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METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO. v. JACKSON

August 9, 1995

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, against KAREN C. JACKSON and STEPHANIE R. JACKSON, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SONIA SOTOMAYOR

 SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S.D.J.

 In this interpleader action, plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"), requests that the court determine which of two women, Stephanie R. Jackson ("S.R. Jackson") or Karen C. Jackson ("K.C. Jackson"), is the legal widow of its insured, Robert B. Jackson. S.R. Jackson seeks a summary judgment declaration that she is the insured's lawful widow which is opposed by K.C. Jackson. MetLife does not oppose the motion for summary judgment, but seeks the costs and attorney's fees it incurred in connection with this interpleader action. For the reasons discussed below, S.R. Jackson's motion for summary judgment is granted, and MetLife's motion for costs and attorney's fees is granted to the extent consistent with this Opinion and Order.

 BACKGROUND

 At the time of his death on September 13, 1993, Robert B. Jackson (the "insured"), was covered by a Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Policy ("Policy"), which was issued to the United States Office of Personnel Management pursuant to the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act ("FEGLIA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8701-8716 (1994); 5 C.F.R. §§ 870-874 (1995). The insured failed to designate a beneficiary to the policy. Pursuant to FEGLIA guidelines, if no beneficiary has been named, the proceeds of the policy are payable to the insured's widow. Both S.R. Jackson and K.C. Jackson claim to be the insured's widow for purposes of payment of the proceeds which amount to $ 236,879, plus interest.

 The following facts are undisputed. S.R. Jackson married the insured in Bronx County on October 28, 1967, and has two children from that marriage. K.C. Jackson married the insured in Queens County on December 5, 1989. Both marriages are evidenced by copies of certificates of marriage.

 It is also undisputed that the insured was a resident of Bronx or Queens County at all times from the date of his first marriage, in 1967, until his death, in 1993. As to S.R. Jackson's domicile, she stated that she resided in Bronx County for this entire period and no evidence presented suggests otherwise. A search of the records of the counties in which S.R. Jackson and Robert B. Jackson resided revealed no official record of the dissolution of the S.R. Jackson marriage. K.C. Jackson asserts that the insured told her that S.R. Jackson had divorced him, but fails to present any records evidencing such divorce or other dissolution of the S.R. Jackson marriage. S.R. Jackson, the first wife, asserts that she never obtained any legal divorce, annulment or separation judgment against the insured, nor was she served with papers in any such action.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Summary Judgment

 Summary judgment is appropriate if, after drawing all reasonable inferences and ambiguities in the nonmovant's favor, no genuine issues of material fact exist and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. p. 56(c); Greene v. United States, 13 F.3d 577 (2d Cir. 1994). To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986), and may not rest upon mere "conclusory allegations" or denials but must set forth the facts in controversy that must be determined at trial. See National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. DeLoach, 708 F. Supp. 1371, 1379, (1989) (quoting R.G. Group, Inc. v. Horn and Hardart Co., 751 F.2d 69, 77 (2d Cir. 1984)). The nonmovant must offer "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). A court must then determine "whether a reasonable juror could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. A complete failure of proof on an essential element of the nonmoving party's case, on which such party bears the burden of proof at trial, renders all facts immaterial and entitles the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).

 In deciding whether to grant summary judgment "the nonmovant's allegations are taken as true and it receives the benefit of the doubt when its assertions conflict with those of the movant." Cruden v. Bank of New York, 957 F.2d 961, 975 (2d Cir. 1992). "If the nonmoving party could not prevail even if the factfinder accepts all of its evidence as true, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment." Pacific Northwest Venison Producers v. Smitch, 20 F.3d 1008, 1013 (9th Cir. 1994).

 II. Determination of the "Lawful Widow"

 Because the insured made no formal designation of a beneficiary, the proceeds of the policy are payable to the insured's "widow." 5 U.S.C. 8705(a). *fn1" Congress has defined widow to mean "the insured's lawful widow[]." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Manning, 568 F.2d 922, 926 (2d Cir. 1977); accord Spearman v. Spearman, 482 F.2d 1203, 1204-05 (5th Cir. 1973). To determine who qualifies as the "lawful widow," reference to state law is mandated since no federal domestic relations law exists. See, e.g., De Sylva v. Ballentine, 351 U.S. 570, 100 L. Ed. 1415, 76 S. Ct. 974 (1956); Spearman, 482 F.2d at 1204-5; Tatum v. Tatum, 241 F.2d 401 (9th Cir. 1957).

 In the instant case, New York law applies because the insured was a New York resident when he died. Spearman, 481 F.2d at 1205 (domicile of insured at time of death governs choice of law for determining which of two conflicting marriages is valid); see also Manning, 568 F.2d at 926 (same); Grove v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 271 ...


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