Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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Because the Louisiana Supreme Court found in its original opinion that plaintiffs had a right of action under La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, their constitutional challenge was pretermitted and “that part of the district court judgment declaring [these code articles and La. C.C. art. 199 to be] unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” was vacated. Having found on rehearing that the codal analysis of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 foreclosed a right of action to the plaintiff children, who were given in adoption, for the death of their biological parent and half-siblings, the Supreme Court was called on to address the propriety of the district court’s declaration that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2, and 199 are “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption.” The Court found a rational basis existed for limiting the categories of eligible claimants in La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2 to those who “are likely to be most affected by the death of the deceased.” Children given in adoption “have moved into a new parental relationship, becoming children ‘by adoption,’ who are eligible claimants in the unfortunate occurrence of the tortious death of their adoptive parents. Likewise, the transfer of children into a new parental unit as children ‘by adoption’ terminates, for purposes of wrongful death and survival actions, any connection between the ‘children given in adoption’ and any biological siblings who were not ‘given in adoption.’” For these reasons, the district court legally erred in finding that the fact that Daniel Goins and David Watts were adopted did not prevent them from bringing survival and wrongful death claims for the deaths of their biological father and biological half-siblings and in overruling the defendant’s exception raising the objection of no right of action. The Supreme Court's original decree was vacated and the district court's judgment was reversed. Judgment was entered sustaining the defendant insurance company's peremptory exception raising the objection of no right of action, and dismissing the claims that were the subject of this exception. View "Rismiller et al. v. Gemini Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Gemini Insurance Company appealed a district court's holding La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” and overruling the defendants’ peremptory exceptions of no right of action. At issue was whether plaintiffs Daniel Goins and David Watts, two adult children who were given in adoption as minors, had a right to bring wrongful death and survival actions stemming from the deaths of their biological father and his two minor children, who were not given in adoption, and were plaintiffs’ biological half-siblings. After a de novo review, based on the clear and unambiguous wording of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded Goins and Watts were “children of the deceased” and “brothers of the deceased” who were permitted to bring wrongful death and survival actions arising from the death of their biological father and half-siblings. In view of the Court's holding that plaintiffs had a right to assert survival and wrongful death actions, the Court declined to address their argument that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption. View "Rismiller v. Gemini Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals applying a constructive trust to proceeds Lynnea Landsee-Pulkkila collected from a life insurance policy maintained by her late husband, James Pulkkila, holding that the court of appeals erred in imposing a constructive trust absent findings of fact that would support such an imposition.In 2009, James and Joan Pulkkila divorced. In their marital settlement agreement (MSA) that was incorporated into the judgment of divorce James and Joan were required to maintain life insurance with their children as beneficiaries. In 2013, James and Lynnea were married. The following year, James submitted a beneficiary name change asking that Lynnea be made the sole beneficiary of the life insurance policy. After Lynnea was paid the proceeds of the policy, Joan asserted that James breached the MSA agreement and that a constructive trust should be placed on the proceeds. The circuit court denied Joan's motion for a constructive trust. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that equity required the imposition of a constructive trust. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erroneously exercised its discretion because it determined that a constructive trust was appropriate in the absence of an evidentiary hearing and resulting relevant factual findings. View "Pulkkila v. Pulkkila" on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law provides that “the dissolution or annulment of a marriage revokes any revocable . . . beneficiary designation . . . made by an individual to the individual’s former spouse,” Minn. Stat. 524.2–804. If an insurance policyholder does not want that result, he may rename the ex-spouse as beneficiary. Sveen and Melin were married in 1997. Sveen purchased a life insurance policy, naming Melin as the primary beneficiary and designating his children from a prior marriage as contingent beneficiaries. The marriage ended in 2007. The divorce decree did not mention the insurance policy. Sveen did not revise his beneficiary designations. After Sveen died in 2011, Melin and the Sveen children claimed the insurance proceeds. Melin argued that because the law did not exist when the policy was purchased, applying the later-enacted law violated the Contracts Clause. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit, holding that the retroactive application of Minnesota’s law does not violate the Contracts Clause. The test for determining when a law crosses the constitutional line first asks whether the state law has “operated as a substantial impairment of a contractual relationship,” considering the extent to which the law undermines the contractual bargain, interferes with a party’s reasonable expectations, and prevents the party from safeguarding or reinstating his rights. If such factors show a substantial impairment, the inquiry turns to whether the state law is drawn in a “reasonable” way to advance “a significant and legitimate public purpose.” Three aspects of Minnesota’s law, taken together, show that the law does not substantially impair pre-existing contractual arrangements. The law is designed to reflect a policyholder’s intent and to support, rather than impair, the contractual scheme. The law is unlikely to disturb any policyholder’s expectations at the time of contracting, because an insured cannot reasonably rely on a beneficiary designation staying in place after a divorce. Divorce courts have wide discretion to divide property upon dissolution of a marriage. The law supplies a mere default rule, which the policyholder can easily undo. View "Sveen v. Melin" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law provides that “the dissolution or annulment of a marriage revokes any revocable . . . beneficiary designation . . . made by an individual to the individual’s former spouse,” Minn. Stat. 524.2–804. If an insurance policyholder does not want that result, he may rename the ex-spouse as beneficiary. Sveen and Melin were married in 1997. Sveen purchased a life insurance policy, naming Melin as the primary beneficiary and designating his children from a prior marriage as contingent beneficiaries. The marriage ended in 2007. The divorce decree did not mention the insurance policy. Sveen did not revise his beneficiary designations. After Sveen died in 2011, Melin and the Sveen children claimed the insurance proceeds. Melin argued that because the law did not exist when the policy was purchased, applying the later-enacted law violated the Contracts Clause. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit, holding that the retroactive application of Minnesota’s law does not violate the Contracts Clause. The test for determining when a law crosses the constitutional line first asks whether the state law has “operated as a substantial impairment of a contractual relationship,” considering the extent to which the law undermines the contractual bargain, interferes with a party’s reasonable expectations, and prevents the party from safeguarding or reinstating his rights. If such factors show a substantial impairment, the inquiry turns to whether the state law is drawn in a “reasonable” way to advance “a significant and legitimate public purpose.” Three aspects of Minnesota’s law, taken together, show that the law does not substantially impair pre-existing contractual arrangements. The law is designed to reflect a policyholder’s intent and to support, rather than impair, the contractual scheme. The law is unlikely to disturb any policyholder’s expectations at the time of contracting, because an insured cannot reasonably rely on a beneficiary designation staying in place after a divorce. Divorce courts have wide discretion to divide property upon dissolution of a marriage. The law supplies a mere default rule, which the policyholder can easily undo. View "Sveen v. Melin" on Justia Law

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Husband Patrick Steiner was an active duty military service member and had a group life insurance policy issued under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (the SGLIA). As part of a status-only dissolution judgment, Husband and Alicja Soczewko Steiner (Wife), stipulated to an order requiring Husband to maintain Wife as the beneficiary of all of Husband's current active duty survivor and/or death benefits pending further court order. Notwithstanding the stipulated order, Husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Husband's sister, Mary Furman, who received the policy proceeds upon Husband's death. The court subsequently found applicable federal law preempted the stipulated order and Furman was entitled to the policy proceeds. Wife appealed, contending federal law did not preempt the stipulated order or, alternatively, the fraud exception to federal preemption applies. The Court of Appeal concluded to the contrary on both points and affirmed the order. View "Marriage of Steiner" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Robert Loppi purchased a life insurance policy from United Investors Life Insurance Co. in which he initially named Marilyn Loppi, his wife, as the beneficiary. In 2008, after Marilyn filed for divorce from Robert, Robert applied to United Investors to change the beneficiary on his life insurance policy to his uncle, David Loppi. In 2009, during the course of the divorce proceeding, the family court entered an interlocutory order ordering that Robert’s life insurance policies be cashed in and that the cash surrender value be divided equally between Robert and Marilyn. Before Robert complied with the interlocutory order, Robert died. Thereafter, United Investors declined to pay the life insurance death benefit to either David or Marilyn. David filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that he alone was entitled to the life insurance policy death benefit. The hearing justice granted David’s petition for declaratory judgment stating that David was entitled to 100 percent of the policy proceeds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Marilyn was not entitled to any portion of the life insurance proceeds at issue. View "Loppi v. United Investors Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Prior to his death and after consulting a lawyer about divorcing Wife, Husband changed the beneficiary on his term life insurance policy from Wife to Respondents, his parents and sister. Less than four months before Husband’s death, Wife petitioned for dissolution of marriage to Husband. Following Husband’s death, the district court dismissed the dissolution proceeding. Wife subsequently filed suit against Respondents, alleging that Husband’s transfer violated Minn. Stat. 518.58(1)(a), which prohibits the transfer of “marital assets” by a party who contemplates commencing a marriage dissolution. The district court granted summary judgment to Respondents. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that section 518.58(1)(a) did not apply to Wife’s claim because her dissolution proceeding abated upon Husband’s death and the statute applies only in current dissolution proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the language of section 518.58(1)(a) limits the statute’s application to pending dissolution proceedings, the statute did not provide Wife, who was no longer a party to a marital dissolution proceeding, a remedy in this case. View "Nelson v. Nelson" on Justia Law