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Minnesota Life Insurance Co. v. Roberson

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

August 2, 2019

MINNESOTA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
WENDY ROBERSON, an individual; A. R., a minor, by and through her guardian, CHRISTINE RIGGENBERG, Defendants. A. R., a minor, by and through her guardian, CHRISTINE RIGGENBERG, Crossclaim Plaintiff,
v.
WENDY ROBERSON, an individual Crossclaim Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT ROBERSON'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          The Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.

         The Honorable Richard A. Jones This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Wendy Roberson's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #27). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Minnesota Life Insurance Company (“Minnesota Life” or “Plaintiff”) is a life insurance company based in Minnesota. Dkt. #1 at ¶ 1. John Marcel Miller (“Mr. Miller”) was covered for supplemental life insurance under a group universal life insurance policy (the “Policy”), issued by Minnesota Life to Mr. Miller's employer, Honeywell International, Inc.. Id. at ¶ 6; Dkt. #16 at ¶ 30. In addition to his coverage under the Policy, Mr. Miller also received other benefits including basic life insurance and retirement benefits (“the Benefits”). Dkt. #16 at ¶ 32.

         On December 30, 2010 Mr. Miller designated his daughter, A.R., a minor, (“A.R.” or “Defendant A. R.”) and his “domestic partner, ” Wendy Roberson (“Defendant Roberson” or “Ms. Roberson”), as 50% beneficiaries under the Policy. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 38; Dkt. #28 at ¶ 2. On January 6, 2011, Mr. Miller also updated his Benefits designations, listing Defendant A.R. and Defendant Roberson as 50% beneficiaries. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 37. Mr. Miller and Ms. Roberson's romantic relationship terminated at some point in 2011. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 39; Dkt. #28 at ¶ 4. On May 20, 2012, Mr. Miller updated his Benefits beneficiary designations, removing Ms. Roberson as a beneficiary and designating Defendant A.R. as the sole, 100% beneficiary. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 40; Dkt. #27 at 6. Mr. Miller did not make any changes to his beneficiary designations under the Policy. Dkt. #27 at 6.

         On April 4, 2016, Mr. Miller died. Dkt. #15 at ¶ 7; Dkt. #27 at ¶ 5. At the time of his death, the total life insurance benefits due under the Policy was $135, 149.69. Id. Ms. Roberson and A.R. were both named as 50% beneficiaries under the Policy. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 38; Dkt. #28 at ¶ 2. Following Mr. Miller's death, A.R., through her guardian, Christine Riggenberg, submitted a claim for her portion of the coverage and received her 50% distribution (totaling approximately $69, 205.05) under the Policy. Dkt. #1 at ¶¶ 8-9. On October 30, 2017, Ms. Roberson also submitted a claim for the remaining 50% under the Policy. Dkt. #1 at ¶ 11. Shortly after Ms. Roberson submitted her claim, Plaintiff was notified by counsel for A.R. and her guardian, that they were disputing Ms. Roberson's status as a beneficiary under the Policy. Dkt. #1 at ¶ 11. According to Plaintiff, counsel for A.R. argued that Mr. Miller had failed to remove Ms. Roberson as a beneficiary under the Policy due to “mistake or oversight” and that under Washington statute RCW 11.07.010(2), which provides for the revocation of prior beneficiary designations upon termination of a marriage or state registered domestic partnership, Ms. Roberson was not entitled to recover under the Policy. Dkt. #1 at ¶ 11.

         On July 18, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant complaint for interpleader. Dkt. #1. Defendant A.R. subsequently filed her answer and crossclaim for declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Dkt. #16. On March 11, 2019, this Court issued an order granting Plaintiff's motion for judgment in interpleader and discharging Plaintiff from this action. Dkt. # 22. Ms. Roberson filed this motion for summary judgment against Defendant A.R. on June 4, 2019. Dkt. #27. Defendant A.R. has not submitted an opposition to Ms. Roberson's motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets the initial burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000).

         However, the court need not, and will not, “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also White v. McDonnell-Douglas Corp., 904 F.2d 456, 458 (8th Cir. 1990) (the court need not “speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obliged to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim”). The opposing party must present significant and probative evidence to support its claim or defense. Intel Corp. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 F.2d 1551, 1558 (9th Cir. 1991).

         For reasons not apparent from the record, Defendant A. R. does not oppose Ms. Roberson's motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) authorizes a court considering an unopposed summary judgment motion to treat an assertion of fact from the moving party as undisputed. Under Local Rule CR 7(b)(2) the court may treat a party's failure to oppose a motion “as an admission that the motion has merit.” A court cannot, however, grant a summary judgment motion merely because it is unopposed, even where its local rules might permit it. Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 949- 50 (9th Cir. 1993). The Court may only grant summary judgment if “the motion and supporting materials ... show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In her motion for summary judgment, Ms. Roberson argues that Defendant A.R. has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Dkt. #27 at 7. Ms. Roberson first contends that the Washington statute, RCW 11.07.010(2), referenced in Minnesota Life's complaint for interpleader, does not extend beyond formal marriages or state registered domestic partnerships. Dkt. #27 at 4-5. Ms. Roberson also argues that she is entitled to summary judgment on Defendant A.R.'s crossclaim because Defendant A.R. has provided no admissible evidence to support her allegation that Mr. Miller intended to disinherit Ms. Roberson. Dkt. #27 at 5-7.

         A. Applicability of ...


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