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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Unger

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 29, 2016

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH A. UNGER and ALTHEA A. BARTLETT, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) filed this interpleader action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 22 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. (“ERISA”) asking this Court to determine to whom it should pay the proceeds of two life insurance policies held by its insured, David Unger (“David”), plus any applicable interest. MetLife named Elizabeth A. Unger (“Elizabeth”), who was married to Unger at the time of his death, and Althea A. Bartlett (“Althea”), Unger's former spouse, as defendants, as well as Roxanna A. Hipple, Unger's former Guardian ad Litem who has since been dismissed from this action. Now before the Court are Elizabeth and Althea's cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Althea's motion is denied and Elizabeth's motion is granted.

         BACKROUND

         David was a former employee of Alcatel-Lucent USA, Inc. (“Alcatel”), and while he worked there he participated in the Alcatel-Lucent Retiree Welfare Benefits Plan (“BLI Plan”). Joint Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter JSOF) ¶¶ 1-2, Dkt. 38; Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8, Dkt. 1. The BLI Plan is regulated by ERISA and is funded by a group life insurance policy that MetLife issued. JSOF ¶ 2; Compl. ¶ 5. The BLI Plan provides, in relevant part:

Naming a Beneficiary
After your retirement, the beneficiary(ies) for your basic life insurance coverage are the same as those designated while you were actively employed.
. . . Generally, death benefits are paid to your primary beneficiary(ies). If none of your primary beneficiaries are living when you die, payment will be made in equal shares to your contingent beneficiary(ies), unless you indicated otherwise. If none of your beneficiaries are living when you die or you did not designate a beneficiary, payment will be made to your next surviving relative(s) and considered in this order: your spouse or domestic partner, your children, your parents, or your brother and sister; provided, however, that the insurer may pay all or part of such amount to your estate.
. . .
How to Change Your Beneficiary
You may change your beneficiary at any time, unless you assign your benefits. You do not need the consent of the beneficiary to make a change.
To change your beneficiary, contact the insurer (see section I. Important Contacts) for the appropriate form. After you complete the form, return it to the insurer. Your change takes effect on the date you signed it, even if you are not alive when the insurer receives the form.

JSOF ¶ 3; Compl. ¶ 11; Compl. Ex. B at 4-5.

         While he was an Alcatel employee, David also purchased a Participating Group Universal Life Insurance Policy, Group Policy No. 32900-G, Group No. 96619 (“GUL Policy”) from MetLife. JSOF ¶ 4; Compl. ¶ 5. MetLife asserted in its complaint that the GUL Policy is not governed by ERISA. Compl. ¶ 5. The GUL Policy provides:

The “Beneficiary” is the person or persons you choose to receive any benefit payable because of your death.
You make the choice in Writing on a form approved by us. This form must be filed with the records of This Plan. You may change the Beneficiary at any time by filing a new form with us. You do not need the consent of the Beneficiary to make a change. When we receive a form changing the Beneficiary, the change will take effect as of the date you Signed it. The ...

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