to acquire any further information.
Hospital.... He was treated [but] pronounced dead at
Medical records showed he was being
treated for high blood pressure at this time.
At 1954 hours, hospital staff contacted the
Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office investigator Tommy
Evans, advised them to hold the body pending further
That his father's death was ruled a homicide coupled with the fact
that the police report appears to suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Scott
were the only two people in the house at the time of the homicide
-- Mr. McMaster submits -- compels the finding that Mrs. Scott
killed Mr. Scott.
But this alone is insufficient for the Court to
enter judgment as a matter of law that Mrs. Scott intentionally and
without justification killed Mr. Scott.
Absent from the record is
any final judgment that Mrs. Scott is criminally responsible for
her husband's death.2
Of course, applying Louisiana law, it is not
necessary that the beneficiary of an insurance policy be convicted
recovering benefits; rather, this Court may make its own inquiry
into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Scott's death and even may
ultimately find that Mrs. Scott participated in the intentional,
unjustified killing of Mr. Scott.
But it may not do so on this
Accordingly, Mr. McMaster's motion for summary judgment is
In fact, although there is some evidence that Mrs.
Scott has not been ruled out as a suspect, it seems that she has
not been charged with Mr. Scott's murder. The status of the Kenner
Police Department's years-old investigation is unknown.
Cf. American Armed Forces Mut. Aid Ass'n v. Cra[w]ford,
No. 13-2765, 2015 WL 338980, at *1-2 (W.D.La. Jan. 26,
2015)(denying motion for summary judgment by one beneficiary who
was not responsible for a decedent's death even though the other
beneficiary had been charged with manslaughter and had entered a
plea of nolo contendere; the plea of nolo contendere was
inadmissible as evidence under Rule 410 of the Federal Rules of
New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2, 2015
MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Mrs. Scott has not responded to Mr. McMaster's motion
and she apparently failed to participate in the scheduling
conference originally set for August 20, 2015. If Mrs. Scott again
fails to participate in the September 17, 2015 scheduling
conference, the Court will consider the implications of her failure
to participate in this case, in particular, whether or not it
signals a failure by her to complete her claim to the plan
benefits. Finally, the Court notes that it appears that neither
Mrs. Scott nor Mr. McMaster are represented by counsel. The Court
urges both that counsel would be of great assistance to them and to
the Court when this case goes to trial.
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