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Globe Life & Accident Insurance Co. v. Sturrock

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

May 22, 2017

GLOBE LIFE & ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERRY STURROCK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Joel C. Hoppe United States Magistrate Judge

         This interpleader action concerns the competing claims of Defendant Sherry Sturrock and of Defendants Ken Biggs, Malinda Biggs, Frank Biggs, and Iva Biggs-Gordon (collectively, the “Biggs Defendants”) to the proceeds of Peggy Phillips's life insurance policy held with Plaintiff Globe Life & Accident Insurance Company (“Globe”).[1] The dispute centers around two change-of-beneficiary letters signed by Phillips on November 5, 2015, one naming the Biggs Defendants as equal beneficiaries of Phillips's life insurance policy, and the other naming Sturrock as the sole beneficiary of the policy. Pl. Exs. 8, 10, ECF Nos. 1-8, 1-10. Sturrock and the Biggs Defendants are proceeding pro se.

         Before the Court is Sturrock's motion for summary judgment. Sturrock Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 21. The Biggs Defendants filed a response in opposition, ECF No. 29, and Sturrock filed a reply, ECF No. 30. Sturrock's motion has been fully briefed, neither party requested a hearing, and the Court has determined that oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will deny Sturrock's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Globe instituted an Interpleader Complaint against Sturrock and the Biggs Defendants on May 10, 2016, requesting that the Court resolve competing claims to the life insurance proceeds of a single life insurance policy held by Peggy Phillips. Pl. Interpleader Compl., ECF No. 1. The Biggs Defendants are Phillips's children, and Sturrock is Phillips's former daughter-in-law, having at one time been married to Frank Biggs. Sturrock Ex. 10, at 1, ECF No. 21-10.

         Globe initially issued a $10, 000 life insurance policy to Phillips on November 7, 1994. Pl. Ex. 2, at 1-10, ECF No. 1-2. The policy was given the identification number 00-B641002, and Phillips named Frank Biggs as the designated beneficiary. Id. at 1. The policy had an expiry date of November 7, 2014, but Phillips had the option of purchasing a new term insurance policy to continue her insurance coverage if the original policy continued in force to the expiry date. Id. at 5. On February 7, 1997, in response to Phillips's request to increase her coverage from $15, 000 to $20, 000, Globe issued a term life insurance rider in the amount of $5, 000. Id. at 11- 17. The rider had the same policy number, expiry date, beneficiary, and terms as the original policy. Id. On August 25, 2008, Phillips submitted a change of beneficiary form to Globe, requesting that Ken Biggs be designated the primary beneficiary and Malinda Biggs be designated the contingent beneficiary on her life insurance policy. Pl. Ex. 3, ECF No. 1-3. On September 4, 2013, Globe notified Phillips that it had, as Phillips requested, changed the beneficiary of her policy to Lisa Cashin, Pl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1-4, who was Frank Biggs's girlfriend at the time, Sturrock Ex. 10, at 1.

         On November 8, 2014, Phillips renewed her policy, which Globe assigned a different policy number (00-6R94321). Pl. Ex. 5, ECF No. 1-5. Sherry Sturrock was the designated beneficiary. Id. Although the renewed policy had a different identification number, it was essentially an extension of Phillips's original policy with the same terms and benefits, Pl. Interpleader Compl. ¶¶ 16-17; Sturrock Ex. 9, at 2, ECF No. 21-9, insuring Phillips for $20, 000 for a period set to expire on November 8, 2034, Pl. Ex. 5, at 5. On February 17, 2015, Globe notified Phillips that it had, per her request, changed the beneficiary of her policy to Iva Biggs. Pl. Ex. 6, ECF No. 1-6. On March 9, 2015, in response to Phillips's inquiry regarding the status of her policy, Globe confirmed that Iva Biggs was the primary beneficiary of the policy and that there were no other beneficiaries. Pl. Ex. 7, ECF No. 1-7.

         On November 5, 2015, Phillips signed two change-of-beneficiary letters, and they were mailed together to Globe. One letter requested that Globe change the beneficiary on policy number 00-B641002 to her four children, Ken Biggs, Malinda Biggs, Frank Biggs, and Iva Biggs-Gordon, in equal shares. Pl. Ex. 8. The other letter requested that Globe change the beneficiary on policy number 00-6R94321 to Sherry Sturrock. Pl. Ex. 10. Other than the identified policy number and the listed beneficiaries, these letters are substantially the same. Globe responded to both letters. In a reply dated November 17, 2015, Globe notified Phillips that it had changed the primary beneficiaries on policy number 00-6R94321 to her four children to reflect her request. Pl. Ex. 9, ECF No. 1-9. In a reply dated November 18, 2015, Globe notified Phillips that it had changed the primary beneficiary on that same policy-number 00-6R94321- to Sherry Sturrock to reflect her request. Pl. Ex. 11, ECF No. 1-11. Phillips made no further changes in beneficiary. On December 3, 2015, Phillips and Sturrock signed a letter in which Sturrock agreed to pay Malinda Biggs $2, 500.00 “that was saved by [Phillips] for Malinda.” Sturrock Ex. 11, ECF No. 21-12.

         On January 8, 2016, Phillips died, after which Globe received claims to the proceeds of policy number 00-6R94321 from both Sturrock and the Biggs Defendants. Pl. Interpleader Compl. ¶¶ 24-25. As a result of these competing claims, Globe moved to deposit the funds with the Court, ECF No. 4, and neither Sturrock nor the Biggs Defendants objected. As such, Globe deposited the insurance proceeds in the amount of $20, 471.78 with the Court on October 27, 2016. ECF No. 27. Globe was then terminated from this action. In the intervening time, on September 12, 2016, Sturrock filed her motion for summary judgment.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Applicable Law

         In this diversity action, the Court applies federal law to determine questions of procedural law and the law of the forum state to determine questions of substantive law. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Overlook, LLC, 785 F.Supp.2d 502, 511-12 (E.D. Va. 2011) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). The Court applies the choice-of-law rules of the jurisdiction in which it sits-in this case, Virginia. Elec. Motor & Contracting Co. v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Am., __ F.Supp.3d __, 2017 WL 385043, at *4 (E.D. Va. Jan. 27, 2017) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)). Under Virginia's choice-of-law rules for insurance contracts, the law of the forum in which the contract is written and delivered controls. Buchanan v. Doe, 431 S.E.2d 289, 291 (Va. 1993). Here, there is no dispute that the policy at issue was acquired by and delivered to Phillips while she lived in Virginia, and thus Virginia law controls. See Elec. Motor & Contracting Co., 2017 WL 385043, at *4.

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if “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); Tolan v. Cotton, __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam). Facts are material when they “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute over a material fact exists if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the ...


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