The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America v. Bean et al
ORDER DENYING 19 Motion for Summary Judgment. Cross-Defendant Minerva Alcorta is ORDERED to obtain counsel in this matter. If Alcorta or her attorney fails to make an appearance and file an answer in this case by March 4, 2015, the Court will enter a default judgment against Alcorta. Signed by Judge David A. Ezra. (rg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
SAN ANTONIO DIVISION
THE GUARDIAN LIFE
INSURANCE COMPANY OF
GARRETT BEAN, ANEILIA BEAN,
and MINERVA ALCORTA,
ORDER DENYING CROSS-CLAIMANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by CrossClaimants Garrett Bean and Aneilia Bean (“the Beans”). (Dkt. # 19.) On
February 4, 2015, the Court heard oral argument on the Motion. Jefferey E. Dahl,
Esq., appeared at the hearing on behalf of the Beans. Cross-Defendant Minerva
Alcorta (“Alcorta”) also appeared at the hearing. After reviewing the Motion and
considering the arguments at the hearing, and for the reasons that follow, the Court
DENIES Cross-Claimants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. # 19.)
On November 22, 2013, Garry Bean, father of Cross-Claimants
Garrett and Aneilia Bean, was killed by a gunshot wound. 1 (Dkt. # 19 at 2; Id., Ex.
2.) A woman, whom the Beans contend was Alcorta, Garry Bean’s fiancée, told
law enforcement officers at the crime scene that she had shot her boyfriend. (Id. at
2; Id., Ex. 3.) The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Garry Bean’s
death a homicide. (Id.; Id., Ex. 4.) Prior to his death, Garry Bean was employed
by the Healing Staff. (Id. at 1.) His employment benefits included basic life
insurance coverage and accidental death and dismemberment coverage
underwritten by Plaintiff Guardian Life Insurance Company of America
(“Guardian”). (Id., Ex. 1.) Alcorta was the primary beneficiary of the policy,
while Garrett and Aneilia Bean were each 50% contingent beneficiaries. (Id.)
In April 2014, Garrett and Aneilia Bean both submitted claims to
Guardian. (Id. at 2; Id., Exs. 5, 6.) Due to the circumstances surrounding Garry
Bean’s death, Guardian filed a complaint in interpleader naming the Beans and
Alcorta as defendants. (Dkt. # 1.) Guardian chose to file an interpleader complaint
instead of paying the life insurance policy benefits to Alcorta, the primary
beneficiary, because Alcorta was “accused of [Garry Bean’s] murder and/or
Because cross-defendant Minerva Alcorta has not filed a response to this Motion
or otherwise appeared in this case, the Court here relies on the statement of facts
provided by the Beans.
causing his death.” (Id. ¶ 15.) Alcorta has been served in this case, but has not
filed an answer or otherwise appeared. (Dkt. # 11.) On July 28, 2014, the Beans
filed an answer to Guardian’s complaint and simultaneously filed a cross-claim
against Alcorta. (Dkt. # 7.) In their cross-claim, the Beans asserted that Alcorta
forfeited her right to any proceeds of the life insurance policy by willfully causing
the death of the insured. (Id. ¶ 25.) The Beans claim that as a result, the proceeds
of the policy should be divided equally between them as contingent beneficiaries.
On October 27, 2014, the Court granted Guardian’s Unopposed
Motion for Granting of Interpleader, Deposit of Disputed Policy Benefit Less
Attorneys’ Fees and Costs, and Dismissal. (Dkt. # 16.) On November 3, 2014, the
Court entered an Order to Receive and Deposit Monies into Court’s Registry.
(Dkt. # 18.) Pursuant to that Order, Guardian deposited $127,500, which
represents the proceeds of Garry Bean’s life insurance policy less reasonable
attorneys’ fees and costs, into the Court’s registry. (Id.) On November 7, 2014,
the Beans filed the Motion for Summary Judgment that is now before the Court.
(Dkt. # 19.) Alcorta has not filed a response.
Summary judgment is proper where the evidence demonstrates “that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Cannata v. Catholic Diocese
of Austin, 700 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 2012). The party moving for summary
judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Davis v. Fort Bend Cnty., 765 F.3d 480, 484 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the moving party meets its
burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with specific
facts that establish the existence of a genuine issue for trial. ACE Am. Ins. Co. v.
Freeport Welding & Fabricating, Inc., 699 F.3d 832, 839 (5th Cir. 2012).
The court evaluates the proffered evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party. Mace v. City of Palestine, 333 F.3d 621, 623 (5th Cir.
2003). The court “examines the pleadings, affidavits, and other evidence
introduced in the motion, resolves any factual doubts in favor of the non-movant,
and determines whether a triable issue of fact exists.” Leghart v. Hauk, 25 F.
Supp. 2d 748, 751 (W.D. Tex. 1998). However, “[u]nsubstantied assertions,
improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not sufficient to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.” Brown v. City of Hous., 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th
A party’s failure to file a response to a summary judgment motion
does not permit the court to enter a “default” summary judgment. Eversley v.
Mbank Dall., 843 F.2d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1988). However, when no response or
opposition is filed, the court is permitted to accept the movant’s evidence as
undisputed and may enter judgment in the movant’s favor if the summary
judgment evidence establishes a prima facie showing of the movant’s entitlement
to judgment. Id.
The Beans ask the Court to grant summary judgment on their crossclaim against Alcorta and to order the District Clerk pay them each 50% of the
interpled funds currently held in the Court’s registry. (Dkt. # 19 at 1.) The Beans
present the Court with three arguments in support of their Motion. First, they
allege that Alcorta forfeited her interest in the policy benefits under the Texas
slayer statute. (Id. at 3.) Second, they contend that the Texas slayer statute is not
preempted by ERISA. (Id. at 3–4.) Finally, they argue that even if ERISA does
preempt the slayer statute, federal common law bars Alcorta from receiving any
proceeds from the policy. (Id. at 4.)
Under Texas law, “[a] beneficiary of a life insurance policy or
contract forfeits the beneficiary’s interest in the policy or contract if the beneficiary
is a principal or an accomplice in wilfully bringing about the death of the insured.”
Tex. Ins. Code § 1103.151. A beneficiary need not be convicted of murder to
forfeit his or her interest in the policy. In re Estate of Stafford, 244 S.W.3d 368,
370 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2008, no pet.) (“Section 1103.151 does not require a
‘final conviction’ before a beneficiary forfeits his rights to the proceeds.”).
Instead, a party seeking to establish that a beneficiary has forfeited his or her right
to collect on the policy need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that
the beneficiary willfully brought about the death of the insured. Medford v.
Medford, 68 S.W.3d 242, 250 n.3 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2002, no pet.). This
may be proven by circumstantial evidence. Reliastar Life Ins. Co. v. Thompson,
No. M–07–140, 2008 WL 4327259, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Sept. 16, 2008) (citing
Thomspon v. Mayes, 707 S.W.2d 951, 955 (Tex. App.—Eastland 1986, writ ref.
In support of their contention that Alcorta killed Garry Bean, the
Beans offer two pieces of evidence into the record. (Dkt. # 19 at 3.) First, they
provide the Bexar County Sherrif’s Office Offense Report noting that a woman
told officers who arrived at the scene, “I shot my boyfriend.” (Dkt. # 19, Ex. 3.)
Second, they provide an autopsy report from the Bexar County Medical
Examiner’s Office showing that Garry Bean’s death was ruled a homicide. (Id.,
Ex. 4.) When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court may consider only
admissible evidence. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Mersch v. City of Dall., 207 F.3d 732,
734–35 (5th Cir. 2000). The Court notes that both pieces of evidence arguably
suffer from hearsay or authentication issues. However, the Court may consider
otherwise inadmissible evidence if neither party objects to it. Manis v. Lawson,
585 F.3d 839, 844 n.3 (5th Cir. 2009). Because Alcorta has not filed a response,
the Court considers the evidence as undisputed. Eversley, 843 F.2d at 174.
Based upon the evidence provided, the Court cannot safely conclude
by a preponderance of the evidence that Minerva Alcorta shot and killed Garry
Bean. The police report relied upon by the Beans states:
[W]e approached the front door and began knocking several times for
someone to answer. A short time (seconds) later a female (later to be
identified as AP) came to the door on her cell phone crying
histerically [sic] with blood on both hands and on her shirt. (AP) then
stated “I shot my boyfriend, please help him.”
(Dkt. # 19, Ex. 3 at 4.) The report uses coded shorthand to identify people and
objects at the crime scene. For example, “(C)” is the code symbol used to identify
Garry Bean, and “(E)” is the code symbol used to identify the gun found at the
scene. (See id. at 1.) The report states that “(AP)” confessed to shooting her
boyfriend, but never identifies who (AP) is. Given this vital gap in the evidence,
the Court cannot find by a preponderance of the evidence that Alcorta shot and
killed Garry Bean. Because the evidence does not sufficiently support the Beans’
contention that Alcorta willfully brought about Garry Bean’s death, the Court finds
that the Texas slayer statute does not bar Alcorta, the primary beneficiary of Garry
Bean’s life insurance policy, from collecting the proceeds. Because that statute
does not apply to this case, the Court need not reach the question of whether it is
preempted by ERISA.
Finally, the Court notes that Alcorta appeared at the hearing held on
this motion on February 4, 2015. Alcorta represented to the Court that she had
only learned of this matter at the end of January, and that she wished to hire an
attorney to represent her in this case. The Court therefore granted Alcorta one
month to retain counsel. The Court also advised Alcorta that if she could not
obtain counsel, she may represent herself pro se in this matter. Lastly, the Court
advised the parties that if Alcorta or her counsel fails to make an appearance and
file an answer in this case by March 4, 2015, the Court will enter default judgment
For the reasons stated above, the Court hereby DENIES CrossClaimants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. # 19.) Cross-Defendant
Minerva Alcorta is ORDERED to obtain counsel in this matter. If Alcorta or her
attorney fails to make an appearance and file an answer in this case by March 4,
2015, the Court will enter a default judgment against Alcorta.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: San Antonio, Texas, February 4, 2015.
David Alan Ezra
Senior United States Distict Judge
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