Administrator of the Estate of Linda Faye Chalmers v. Booker et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Defendant's 63 amended motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment is GRANTED. (Ordered by Senior Judge A. Joe Fish on 3/6/2017) (sss)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
ALICIA D. SANDERS, ET AL.,
THE UNITED STATES POSTAL
SERVICES OFFICE OF PERSONNEL
CIVIL ACTION NO.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the defendant’s amended motion to dismiss pursuant to
FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) or, alternatively, for summary judgment (docket entry 63).
For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
On May 30, 1978, Linda Faye Chalmers (“Chalmers”) began to work for the
United States Postal Service. Plaintiffs’ Third Amended Original Complaint
(“Complaint”) ¶ 6 (docket entry 60). Chalmers died on March 18, 2011. Id. ¶ 27;
Appendix to Brief in Support for Defendant’s Amended Motion to Dismiss, or,
Alternatively, for Summary Judgment (“Defendant’s Appx.”) at 0082 (docket entry
65). The plaintiffs Alicia D. Sanders (“Alicia Sanders”), Quincy D. Sanders (“Quincy
Sanders”), and Veronica M. Sanders (“Veronica Sanders”) are Chalmers’s children.
Complaint ¶ 7.
The United States Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) entered into a
contract for life insurance on behalf of Chalmers with Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company (“MetLife”), and OPM and Chalmers entered into a contract for pension.
Id. ¶ 54. The life insurance contract was between OPM and MetLife.1 Defendant’s
Brief in Support of Defendant’s Amended Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for
Summary Judgment (“Motion”) at 13 (docket entry 64). MetLife insures individuals
covered under the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (“FEGLI”) program
pursuant to the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act of 1954 (“FEGLIA”), 5
U.S.C. §§ 8701-16. Id. at 10-11, 13. MetLife’s Office of Federal Employees’ Group
Life Insurance (“OFEGLI”) administers claims under the FEGLI program. Id. at 11;
see also 5 U.S.C. § 8709(b).
The FEGLI program handbook included, in pertinent part, the following
Invalid and Unacceptable Designations
These are some of the things that may cause a designation
to be invalid or unacceptable:
The plaintiffs have produced no evidence that a valid contract existed
between OPM and Chalmers.
Your employing office does not receive your
designation of beneficiary until after you die.
The amounts you designated do not add up
to 100 Percent (or 1.0, if you designated
Payment When Designation Is Invalid
OFEGLI will make payment in accordance with your last
valid designation of beneficiary (or according to the order
of precedence, if there is no designation) when your latest
Was not received by your employing office or
retirement system before your death . . . .
Defendant’s Appx. at 0183-0186 (emphasis in the original).
After an insured employee’s death, OPM has a duty to transmit pertinent
forms, including an Agency Certification of Insurance Status and all designations of
beneficiary to the OFEGLI, which in turn adjudicates claims. Motion at 11, 20. The
FEGLIA regulates the payment of policy proceeds as follows:
[T]he amount of group life insurance and
group accidental death insurance in force on
an employee at the date of his death shall be
paid, on the establishment of a valid claim, to
the person or persons surviving at the date of
his death, in the following order of
First, to the beneficiary or
beneficiaries designated by the
employee in a signed and
witnessed writing received before
death in the employing office.
. . . For this purpose, a
designation, change, or
cancellation of beneficiary in a
will or other document not so
executed and filed has no force
or effect. . . .
5 U.S.C. § 8705; see also Defendant’s Appx. at 0186.
At various times, Chalmers changed her life insurance beneficiary designation.
For example, on November 13, 2002, Chalmers signed a Designation of Beneficiary
form which divided her life insurance proceeds equally between her daughters Alicia
Sanders and Veronica Sanders, her son Quincy Sanders, her mother Alma R.
Chalmers (“Alma Chalmers”), and her sister Jo Ann (Chalmers) Booker (“Booker”).
Defendant’s Appx. at 0057. On June 28, 2004, Chalmers signed a new Designation
of Beneficiary form and divided her life insurance proceeds equally between Booker
and Alma Chalmers. Id. at 0056; Motion at 7. On May 30, 2009, Chalmers
submitted a new Designation of Beneficiary form which named Booker as the sole
beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Defendant’s Appx. at 0055.
In 2010, Chalmers moved in with Quincy Sanders and gave him power of
attorney over her affairs. Appendix in Support of Plaintiff’s [sic] Response to
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment at 000101 (docket entry 67); Complaint
¶ 21. That year, Quincy Chalmers prepared a new Designation of Beneficiary form
(“the Improper Division Form”) for Chalmers’s signature. Complaint ¶ 24. The
Improper Division Form named Quincy Sanders, Veronica Sanders, and Alicia
Sanders as beneficiaries and divided the proceeds into 33.3% each with a vinculum,
or bar, over the final 3. Motion at 4; Defendant’s Appx. at 0018-0019. OPM
returned the Improper Division Form to Quincy Sanders because “OPM considered
the form to be invalid because the designation of the insurance did not add up to
100% as required” and sent him the Improper Division Form along with a new form
with accompanying instructions to include a division of the life insurance proceeds
which totaled 100%. Reply in Support of Defendant’s Amended Motion to Dismiss
or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment (“Reply”) at 3 (docket entry 70); Motion at
5; Defendant’s Appx. at 0019-0020. Thereafter, Quincy Sanders destroyed the
original Improper Division Form, and he prepared a new Designation of Beneficiary
form with a clear 100% division of the life insurance proceeds (i.e., 50% to Quincy
Sanders, 25% to Veronica Sanders, 25% to Alicia Sanders). Defendant’s Appx. at
0023, 0054; Motion at 5. Though Chalmers signed this form on October 29, 2010,
Quincy Sanders did not mail the form to OPM until the day Chalmers died in March
of 2011. Reply at 4; see also Defendant’s Appx. at 0023, 0025, 0054. OPM received
the form on March 18, 2011. Defendant’s Appx. at 0082. Quincy Sanders stated
that he did not mail the revised form because he did not have a stamp so he “put it
away then it was forgotten about.” Id. at 0025. Thus, because OPM received the
revised form after Chalmers’s death, Quincy Sanders did not timely submit the
revised form. According to OPM, “[i]t was [this] failure to submit a revised
designation of beneficiary form for almost six months after it was executed that
caused Quincy [Sanders] and his siblings to not be named as the beneficiaries of their
mother’s life insurance.” Motion at 21.
In mid-2010, Quincy Sanders first contacted OPM about possible fraud or
undue influence with respect to Chalmers’s retirement benefits but did not mention
her life insurance benefits. Motion at 7; Defendant’s Appx. at 0018-0063, 00650066. After Chalmers’s death, Veronica Sanders contacted OPM by phone and in
writing after OPM informed her that she was not Chalmers’s life insurance
beneficiary. Motion at 7; Defendant’s Appx. at 0116, 0118, 0119-0121. In a letter
to OPM dated March 13, 2014, Veronica Sanders reported that she suspected fraud
by Booker with respect to Chalmers’s life insurance and retirement proceeds,
although she had no conclusive proof of fraud when she sent the letter to OPM.
Defendant’s Appx. at 0087-0088, 0124-0125; Reply at 4; Motion at 7-8. To date,
Veronica Sanders knows of no formal finding of fraud or misconduct by Booker.
Defendant’s Appx. at 0125.
Chalmers designated Booker as the representative payee for her retirement
benefits. Motion at 6. Quincy Chalmers contacted OPM to report that Booker had
committed fraud and asked that OPM designate him as the payee. Id. OPM denied
Quincy Sanders’s request. Id.
On May 5, 2015, the plaintiff Administrator of the Estate of Linda Faye
Chalmers commenced this action against OPM, Texas residents Booker, Adrian D.
Booker, Donna C. Ross, Nicole Smith, Texas corporation Jenkins Agency, Inc., Texas
limited liability company Stratovare, LLC, and California resident Dameon Booker in
the Probate Court No. 3 of Dallas County, Texas (“probate court”). Notice of
Removal ¶¶ 1, 2 (docket entry 1); see also Plaintiff’s Original Complaint, attached to
Notice of Removal as Exhibit 34. On July 1, 2015, OPM timely removed this action
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Notice of Removal ¶ 3. On July 13, 2015, this
court remanded the claims against Booker, Adrian D. Booker, Donna C. Ross, Nicole
Smith, Jenkins Agency, Inc., Stratovare, LLC, and Dameon Booker to the probate
court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2). See Order (docket entry 8). In their third
amended complaint, the plaintiffs assert claims of breach of contract and negligence
against OPM.2 See generally Complaint.
The plaintiffs contend that Chalmers fulfilled her duty to keep OPM apprised
of her current beneficiaries, but OPM breached its duty to forward Chalmers’s
In its third amended complaint, the plaintiff Administrator of the Estate
of Linda Faye Chalmers changed the caption of this case from the Administrator of
the Estate of Linda Faye Chalmers to the names of the putative beneficiaries Alicia
Sanders, Quincy Sanders, and Veronica Sanders without leave of court. The court
permits this substitution of parties.
updated beneficiary information to MetLife, and as a result MetLife failed to fulfill
its duty to pay Chalmers’s proper beneficiaries. Complaint ¶¶ 54, 55. Specifically,
the plaintiffs assert that OPM did not forward MetLife the Improper Division Form
and notice of possible fraud. Id. ¶¶ 56, 57. Additionally, the plaintiffs assert that
OPM breached its duty to maintain files and forward updated information about
Chalmers’s employee file. Id. ¶ 61. According to the plaintiffs, OPM negligently
misplaced, destroyed, or failed to maintain an updated Designation of Beneficiary
form, negligently failed to update annuitant’s beneficiary form, and negligently failed
to forward or investigate evidence of fraud. Id. ¶ 60. Conversely, OPM contends
that it did not owe a legal duty to the plaintiffs and, even if it be assumed arguendo
that OPM did owe a duty, a violation of that duty was not the proximate cause of
any harm to the plaintiffs. Motion at 1-2.
A. Evidentiary Burdens on Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings and evidence on file show
that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact, and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56.3 “[T]he substantive law
The disposition of a case through summary judgment “reinforces the
purpose of the Rules, to achieve the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of
actions, and, when appropriate, affords a merciful end to litigation that would
otherwise be lengthy and expensive.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Company, 780 F.2d 1190,
will identify which facts are material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986). The movant makes such a showing by informing the court of the basis
of its motion and by identifying the portions of the record which reveal there are no
genuine material fact issues. See Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). Once the movant makes this showing, the nonmovants must then direct the
court’s attention to evidence in the record sufficient to establish that there is a
genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 323-24. To carry this burden, the
opponents must do more than simply show some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corporation, 475
U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, they must show that the evidence is sufficient to
support a resolution of the factual issue in their favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. All
of the evidence must be viewed, however, in a light most favorable to the motion’s
opponents. Id. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59
According to the Fifth Circuit, “[t]he district courts of the United States have
original jurisdiction . . . of a civil action or claim against the United States founded
on [FEGLIA] . . . [and] . . . [i]t is clear, based on [5 U.S.C.]§ 8715, that the United
States has consented to be sued for any breach of legal duty owed by it under
1197 (5th Cir. 1986).
FEGLIA.” Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Atkins, 225 F.3d 510, 513 (5th Cir.
2000). In Atkins, a plaintiff brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act
(“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1346, and FEGLIA after a federal personnel clerk lost or
misfiled a properly completed Designation of Beneficiary form. Id. at 511-12. The
court held that “[though] the personnel clerk had no duty to ensure that the forms
were properly completed, we conclude that the United States, through the personnel
clerk, has a duty to maintain the designation of beneficiary forms turned over to its
care as a part of its responsibilities under FEGLIA.” Id. at 514. Unlike Atkins,
however, the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries in the instant case did not rise from “the
negligent performance of an operational task” such as record-keeping. See Life
Partners Inc. v. United States, 650 F.3d 1026, 1032 (5th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.
The plaintiffs failed to produce evidence that OPM breached any legal duty
owed to them or that any negligence by OPM in fact caused their injuries. At the
time of Chalmers’s death, OPM had a properly executed Designation of Beneficiary
form on file which named Booker as the sole beneficiary of Chalmers’s life insurance
policy, see Defendant’s Appx. at 0055, and OPM had no reason or legal duty to
investigate whether Booker was properly listed on the form. Additionally, the
plaintiffs have not demonstrated that OPM breached any legal duty owed to them
when OPM returned the Improper Division Form to Quincy Sanders without
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maintaining a copy of the form after OPM deemed it invalid under FEGLI program
guidelines. After receiving the new form, Quincy Sanders failed to submit it to OPM
in a timely manner. Lastly, the plaintiffs produced no authority that OPM had a
legal duty to take any actions in response to family members’ conclusory statements
regarding fraud made after Chalmers’s death. Because the plaintiffs failed to assert a
duty owed by OPM under FEGLIA, the government’s sovereign immunity is not
waived. Accordingly, summary judgment for the defendant on that claim is granted.
B. Standard for Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life
Insurance Company of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Owen Equipment and Erection
Company v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978). A federal court may exercise
jurisdiction over cases only as expressly provided by the Constitution and laws of the
United States. See U.S. CONST. art. III §§ 1-2; see also Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377.
Federal law gives the federal district courts original jurisdiction over “all civil actions
arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. Moreover, a party seeking relief in a federal district court bears the burden
of establishing the subject matter jurisdiction of that court. United States v. Hays, 515
U.S. 737, 743 (1995); McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corporation of Indiana, Inc.,
298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Langley v. Jackson State University, 14 F.3d 1070, 1073 (5th
Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 811 (1994).
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Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal
of a case for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1).
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
must be considered by the court before any other challenge because “the court must
find jurisdiction before determining the validity of a claim.” Moran v. Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia, 27 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 1994) (internal citation omitted); see also
Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Company, 526 U.S. 574, 577 (1999) (“The requirement
that jurisdiction be established as a threshold matter . . . is inflexible and without
exception”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). On a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion, which “concerns the court’s ‘very power to hear the case . . . [,] the trial
court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to
hear the case.’” MDPhysicians & Associates, Inc. v. State Board of Insurance, 957 F.2d
178, 181 (5th Cir.) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir.), cert.
denied, 454 U.S. 897 (1981)), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 861 (1992). In ruling on a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the court may rely on: “1) the complaint
alone; 2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts; or 3) the complaint
supplemented by undisputed facts and the court’s resolution of disputed facts.”
MCG, Inc. v. Great Western Energy Corporation, 896 F.2d 170, 176 (5th Cir. 1990)
(citing Williamson, 645 F.2d at 413). Once jurisdiction is challenged, the burden
rests upon the party seeking to invoke the court’s jurisdiction to prove that
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jurisdiction is proper. Boudreau v. United States, 53 F.3d 81, 82 (5th Cir. 1995), cert.
denied, 516 U.S. 1071.
It is elementary that ‘[t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit
save as it consents to be sued . . ., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any
court define that court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.” United States v. Mitchell,
445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980); Jeanmarie v. United States, 242 F.3d 600, 602 (5th Cir.
2001) (“Generally, the United States enjoys sovereign immunity from suit unless it
has specifically waived immunity.”). “Congress enacted the FTCA as a limited waiver
of the sovereign immunity of the United States.” Johnston v. United States, 85 F.3d
217, 218-19 (5th Cir. 1996).
“The FTCA gives federal district courts jurisdiction over claims against the
United States for money damages ‘for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or
death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the
Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under
circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the
claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission
occurred.’” Sheridan v. United States, 487 U.S. 392, 398 (1988) (quoting 28 U.S.C.
§ 1346(b)). Despite the apparently broad reach of FTCA jurisdiction, the FTCA
specifically excepts various categories of claims from the waiver of immunity. See Ali
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v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 552 U.S. 214, 218 (2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a)(n).
The provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) shall not apply if one of the exceptions
applies, regardless of whether the claim is valid under state law. United States v.
Neustadt, 366 U.S. 696, 705 n. 15(1961). Additionally, the exceptions must be
strictly construed in favor of the government. Truman v. United States, 26 F.3d 592,
594 (5th Cir. 1994). Furthermore, The FEGLIA concludes a preemption provision
which provides as follows.
The provisions of any contract under this chapter which
relate to the nature or extent of coverage or benefits
(including payments with respect to benefits) shall
supersede and preempt any law of any State or political
subdivision thereof, or any regulation issued thereunder,
which relates to group life insurance to the extent that the
law or regulation is inconsistent with the contractual
5 U.S.C. § 8709(d)(1)(1994).
Even if the FEGLIA preemption provision were inapplicable to the instant
case, the plaintiffs do not specifically allege any applicable waiver of sovereign
immunity outside the FTCA. As discussed supra, OPM did not breach a duty owed
to the plaintiffs, and any negligence alleged by the plaintiffs did not cause their
injuries.4 See Life Partners, 650 F.3d at 1032.
Even if it is assumed arguendo that OPM was negligent, it appears that
the plaintiffs’ FTCA claim is barred by statute, thereby depriving this court of
jurisdiction. Under the FTCA, a claimant must file an administrative claim within
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2. Retirement Benefits
The plaintiffs also generally allege that OPM breached a duty owed with
respect to Chalmers’s retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement
System (“FERS”) regarding designation of the proper payee. Complaint ¶ 43. OPM
asserts that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over any claims related to
Chalmers’s retirement benefits. Motion at 21. Specifically, OPM contends that
dispute over OPM’s review of a claim arising under FERS must first be appealed to
the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”), and thereafter jurisdiction is vested
exclusively in the Federal Circuit. Id. at 21-24. The court agrees. See 5 U.S.C.
§§ 7701(a), 7703(b)(1), 5 U.S.C. § 8461(e)(1), 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(9); see also
Soroka v. Office of Personnel Management, 557 Fed. Appx. 983, 984 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (per
The plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing the subject matter jurisdiction of
this court. See Hays, 515 U.S. at 743. Moreover, “[b]ecause there is no presumption
in favor of federal court jurisdiction and that jurisdiction is limited,” the plaintiffs
must affirmatively show the basis for jurisdiction. Kirkland Masonry, Inc. v.
Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 614 F.2d 532, 533 (5th Cir. 1980). The plaintiffs
have provided no evidence that they filed an appeal seeking review of OPM’s decision
two years and file suit within six months of the claim’s denial. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).
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regarding Chalmers’s retirement benefits with the MSPB. Moreover, the plaintiffs
failed to respond to OPM’s challenges to this court’s jurisdiction. Thus, the plaintiffs
have failed to meet their burden of establishing that this court possesses subject
matter jurisdiction over Chalmers’s retirement benefit claims. See Hays, 515 U.S. at
743; Kirkland Masonry, Inc., 614 F.2d at 533. Accordingly, OPM’s motion to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) is granted.
For the reasons discussed, defendant’s amended motion to dismiss or,
alternatively, for summary judgment is GRANTED. Judgment will be entered
dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims in this case.
March 6, 2017.
A. JOE FISH
Senior United States District Judge
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