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Zartman v. Tame

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 12, 2019

JEREMY J. ZARTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY S. TAME and METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's (“MetLife”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34) and Defendant Jeffrey S. Tame's (“Tame”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 37).[1] Zartman has failed to file a response. The deadline for Zartman to file a response having passed, this matter is now ripe for determination.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Carolyn Widley (“Widley”) was a long-time employee of General Motors. As part of her employment, Widley was part of an ERISA plan sponsored by GM, which included a basic life benefit of $60, 000 (the “Benefit”). On May 19, 2004, Widley completed a Beneficiary Designation form naming Tame, her then-husband, as the primary beneficiary of the Benefit. (ECF No. 34-2 at 525).

         Widley and Tame divorced on or about February 9, 2011. On March 4, 2011, Widley completed another Beneficiary Designation form. (Id. at 503). For the Primary Beneficiary Designation, Widley input the following information:

         (Image Omitted)

         (Id.). At the bottom of the form, Widley specifically noted the date of her divorce from Tame. (Id.). On the same day, Widley submitted a hand-written note providing GM with her divorce decree and asking that Tame be taken off her health insurance. (Id. at 502).

         While any reasonable person would view Widley's writing of “Jeremy” in the first box above as a crossed-out error, the result of Widley failing to follow the “Last, First, Middle Initial” format called for by the form, MetLife apparently believed that Jeremy was a separate person. On Match 9, 2011, MetLife sent Widley a letter stating that it was “unable to process” the Beneficiary Designation form because it “contains incomplete or missing information.” (Id. at 530). Specifically, MetLife informed Widley that she needed to “[p]rovide the date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy) for all primary and contingent beneficiaries.” (Id.). MetLife provided Widley instructions on how to correct the error, and informed Widley that “a letter of confirmation will be mailed to your address of record” once the beneficiary change was effective. (Id.).

         In its summary judgment brief, MetLife elaborates on Widley's error, stating that she:

incorrectly filled out a Beneficiary Designation form by partially completing one name, striking through the name, and failing to include the relationship, date of birth, address, and share percentage of the benefits on the first line for the primary beneficiary.

         (ECF No. 35 at 3). Stated another way, MetLife now claims that it needed Jeremy's date of birth, address, and share percentage before it could process the change of beneficiary.

         For unexplained reasons, Widley never submitted another Beneficiary Designation form. Widley died on March 9, 2017. Zartman, Widley's son, filed a Life Insurance Claim Form (Id. at 498-501) on April 26, 2017. MetLife sent Zartman a letter (Id. at 539-40) on June 1, 2017, advising that his claim was denied because the May 19, 2004, designation naming Tame as the primary beneficiary controlled. The letter noted that MetLife had rejected the March 9, 2011, designation, and that Widley had failed to file any subsequent designation. Zartman followed the administrative appeal procedures set forth in the letter, and a final determination affirming the initial denial was made on September 27, 2017. (Id. at 548-49).

         Following the denial of Zartman's claim, Tame filed a Life Insurance Claim form on October 11, 2017. (Id. at 551-53). Tame's claim was approved, and 100% of the Benefit was paid to Tame. (ECF No. 16 at 4).

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The non-moving party must marshal and present the Court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in their favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must deny a motion for summary judgment when the nonmoving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corrs., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. The court ...


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