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Brown v. Primerica Life Insurance Co.

June 15, 2006

CAROLYN BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PRIMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, D/B/A PRIMERICA, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, we grant the motion of Primerica Life Insurance Company ("Primerica") for summary judgment. Plaintiff Carolyn Brown's motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

The facts pertinent to this cause of action were set forth in our prior opinion addressing Primerica's motion to strike Curtis Baggett's testimony. Brown v. Primerica Life Ins. Co., No. 02-CV-8175 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 29, 2006). Accordingly, we restate them here only in truncated form. Plaintiff Carolyn Brown ("Carolyn") is the widow of Terrance Brown ("Terrance"), son of Alberta Brown ("Alberta"). Until shortly before Terrance's death, Carolyn was the undisputed beneficiary of a life insurance policy Primerica had issued to Terrance. On August 23, 2002, a man identifying himself as Terrance entered a Primerica office in Chicago. He informed the agent, Francis Giroux, that he wished to change the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Alberta. He also stated that he wanted to make his premium payment. Giroux elicited the necessary biographical information to complete the form, which the man then signed. Giroux did not request that the man produce any form of identification. The premium was also paid via a money order from Western Union. About two weeks later, Terrance drowned.

According to the terms of the policy, a change of beneficiary is effective on the date that Primerica receives written notice from the insured that the change is desired. Based on the form Giroux submitted as well as an informal internal investigation, Primerica determined that Terrance changed his beneficiary from Carolyn to Alberta on August 23 and thus that Alberta was the beneficiary of the policy at the time of Terrance's death. Accordingly, the proceeds of the policy were paid to Alberta.

Carolyn disputes the validity of the August 23 change of beneficiary. She contends that the man at Giroux's office was not Terrance, rendering the form he executed without legal effect. According to Carolyn, the operative document is the 2000 change of beneficiary, which names her, not Alberta, as the designated recipient of the policy proceeds.

After various unfruitful conversations with Primerica in which she advanced the theory that the August 23 form was a forgery, Carolyn filed the instant suit, alleging that Primerica breached its contractual obligations under the policy by paying to Alberta rather than to her. Each party moved for summary judgment. In support of her motion, Carolyn sought to introduce the testimony of a purported handwriting expert. This proposed testimony was the target of the motion to strike referenced above. We denied the initially filed summary judgment motions without prejudice until the admissibility of the expert testimony could be resolved. On April 26, 2006, we granted the motion to strike, and the parties subsequently informed us that they elected to stand on their previously filed motions for summary judgment without any further elaboration.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In seeking a grant of summary judgment the moving party must identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); rather, "[a] genuine issue exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the non-movant," Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 1994). When reviewing the record we must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant; however, "we are not required to draw every conceivable inference from the record--only those inferences that are reasonable." Bank Leumi Le-Israel, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991).

When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be assessed independently, and denial of one does not necessitate the grant of the other.

M. Snower & Co. v. United States, 140 F.2d 367, 369 (7th Cir. 1944). Rather, each motion evidences only that the movant believes it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issues within its motion and that trial is the appropriate course of action if the court disagrees with that assessment. Miller v. LeSea Broadcasting, Inc., 87 F.3d 224, 230 (7th Cir. 1996). With these principles in mind, we turn to the parties' motions.

DISCUSSION

The complaint in this case contains a single claim for breach of contract. The parties' motions focus on whether Primerica's conclusion that Terrance had effected a proper change of beneficiary and its resultant issuance of payment to Alberta was required or barred by the contract. If the form executed is genuine, Primerica was obligated to pay Alberta. If it was not, Primerica was obligated to pay Carolyn.

At first blush, this case would seem unsuited for resolution on a motion for summary judgment because of the importance of several factual determinations. However, summary judgment is appropriate where the movant has carried its initial burden and the non-movant has presented no evidence upon which a reasonable juror could rely in returning a verdict for the non-movant. See, e.g., Demos v. City of Indianapolis, 302 F.3d 698 (7th Cir. 2002). Without such ...


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