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Caterpillar, Inc. v. Estate of Cole

June 21, 2007

CATERPILLAR, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
ESTATE OF ANTHONY E. COLE, ESTATE OF VELTON LACEFIELD COLE, ANTHONY A. COLE, AND ALLISON H. COLE, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the cross motions of Defendants Estate of Anthony E. Cole, Estate of Velton Lacefield Cole, and Anthony A. Cole and Allison H. Cole for summary judgment on the interpleader complaint of Plaintiff Caterpillar, Inc. For the reasons set forth below, the motion of the Estate of Anthony E. Cole is granted. The motions of Anthony A. Cole and Allison H. Cole and Velton Lacefield Cole are denied without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Anthony E. Cole ("Anthony E.") was formerly employed by Caterpillar. As part of his employment, he participated in a 401(k) retirement plan regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. In August 1998, he designated Anthony A. Cole ("Anthony A.") and Allison H. Cole, his son and daughter (collectively referred to as "the children"), as the sole beneficiaries to his assets under the plan in the event of his death. He specified that he wished the two to take in equal shares. At that time, he was unmarried.

On August 8, 1999, Anthony E. married Velton Lacefield ("Velton"). After the couple had been married for a year, the plan specified that Velton became entitled to 50% of her husband's assets in the plan upon his death, regardless of the prior designation of his son and daughter as sole beneficiaries. In May 2002, Anthony E. executed a second beneficiary form adding her as a beneficiary. A spousal consent section was included on the form to permit Velton to indicate her agreement to forego her automatic entitlement as spouse to 50% of Anthony E.'s assets. The form explained that, in the absence of such consent, the 50% entitlement remained in place regardless of the naming of other beneficiaries. That portion of the May 2002 form is not executed. The box indicating that the plan participant wanted the named beneficiaries to take in equal shares is not checked, as it had been on the prior form.

On October 27, 2003, Anthony E. filed a petition for dissolution of his marriage to Velton in the Circuit Court of Cook County (Case No. 2003D011389). Less than a month later, the petition was dismissed on his motion with no judgment entered.*fn1

On August 3, 2005, Velton and Anthony E. both died of gunshot wounds.*fn2 It is undisputed that, medically speaking, Velton died before Anthony E. As of that date, the value of Anthony E.'s plan assets was $409,736.91.

In October 2006, Caterpillar filed an interpleader action, naming Anthony E.'s estate, Velton's estate, Allison, and Anthony A. as defendants. The complaint seeks a declaration of the proper distribution of Anthony E.'s plan assets and to enjoin any party from pursuing a claim against the plan assets until the proper distribution can be determined.

The defendants have each filed motions for summary judgment, asserting their respective positions on the correct recipients of and allocation for the plan assets.

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 ...


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