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Vandenberghe v. Ciura

November 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge


This matter is before the court on Cross-Claimant Lisa Vandenberghe's ("Vandenberghe") motion for summary judgment and motion to strike. For the reasons stated below, we deny the motion for summary judgment and deny the motion to strike as moot.


Steven Ciura was allegedly the owner of a life insurance policy ("Policy") issued by Genworth Life and Annuity Insurance Company ("Genworth"). Steven Ciura allegedly died on July 23, 2003, and Genworth became obligated to pay the beneficiary of the Policy $50,000. On the date of Steven Ciura's death, Vandenberghe, now known as Lisa Ortega, was allegedly the sole named beneficiary of the Policy. After the death of Steven Ciura, Cross-Claimant Dorothy Ciura, Steven Ciura's mother, allegedly mailed an "executed Proof of Loss of Claimant's Statement" to Genworth making a claim to the proceeds of the Policy. (Compl. Par. 8). On May 5, 2006, Dorothy Ciura allegedly brought an action in Illinois state court to recover the proceeds of the Policy. Genworth subsequently brought the instant action for interpleader pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335. On November 20, 2007, we granted Genworth's motion for leave to deposit its admitted liability and Genworth was released from this action. Vandenberghe and Dorothy Ciura subsequently filed an answer to Genworth's complaint in this action and Vandenberghe filed a cross claim against Dorothy Ciura. Vandenberghe now moves for summary judgment.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). 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. P. 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." Id. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided for in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 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 of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). The court must consider the record as a whole, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences that favor the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).


I. Controlling Law

Vandenberghe argues that the dispute in the instant action is governed by Illinois state law. (SJ Mem. 2). Vandenberghe argues that there is no federal common law that addresses the issues in this case and, thus, the court must apply the Illinois state law doctrine of substantial compliance. However, in Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 297 F.3d 558 (7th Cir. 2002), the Seventh Circuit recognized that there is a federal common law doctrine of substantial compliance. See id. at 566-68 (applying doctrine in ERISA context). Thus, we will apply federal law in the instant action. We also note, however, as the court noted in Johnson, that the Illinois doctrine of substantial compliance and the federal common law doctrine are extremely similar, and, as in Johnson, in this case, regardless of which law is applied, the ultimate result would be the same. Id. at 567.

II. Change of Beneficiary

Vandenberghe argues that she was listed as the sole beneficiary on the Policy and there is not sufficient evidence indicating that Steven Ciura ever removed her as the sole beneficiary. Under the federal common law, an insured is deemed to have changed the beneficiary for the policy if the "insured'evidence[d] his or her intent' and'attempt[ed] to effectuate the change by undertaking positive actions.'" Johnson, 297 F.3d at 567 (quoting in part Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Adams, 30 F.3d 554, 564 (4th Cir. 1994)). In order to show substantial compliance in regard to a change of beneficiary, there must be a showing that the insured "substantially complied" with the requirement in the policy for changing the beneficiary. Id.; see also Rendleman v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 937 F.2d 1292, 1297 (7th Cir. 1991)(stating that courts require "more concrete evidence of intent"); Dooley v. James A. Dooley Assoc's Employees Retirement Plan, 442 N.E.2d 222, 227 (1982)(stating that for substantial compliance, "[t]here must be a combination of intent to make the change and positive action towards effecting that end"); Kniffin v. Kniffin, 456 N.E.2d 659, 661 (Ill. App. Ct. 1983)(stating that "when an insured has done everything in his power to effectuate a change of beneficiary, equity will not require exact compliance with the conditions prescribed in the policy").

A. Beneficiary Listed On Policy

Vandenberghe argues that it is undisputed that at the time of Steven Ciura's death the Policy listed Vandenberghe as the sole beneficiary. (SF Par. 8). Dorothy Ciura contends that the fact is disputed, arguing that "Lisa Vandenberghe fiancé" is listed as the beneficiary. (R SF Par. 8). However, Dorothy Ciura offers no evidence that would indicate that the "Lisa Vandenberghe fiancé" referenced in the Policy is not Vandenberghe, the Cross-Claimant in the instant action. In addition, the Policy, which is an exhibit attached to the complaint, clearly lists Lisa Vandenberghe as the beneficiary and separately off to the right merely indicates that she was Steven Ciura's fiancé. (Exhibit 1). Dorothy Ciura has not pointed to any evidence that shows that she was ...

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