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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Moore

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

July 10, 2019




         Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) brought this interpleader suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1335(a) against DaVinci Moore and Barbara Smith to resolve their competing claims to the benefits of a life insurance policy held by Willie Moore (“Decedent”), who died on April 26, 2017. Doc. 1. After MetLife deposited the policy's funds in the Clerk's registry account and was discharged from further liability, Docs. 10, 18 (Bucklo, J.), the court held a bench trial between Moore and Smith-both proceeding pro se-to determine the policy's beneficiary. Doc. 48. After the trial, and at the court's request, Doc. 49, MetLife submitted additional evidence concerning the policy, Doc. 50.

         Pursuant to Civil Rule 52(a), the court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The Findings of Fact are based on the evidence presented at the bench trial and the evidence MetLife filed several weeks later, which drew no objection from Moore or Smith. To the extent that any Findings of Fact may be considered Conclusions of Law, they shall be deemed Conclusions of Law, and vice versa. After carefully considering the evidence and assessing the witnesses' credibility, the court awards judgment to Smith in the amount of the funds currently in the Clerk's registry account for this case.

         Findings of Fact

         1. MetLife issued a life insurance policy (Policy No. 896431649UL) with a face value of $40, 000 to Decedent on September 1, 1989. Doc. 50-1 at 443. When the policy issued, Decedent designated his son, Moore, as the policy's beneficiary. Id. at 68, 456.

         2. In June 2013, Decedent created an online account with MetLife to manage his life insurance policy. Doc. 50 at ¶¶ 4-6. Decedent made his 2016 and 2017 monthly premium payments for the MetLife policy through an automatic debit connected with his Chase bank account. Id. at ¶ 11.

         3. Decedent's health began declining in late 2016. Doc. 48, Moore Testimony. At all relevant times, Moore resided in the Chicago area and Moore's son, DaVinci Moore, Jr. (“Moore Jr.”), lived with Decedent in Chicago. Ibid. As Decedent's illness became more serious, Smith, Decedent's daughter, came from Minnesota to stay with him in Chicago between March and May 2017. Id., Smith Testimony. Doris Walker and “Joyce, ” Moore's sister and cousin, respectively, also stayed with Decedent while he was ill. Id., Moore Testimony. In addition, Decedent's friend Carol occasionally spent the night at his home. Ibid.

         4. During a hospital visit in early April 2017, Decedent's doctors told him that he had terminal cancer. Ibid. Several family members-including Moore, Smith, and Walker- were present for that conversation, which took place in the afternoon. Ibid.; id., Walker Testimony. Although Moore did not recall the precise day that conversation occurred, and no party introduced Decedent's medical records, Moore testified that Decedent called the police (of which more in a moment) the day after the conversation. Id., Moore Testimony. Because the court finds Moore's basic timeline credible, and because the police report Moore submitted to MetLife reflects that Decedent called the police on April 9, 2017, Doc. 50-1 at 80-82, the court finds that Decedent and his family learned that his cancer was terminal during the afternoon of April 8, 2017.

         5. On April 8, 2017 at around 10:57 a.m. Eastern time, MetLife received a request through Decedent's online account to change the beneficiary of his life insurance policy from Moore to Smith. Doc. 50-2 at 3; Doc. 50 at ¶ 3.

         6. To change a life insurance beneficiary through an online account, MetLife first required the policyholder to enter his username and password. Doc. 50 at ¶ 8. MetLife collected the Internet Protocol (“IP”) address associated with all such requests. Ibid. The IP address associated with the April 8, 2017 beneficiary change request for Decedent's policy identified the internet service provider as Comcast Cable Communications in Chicago, Illinois. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 9.

         7. After acknowledging receipt of the beneficiary change request in an April 8, 2017 email to email address associated with Decedent's online MetLife account-MetLife on April 11, 2017 approved the beneficiary change from Moore to Smith. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 8, 13. That same day, MetLife sent a letter to Decedent's home address confirming the beneficiary change. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 13.

         8. When Decedent and his family returned home from the hospital on April 8, 2017 immediately after learning that his illness was terminal, the family cooked and ate a meal. Doc. 48, Moore Testimony; id., Walker Testimony. The next day, Decedent called the police after he discovered that an expandable file folder containing various important documents, including Moore Jr.'s social security card, was missing. Id., Moore Testimony; Doc. 50-1 at 81-82.

         9. According to the Incident Report prepared by the Chicago Police Department that Moore faxed to MetLife on May 1, 2017, Decedent spoke with the police around 4:37 p.m. on April 9, 2017. Doc. 50-1 at 81-82. He estimated that his file folder went missing between April 8, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. and April 9, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. Ibid.

         10. Around the same time, Decedent called to freeze his Chase credit card account. Id. at 83; Doc. 48, Moore Testimony. Realizing that Moore Jr.'s social security card was in the missing folder, Decedent instructed Moore Jr. to log onto Decedent's laptop computer and ...

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