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Hartford Life Insurance Co. v. Einhorn

September 19, 2006

HARTFORD LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KATHRYN EINHORN, AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF CLAIRE A. MEHRING, DECEASED, KATHRYN EINHORN, INDIVIDUALLY, CHRISTOPHER MEHRING, EDMOND MEHRING, AND MAUREEN CURRAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District J.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

The plaintiff Hartford Life Insurance Company ("Hartford" or the "plaintiff") brought this action against Kathryn Einhorn, as Executrix of the Estate of Claire A. Mehring, deceased (the "Estate"), Kathyrn Einhorn individually ("Kathryn Einhorn"), Christopher Mehring, Edmond Mehring, and Maureen Curran (collectively, the "pro se defendants") pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.("ERISA") , and the federal interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335. Kathryn Einhorn and Maureen Curran are nieces of Claire A. Mehring (the "decedent"); Edmund P. Mehring and Christopher Mehring are nephews of the decedent.

The plaintiff seeks an order (1) authorizing and directing the plaintiff to deposit the proceeds of a group life insurance policy it issued into the Court registry pursuant to Rule 67 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P."); (2) requiring the defendants to interplead and settle between themselves their conflicting claims to the sum to be deposited with the Court and discharging the plaintiff of any potential future liability with respect to that sum pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335; and (3) enjoining the defendants from instituting or prosecuting any proceeding in any Court affecting the proceeds of the life insurance policy or the policy itself without further order of the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2361. The Estate and the pro se defendants have filed separate counter-claims against the plaintiff. By their counter-claims, the pro se defendants seek an order from the Court directing the plaintiff to disburse the life-insurance policy benefits to them pursuant to the decedent's original beneficiary designation form; the Estate seeks an order directing the payment of the benefits to it in accordance with a purported later-executed beneficiary change form.

Presently there are two motions before the Court. The plaintiff has made a motion for an Order (1) granting it summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 and dismissing all counterclaims against it; (2) permitting it to deposit the sum of $50,000 into the Registry of the Court pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 67; and (3) enjoining the defendants from instituting or prosecuting any state or federal proceeding affecting the $50,000 without leave of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2361. Only the pro se defendants oppose this motion.

The Estate has made a cross-motion for summary judgment directing that the proceeds of the insurance policy underwritten by the plaintiff be paid to Kathryn Einhorn, as executrix of the estate of Claire A. Mehring. The plaintiff takes no position concerning the merits of the other defendants' competing claims to the life insurance policy benefits. However, the plaintiff opposes the Estate's motion for summary judgment to the extent that it believes that an order directing it to pay the life insurance benefits to the Estate will cause it to remain subject to the competing claims of the pro se defendants and to remain in this litigation. The pro se defendants have not filed any formal opposition to the Estate's motion, although it is clear that they do disagree with the position of the Estate.

I. BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are not in dispute. The plaintiff had in force a group life insurance policy issued to Swiss Re American Holding Corporation ("Swiss Re") as a policy holder (the "Policy"). The Policy afforded life insurance coverage to eligible employees of Swiss Re. The decedent was employed by Swiss Re from an unspecified date until the time of her retirement on June 30, 1995. Before the decedent retired on June 30, 1995, she was covered under the Policy as an "employee" of Swiss Re. After her retirement in 1995, the decedent became covered under the Policy as a "retired employee." As a retired employee, the decedent retained life insurance benefits under the Policy. However, the decedent's benefits were less than her benefits before she retired, and were subject to certain yearly reductions. As of July 1, 1999, the decedent's retirement benefits entitled her to twenty-five percent of her benefits at the time of her retirement. When she retired, the decedent's benefits equaled $200,000. Thus, on July 1, 1999, the decedent's benefit was $50,000. Under the terms of the Policy, this $50,000 represented the minimum amount that the decedents insurance benefits could be reduced to.

On June 25, 2003, Claire A. Mehring died. In the probate proceeding in the Surrogate's Court of Suffolk County, a dispute arose between the Estate and the pro se defendants regarding the proper distribution of the life insurance funds from Hartford. The pro se defendants claim to be entitled to the insurance proceeds under the decedent's initially executed beneficiary designation form signed by the decedent and dated December 12, 1991 (the "Original Designation"). The Original Designation indicates that Kathryn Mehring Einhorn, Edmund P. Mehring, Christopher T. Mehring, and Maureen Mehring Curran are each twenty-five percent beneficiaries of the Policy. Thus, under the Original Designation, the pro se defendants would each be entitled to $12,500.

The Estate contends that it is entitled to one-hundred percent of the proceeds of the Policy pursuant to a subsequently executed, although undated, change of beneficiary form (the "Beneficiary Change"). Apparently, if the proceeds of the Policy are paid to the Estate, the decedent's will would dictate that these monies pass to the pro se defendants in percentages different from those delineated by the Original Designation. Under the Beneficiary Change, Kathryn Einhorn is entitled to fifty-percent of the sum, and the remaining beneficiaries would get some amount less than the twenty-five percent that they would be entitled to under the Original Designation.

On June 30, 2004, the plaintiff commenced this action, seeking to deposit the proceeds of the Policy with the Court and to be excused from further involvement in the defendants' resolution of their competing claims.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2550, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Once the moving party demonstrates that no material facts are genuinely in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, "the non-movant must 'set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Weinstock v. Columbia University, 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505); Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

By Local Rule, "any represented party moving for summary judgment against a party proceeding pro se shall serve and file as a separate document, together with the papers in support of the motion, a 'Notice To Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion For Summary Judgment.' " Local Rule 56.2. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that a party acting pro se understands its burden in responding to a motion for summary judgment, and the consequences of failing to do so. The failure to include a Rule 56.2 Statement with a motion for summary judgment is grounds for the denial of the motion if it is not otherwise clear from the record that the pro se litigant understood the nature of the summary judgment motion. See Vital v. Interfaith Medical Ctr., 168 F.3d 615, 620-21 (2d Cir.1999); M.B. # 11072-054 v. Reish, 119 F.3d 230, 232 ...


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