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Smith v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 5, 2014

MARY JOSEPHINE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MARGARET SMITH, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge.

On March 27, 2013, plaintiff Mary Josephine Smith ("plaintiff") commenced this action against defendant Margaret Smith ("defendant") pursuant to this Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). On June 4, 2013, plaintiff filed an amended complaint against defendant asserting claims seeking, inter alia, damages for unjust enrichment, conversion, misrepresentation and promissory estoppel. Defendant now moves pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for judgment on the pleadings, or, in the alternative, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint. For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion is granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

Plaintiff is a citizen of the State of Virginia and is the surviving spouse of Edward Joseph Smith, Jr. ("decedent"). (Amended Complaint ["Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2; Answer ["Ans."] ¶ 1). Defendant is a citizen of the State of New York and is the mother of decedent. (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 3-4; Ans., ¶ 1).

Decedent was a special agent with the former United States Customs Service ("USCS"), subsequently consolidated into the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE")[2], until his death on October 15, 2012. (Amend. Compl., ¶ 7; Ans., ¶ 4). Pursuant to decedent's federal employment, he was provided with a Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Policy ("the FEGLI policy"). (Amend. Compl., ¶ 8; Ans., ¶ 4). In 1992, prior to meeting plaintiff, decedent designated his parents, defendant and Edward Smith Sr., as beneficiaries of the FEGLI policy ("the 1992 Designation of Beneficiary"). (Amend. Compl., ¶ 9; Ans., ¶ 4). Edward Smith Sr. predeceased decedent, (Amend. Compl., ¶ 10; Ans., ¶4), leaving defendant as the sole beneficiary of the FEGLI policy pursuant to the 1992 Designation of Beneficiary.

Plaintiff and decedent were married in 2000. (Amend. Compl., ¶ 11; Ans., ¶ 4).

Plaintiff alleges that in July 2001, decedent "executed and submitted to USCS an updated Designation of Beneficiary form designating [her] as beneficiary of the FEGLI Policy" ("the 2001 Designation of Beneficiary"). (Amend. Compl., ¶ 12). At that time, decedent "was working for USCS at the Special Agent in Charge (SAC') principal field office located at the World Trade Center complex." (Amend. Compl., ¶ 13; Ans., ¶ 6 ["[U]pon information and belief, in July 2001 Decedent was working for the [USCS] as a Special Agent in Charge * * *, and * * * the principal field office was located at the World Trade Center complex.") According to plaintiff, decedent's "close friend and fellow Supervisory Special Agent Frank J. Benicasa (Benicasa'), witnessed [him] sign [the 2001] beneficiary forms[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 14), as did his "co-worker and fellow Special Agent, Howard Lam (Lam') * * *[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 17). Plaintiff alleges, "[u]pon information and belief, " that "at the time" decedent told Benicasa (a) "that the beneficiary forms designated Plaintiff as the beneficiary of the FEGLI Policy[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 15), and (b) "that the [2001] beneficiary form was properly submitted to USCS[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 16). In addition, plaintiff alleges, "[u]pon information and belief, [that] Benicasa and Decedent had numerous conversations in the following years concerning Plaintiff being the beneficiary under the FEGLI Policy." (Amend. Compl., ¶ 19). Plaintiff further alleges that decedent told her "at the time" "that he executed and submitted to USCS Designation of Beneficiary forms designating her beneficiary under the FEGLI Policy." (Amend. Compl., ¶ 18).

Plaintiff alleges that after decedent was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2011, they "had extensive conversations regarding [their] finances in which [he] stated [she] was the beneficiary of the FEGLI Policy, " (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 20-21), and that in 2012, decedent "spoke with Benicasa regarding assisting Plaintiff and their two young daughters with the finances of his estate upon his death[] "* * * [and] again reiterated that Plaintiff was designated to receive the FEGLI Policy benefits." (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 22-23).

Upon decedent's death, the federal Office of Personal Management ("OPM") informed plaintiff, through her financial advisor, that the only FEGLI Designation of Beneficiary form that it was able to locate was the 1992 Designation of Beneficiary designating defendant as the beneficiary of the FEGLI policy. (Amend. Compl., ¶ 24; Ans., ¶ 10). On or about November 6, 2012, plaintiff and defendant had a conversation in which: (1) plaintiff informed defendant of the purported loss of the 2001 Designation of Beneficiary, (Amend. Compl. ¶ 25; Ans., ¶ 11), and (2) defendant allegedly (a) "represented to Plaintiff that [she] would expedite the processing of the FEGLI Policy and turn over the proceeds to Plaintiff so that Plaintiff could care and provide for her daughters[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 26), and (b) "suggested that Plaintiff not attempt to delay the processing of the FEGLI Policy by raising the issue of Plaintiff being the correct beneficiary because it would just delay the release of the proceeds and thereby delay Defendant's release of the proceeds to Plaintiff[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 27). According to plaintiff, "[i]n reliance upon Defendant's promises and representations and their family relationship, [she] did not stop the release of the proceeds of the FEGLI Policy to Defendant and informed the Decedent's financial advisor to provide Defendant's address to the person processing the FEGLI Policy[, ] * * * [and] [she] submitted a death certificate in support of the release of the FEGLI Policy proceeds." (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 28-29).

Defendant received the full proceeds of the FEGLI Policy in the amount of approximately four hundred ninety-two thousand dollars ($492, 000.00), (Amend. Compl., ¶ 30; Ans., ¶ 14), and has refused to pay to plaintiff any of those proceeds, (Amend. Compl., ¶ 31; Ans., ¶ 14).

B. Procedural History

On March 27, 2013, plaintiff commenced this action against defendant pursuant to this Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). On June 4, 2013, plaintiff filed an amended complaint against defendant asserting claims seeking, inter alia, damages and the imposition of a constructive trust on all of the proceeds defendant received from the FEGLI policy based upon theories of unjust enrichment (first claim for relief), (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 32-38); conversion (second claim for relief), (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 39-47); misrepresentation (third claim for relief), (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 48-53); and promissory estoppel (fourth claim for relief), (Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 54-59). With respect to her unjust enrichment claim, plaintiff alleges, inter alia: (1) that she "was the rightful and intended beneficiary of the FEGLI Policy and the proceeds of such Policy[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 33); (2) that defendant "knowingly received and retained the proceeds of the FEGLI Policy that were properly due to Plaintiff[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 34); (3) that "[a]s a result of Defendant's wrongful conduct, Defendant has been unjustly enriched by the payment of the FEGLI Policy to the detriment of Plaintiff[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 35); (4) that defendant's "unjust enrichment is traceable to, and resulted directly and proximately from, the conduct alleged [in the amended complaint][, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 36); and (5) that "pit is inequitable for Defendant to be permitted to retain the benefits she received and retained, without justification, from the proceeds of the FEGLI Policy, and her retention of such funds constitutes unjust enrichment[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 37).

With respect to her conversion claim, plaintiff alleges, inter cilia: (1) that she (a) "has a possessory right and interest in the proceeds of the FEGLI Policy[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 40), and (b) "is entitled to immediate possession of th[o]se proceeds[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 44); (2) that defendant's "dominion over the FEGLI Policy and interference with it is in derogation of Plaintiff's rights[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 41); and (3) that defendant (a) "has wrongfully assumed and exercised the right of ownership over the proceeds of the FEGLI Policy, in hostility to the rights of Plaintiff, without legal justification and despite being informed that she had no right to those proceeds[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 42), (b) "intends to permanently deprive Plaintiff of th[o]se proceeds[, ]" (Amend. Compl., ¶ 43), ...


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