Standard Insurance Company v. Dillon et al
ORDER AND REASONS denying 20 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Carl Barbier on 2/7/2018. (cg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
STANDARD INSURANCE CO.
CHRISTOPHER DILLON, ET AL.
Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc.
20) filed by defendant, Jonathan Dillon, an opposition thereto
(Rec. Doc. 24) filed by defendant, Christopher Dillon, and a reply
(Rec. Doc. 33) filed by Jonathan Dillon.
Having considered the
motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law,
the Court finds that the motion should be DENIED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This litigation derives from the death of Robin Dillon, the
mother of defendants, Jonathan Dillon and Christopher Dillon.
beneficiaries of Robin Dillon’s life insurance policy issued by
Standard Insurance Company (“Standard”).
Under the terms of the
policy, a life insurance benefit of $30,000 and an accidental death
and dismemberment benefit of $30,000, plus interest, became due
and payable to the two brothers as a result of Robin Dillon’s
Standard paid Jonathan Dillon his portion of
the benefits on June 27, 2014; however, on May 2, 2017, after being
notified that Christopher Dillon had been criminally charged with
the murder of Robin Dillon, and in an effort to escape any
liability for the improper payment of the benefits, Standard
commenced the instant statutory interpleader action pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1335.
Standard was subsequently dismissed from the case
on September 27, 2017.
Jonathan Dillon filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment
(Rec. Doc. 20) arguing that his brother is disqualified from
receiving any of the proceeds from their mother’s life insurance
policy. The record reflects that Christopher Dillon was criminally
charged with the murder of Robin Dillon, but was found incompetent
to stand trial by the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court, St.
Due to his alleged involvement in their mother’s
death, Jonathan Dillon contends that his brother is prohibited
from taking as her beneficiary under Louisiana law.
Dillon opposes the motion and argues that the motion should be
denied because it is not supported by competent summary judgment
The motion is now before the Court on the briefs and
without oral argument.
Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material
fact exists, a court considers “all of the evidence in the record
but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing
the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness
Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable
inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party
cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or
unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court
ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.
If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party
will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must
come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed
verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.” Int’l
Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally’s, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir.
1991) (internal citations omitted). The nonmoving party can then
defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of
its own, or “showing that the moving party’s evidence is so sheer
that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a
verdict in favor of the moving party.” Id. at 1265.
If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party
will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may
satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the
record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the
nonmoving party’s claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden
then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or
referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a
genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest
upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish
a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., id. at 325; Little, 37 F.3d
Louisiana law forbids a beneficiary from receiving insurance
benefits when, inter alia, the beneficiary’s intentional acts
caused the benefits to accrue.
Specifically, LSA-R.S. § 22:901(D)
(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
(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
(b) Judicially determined to have participated in
the intentional, unjustified killing of the
(2) Where such a disqualification exists, the policy
proceeds shall be payable to the secondary or contingent
beneficiary, unless similarly disqualified, or, if no
secondary or contingent beneficiary exists, to the
estate of the insured.
LSA-R.S. § 22:901(D) (emphasis added).
The burden of proof is on
the party seeking to disqualify the beneficiary named in the
See Pruco Life Ins. Co. v. Breen, 2017 WL
4477769, at *18 (E.D. La. June 9, 2017).
Dillon has not been held by a final judgment to be criminally
responsible for his mother’s death, the sole issue before the Court
is whether he is disqualified under LSA-R.S. § 22:901(D)(1)(b)
because he participated in the intentional and unjustified killing
of his mother.
Specific criminal intent is that state of mind which exists
when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired
the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure
La. Stat. Ann. § 14:10(1).
Because intent is a state of
mind, it “need not be proven as a fact, but may be inferred from
Mickelson, 2012-2539 (La. 9/3/14), 149 So. 3d 178, 182. “[W]hile
pointing and firing at gun at a person is a circumstance from which
an inference can be drawn that a defendant possessed specific
intent to kill, the circumstances surrounding that act, such as
the distance from the firearm to the victim and the number of shots
fired, must also be considered.”
State v. Cooks, 2011-0342 (La.
App. 4 Cir. 12/14/11), 81 So. 3d 932, 942 (citations omitted); see
also State v. Mahogany, 2017-0377 (La. App. 4 Cir. 7/26/17), 225
So. 3d 489, 502-03.
In light of the foregoing framework, the Court turns to
consider the summary judgment evidence.
The summary judgment
record consists of: (1) Robin Dillon’s life insurance enrollment
form and beneficiary statement, (2) Robin Dillon’s certification
of death, 1 and (3) unverified minutes from Christopher Dillon’s
sanity hearing held before the Twenty-Second Judicial District
Court, St. Tammany Parish.
The record also includes two news
articles detailing Christopher Dillon’s alleged involvement in
Robin Dillon’s death. “Newspaper articles, however, are not proper
summary judgment evidence to prove the truth of the facts that
they report because they are inadmissible hearsay.” James v. Texas
Collin County, 535 F.3d 365, 374 (5th Cir. 2008); see also Roberts
Therefore, the Court does not consider the newspaper articles as
competent summary judgment evidence.
Assuming arguendo that the
remaining evidence is proper, the Court finds that the movant has
participated in the intentional and unjustified killing of Robin
The certification of death provides that Robin Dillon died from a gunshot
wound to the chest. (Rec. Doc. 20-3).
Importantly, the evidence proffered by the movant is not
sufficiently probative of Christopher Dillon’s intent with respect
to his alleged involvement in Robin Dillon’s death. 2
Christopher Dillon was criminally charged with his mother’s death,
inadequate to support a finding that he intentionally and without
justification killed the insured.
See American Armed Forces Mut.
Aid Ass’n v. Crawford, No. 13-2765, 2015 WL 338980, at *1-2 (W.D.
La. Jan. 26, 2015) (concluding that a beneficiary who pleaded nolo
contendre to murdering the insured was not disqualified under LSAR.S. § 22:901(D)(1) because the party seeking disqualification
presented no admissible evidence that he participated in the
intentional and unjustified killing of the insured). As another
section of this Court reasoned in Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v.
That his father’s death was ruled a homicide coupled
with the fact that the police report appears to suggest
that [the beneficiary] and [the insured] were the only
two people in the house at the time of the homicide—
beneficiary] killed [the insured]. But this alone is
insufficient for the Court to enter judgment as a matter
of law that [the beneficiary] intentionally and without
justification killed [the insured].
Absent from the
“Historically ‘as a matter of public policy a beneficiary named in a life
insurance policy is not entitled to the proceeds of the insurance if he or she
feloniously kills the insured.’” In re Hamilton, 446 So. 2d 463, 464 (La. App.
4 Cir. 1984) (citing American Nat’l Life Ins. v. Shaddinger, 16 So. 2d 889,
889 (La. 1944)). “It has also been the rule historically, that if a beneficiary
accidentally or unintentionally kills the insured he or she is not barred from
recovering the proceeds of insurance on the life of the deceased.” Id. (citation
record is any final judgment that [the beneficiary] is
criminally responsible for [the insured]’s death.
No. 15-362, 2015 WL 5165556, at *4 (E.D. La. Sept. 2, 2015)
(denying a motion for summary judgment seeking disqualification
under LSA-R.S. § 22:901(D)(1)(b)).
In fact, although a final
criminal conviction is not a requisite for disqualification, the
Court is not aware of a single case, and the parties cite to none,
in which a beneficiary has been disqualified under LSA-R.S. §
22:901(D)(1) absent such a conviction.
Compare In re Succession
of Holder, 50-824 (La. App. 2 Cir. 2016), 200 So. 3d 878, 882
(holding that a son convicted of murdering his mom was disqualified
from receiving his mother’s life insurance proceeds); and In re
Hamilton, 446 So. 2d 463, 465 (La. App. 4 Cir. 1984) (holding that
a beneficiary who pleaded guilty to manslaughter of the insured
benefits); with Breen, 2017 WL 4477769, at *18 (E.D. La. June 9,
2017) (concluding after a bench trial that the non-beneficiaries
had failed to meet their burden of proof that the beneficiary was
beneficiary had admitted to shooting and killing the insured); and
Crawford, 2015 WL 338980, at *1-2.
In sum, based on the record, and in light of the prevailing
jurisprudence, the Court does not find the resolution of this case
on the instant motion for summary judgment appropriate.
Guillory v. Domtar Indus. Inc. v. John Deere Co., 95 F.3d 1320,
1326 (5th Cir. 1996) (noting that summary judgment is rarely proper
when an issue of intent is involved).
A judicial determination of
Christopher Dillon’s state of mind cannot be made on this scarce
record without the Court engaging in conjecture.
unjustified killing” of Robin Dillon remains a triable issue.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Jonathan Dillon’s Motion for
Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 20) is DENIED.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 7th day of February, 2018.
CARL J. BARBIER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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