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Locomotive Engineers Mut. Life & Accident Ins. Ass'n v. Laurent

February 21, 1949

LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS MUT. LIFE & ACCIDENT INS. ASS'N
v.
LAURENT, ET AL. LAURENT, ET AL. V. LAURENT



Author: Lindley

Before MAJOR, Chief Judge, KERNER, Circuit Judge, and LINDLEY, District Judge.

LINDLEY, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a non-profit insurance association, filed an interpleader suit, asking the District Court to determine the proper claimant to the proceeds of an insurance policy it had issued upon the life of one John Laurent. It made defendants, the appellants, Anna Laurent and the children of the insured, and the appellee, Irma Laurent. Anna was the wife of the insured and beneficiary in the policy at the time it issued. Irma was beneficiary in the policy at the time of the insured's death, claiming to be his wife by virtue of a marriage entered into, subsequent to a divorce granted John from Anna in Arkansas. The children of the insured were made parties in order that, if the court should find the claims of both Anna and Iram invalid, the heirs and next of kin of the insured, would be before the court, for such disposition of the proceeds of insurance as the court should deem proper.

Anna and the children answered that Anna was entitled to the insurance proceeds and that Irma had no interest therein, and filed a counterclaim asking that the court award the proceeds to Anna. They contended in their claim and at the trial that the Arkansas divorce was void for want of jurisdiction. Irma answered that the insured had been divorced from Anna by valid decree and legally married to her, Irma, and that the insured had properly made her beneficiary after their marriage, shortly after the divorce was granted. She contended in her counterclaim and at the trial that she was entitled to the insurance proceeds, not only because she was the wife of the insured at the time of his death, but also because she was a qualified beneficiary by virtue of plaintiff's constitution and bylaws, which provide that benefits may be paid to persons standing in certain relationship to the policy-holder, including his wife, certain other relatives and a "person or persons dependent upon" him. At the conclusion of the trial the court entered judgment in favor of appellee Irma Laurent.

An important issue at the trial and presented on this appeal is whether, as the District Court found, the Arkansas court's decree of divorce to John from Anna and John's subsequent marriage to Irma, were valid. Collateral to this issue is a question of the propriety of the trial court's findings that no fraud was practiced upon the Arkansas court by John in obtaining the decree and that John had established a bonafide domicile in Arkansas sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon the Arkansas court to grant the decree of divorce. A second issue is whether Irma is, irrespective of any question of validity of the divorce decree and Irma's subsequent marriage to John, entitled to the proceeds of the policy as "a person dependent upon John at the time of his death." The appellee presents a further contention that Anna, having accepted the benefits awarded her under a separate maintenance decree and under the contract of her husband recognized therein, is estopped from claiming the proceeds. Certain questions are presented also as to the propriety of the action of the trial court in admitting certain testimony.

Much of the evidence is undisputed. John and Anna were lawfully married in 1910 and lived together thereafter as husband and wife in the village of Dupo in St. Clair County, Illinois, until they separated in October, 1937. He was a locomotive engineer on the Missouri Pacific Railroad, running between Dupo and various points south and west. The insurance policy was issued in October 1933 and in it, Anna was designated beneficiary. The two did not live together after separation in 1937.

In 1938 Anna instituted suit for separate maintenance against John in the City Court of East St. Louis.The court, in its decree, awarded the relief prayed, finding that the parties had agreed, in a property settlement, that their home be conveyed to Anna, that John pay all taxes and special assessments upon it and the personal property, turn to Anna all household and personal property situated in the home, and pay the fees of her solicitor and $100 a month for her separate maintenance and support, and that she, in return for these benefits, turn over to John, the insurance policy and five shares of bank stock. The court found the agreements valid, approved it and directed that it be carried out, as it was, in fact, thereafter. As to the foregoing facts, there is no dispute.

In support of Anna's contention that John had fraudulently obtained a divorce, in that his domicile in Arkansas had not been established prior to obtaining the divorce decree, and, that as a result, the Arkansas court had no jurisdiction to alter his marital status, and in that he had failed to acquaint that court with the existence of the Illinois separate maintenance decree, she introduced in evidence the complaint filed in the Arkansas court and the decree of divorce entered by that court. In an attempt to prove that John was not domiciled in Arkansas at the time of the divorce, she relied upon various circumstances and the inferences which she contended should be drawn therefrom. Thus she showed that envelopes in which John mailed to her three certain payments gave Dupo, Illinois, as his return address; that his pay checks were endorsed and cashed at the Plaza Bank at St. Louis; that a safety deposit box rented by him in Dupo in September, 1931, continued to stand in his name until December 5, 1941, when he cancelled the rental contract therefor and withdrew the contents of the box; that, through November, 1941, he paid the dues and premiums on the policy to plaintiff by leaving the same at a Dupo bank; that the application for change of beneficiary gave his address as Dupo; that his run was between Dupo and Paragould from 1938 to 1942; that he was seen in Dupo about every third day; that the children, working in Granite City, frequently met him driving his automobile between Dupo and East St. Louis and that his automobile was seen from time to time at the railroad roundhouse in Dupo.

However, it appears that the three envelopes bearing the return address of Dupo were mailed at Paragould, Arkansas; that Anna had received other similar monthly payments but did not produce the envelopes in which they were enclosed; that John had a lay-over in Dupo after each trip before making the return trip to Paragould; that the Plaza bank, where he cashed his checks, was in the same building in which the checks were made and delivered to him; that other employees not living in Dupo also received and cashed their checks there; that the last rent on his safety deposit box was paid in July, 1940, for the year ending July 16, 1941; that many of the employees of the Missouri Pacific who lived elsewhere paid dues to plaintiff at Dupo; that when John applied for change of beneficiary, the address of Dupo was inserted by the insurance company's authorities; that names of all engineers appeared on the call board, both at Paragould and Dupo; that those living in Paragould spent necessarily some time in Dupo or St. Louis before returning to Paragould; that John usually stayed in East St. Louis or St. Louis during periods of lay-over at Dupo and that he necessarily used his car at the Dupo end, in order to travel there from East St. Louis and St. Louis.

Irma introduced evidence that in March, 1941, John informed one Smallenberger, a fellow engineer, that he intended to make Paragould his home; that thereafter he rented a room regularly at Paragould in a private home; that he moved to this room all his personal belongings including clothing, books, electric fan, radio and trunk; that, after he and Irma were married, they lived in the room which he had previously rented, until he was able to locate an apartment; that he then rented an apartment in Paragould in which they lived until they removed to St. Louis; that in this apartment were their personal belongings and their own telephone; that in the spring of 1942, Irma became ill and they moved to St. Louis so that she could be treated by a physician there and that, from that time on, they lived in St. Louis until his death.

The District Court heard this and other evidence upon the question of whether John was domiciled in Paragould at the time he obtained his divorce there, and, at the conclusion of the trial, found that the evidence failed to prove that John had not been a bonafide resident of the state of Arkansas prior to and at the time of the decree of divorce for at least 60 days prior to the institution of the proceeding and that the evidence was consistent with his having been a bonafide resident of the state throughout the necessary statutory period.

As to the trial in the divorce court, Irma introduced the testimony of a witness who attended that trial to the effect that in his testimony there, John told the court about the separate maintenance decree that had been entered in Illinois and stated that he intended to continue to make his payments as ordered therein. This evidence was undisputed, but was objected to.The divorce decree found that John was and had been for more than 60 days preceding the filing of the suit, a bonafide resident of Arkansas.

When the divorce suit was instituted, notice was given in compliance with the Arkansas statute and an attorney was appointed by the court to represent Anna. He wrote her informing her of the suit and advising her of her rights to contest John's claim. Upon receipt of the letter, she talked with her children and consulted with her counsel and concluded that she would not make any defense.

The District Court found that John had advised the trial court in Arkansas, at the divorce hearing, of the existence and provisions of the separate maintenance decree then in existence; that, on November 3, 1941, subsequent to the entry of the decree, John was legally married to Irma and that they lived and cohabitated together as husband and wife at all times prior to the death of John; that he died while he and Irma were living together as husband and wife, on November 17, 1946; that at all times subsequent to their marriage, John supported Irma; that she received her sole support from him, except that at one time she earned a small amount to supplement their income to help pay her medical expenses; that, subsequent to the death of John, Irma paid a premium on the policy, due before his death; that the decree of divorce granted John was valid and ...


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