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Minnesota Life Insurance Co. v. Hamilton

April 2, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction and Procedural Background

This interpleader action arises from a dispute over who is entitled to life insurance proceeds of Kenneth Schutzenhofer, a former employee of Solutia. Aligning on opposite sides of the fight for these proceeds are Kenneth's former wife (Joanne Stout, a California citizen) and Kenneth's children (Brian Schutzenhofer and Amy Hamilton, Illinois and Missouri citizens, respectively). After receiving conflicting claims on the policy proceeds, Minnesota Life filed an interpleader complaint in this Court, asking the undersigned Judge to determine the proper disposition of the proceeds. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22(1) supplies the procedural framework for this action.

28 U.S.C.§ 1335(a) and § 1331 provide subject matter jurisdiction.

In compliance with a May 2007 Order (Doc. 19), Minnesota Life deposited the policy proceeds ($35,500.83) with the Clerk of this Court. The funds were placed in an interest-bearing account on June 7, 2007. One month later, with the parties having voiced no objection, the undersigned Judge dismissed Plaintiff Minnesota Life from this action, enjoined Defendants (Joanne Stout, Brian Schutzenhofer and Amy Hamilton) from commencing other actions regarding the disputed proceeds, and noted that the case had moved to "stage two ... determination as to the respective rights of claimants to the stake" (Doc. 28, p. 2).

Brian and Amy crossclaimed against Joanne,*fn1 and all three "Defendants" seek judgment in their favor. The case comes before the undersigned Judge on those motions (Docs. 29 and 32), on which the briefing period ended March 8, 2008. Analysis begins with the legal standards governing such motions in federal court.

B. Applicable Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986), and Krieg v. Seybold, 481 F.3d 512, 516 (7th Cir. 2007). Accord Levy v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, this Court must view the evidence and all inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007); Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007).

In a January 2008 Order (Doc. 35), the undersigned Judge construed the parties' pleadings (Docs. 29 & 32) to constitute cross-motions for summary judgment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has explained that when cross-motions for summary judgment are filed, "we look to the burden of proof that each party would bear on an issue of trial; we then require that party to go beyond the pleadings and affirmatively to establish a genuine issue of material fact." Diaz v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 499 F.3d 640, 643 (7th Cir. 2007), quoting Santaella v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997). With these standards in mind, the Court assesses the record before it.

C. Analysis

The facts are without genuine dispute. Minnesota Life issued a Group Life Insurance Policy (policy number 32613-G, "the Policy") to Kenneth Schutzenhofer, an employee of Solutia, Inc. In the amount of $33,900, the Policy is an ERISA-regulated life insurance policy.*fn2

On January 25, 2003, Kenneth designated his wife, Joanne Stout, the primary beneficiary on the Policy and designated his children, Brian Schutzenhofer and Amy Hamilton, the contingent beneficiaries. See Exhibit B to interpleader complaint, Doc. 2-4.

On December 7, 2004, Kenneth Schutzenhofer and Joanne Stout obtained a divorce from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri. See Exhibit C to intepleader complaint, Doc. 2-5. On March 9, 2006, Kenneth Schutzenhofer died. At the time he passed away, Kenneth had not changed the beneficiary designations on the Policy.

In September 2006, Joanne claimed the policy benefits from Minnesota Life, via her beneficiary designation. See Exhibit D to interpleader complaint, Doc. 2-7. Also in September 2006, Brian and Amy claimed the benefits pursuant to a Missouri statute, R.S. Mo. § 461.051. See Exhibit E to interpleader complaint, Doc. 2-8.*fn3

After efforts to resolve the dispute between Joanne and her children proved fruitless, Minnesota Life filed the above-captioned suit in this federal district court, interpled the funds, and was discharged from all further liability on the Policy. Joanne, Brian and Amy (all named ...

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