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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Kelly

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 17, 2017

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
Deborah Kelly; Edith Barnett; Shirley Conner-Barnett; M-B-M, a minor; and O.H. Pye III Funeral Home, Inc., Defendants.

          DAVID R. GRAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING SHIRLEY CONNER-BARNETT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [37]

          HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This case was brought via interpleader in response to a dispute over a decedent's life insurance benefits. The cross-claimants dispute whether the decedent's modifications of his life insurance beneficiary were invalid due to lack of capacity or undue influence. Pending before the Court is Shirley Conner-Barnett's, the final beneficiary, Motion for Summary Judgment [37]. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT summary judgment.

         II. Factual Background

         James Barnett, Jr. (hereinafter “Mr. Barnett”), was born on November 21, 1943. Dkt. No. 5-9, p. 2 (Pg. ID 168). Mr. Barnett worked for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. LLC (hereinafter “Fiat”) and eventually retired. Dkt. No. 5, p. 3 (Pg. ID 118). Mr. Barnett secured life insurance coverage through Fiat Group Life Insurance Plan (the “Plan”). Id. Metropolitan Life Insurance (“MetLife”) is a fiduciary and is responsible for administering the Plan in accordance with The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Id.

         Throughout his life, Mr. Barnett struggled with alcohol abuse and also suffered from hypertension and diabetes. Dkt. No. 39-2. On December 1, 2014, Detroit Police reported to Mr. Barnett's residence. Dkt. No. 5-13, p. 2 (Pg. ID 179). According to the police report, Mr. Barnett fired one shot into the drivers-side window of his own vehicle, believing that he saw someone in his vehicle. Id. Mr. Barnett also stated to officers that there was a woman seated at a table in his home and that an unknown man was in the rear of his home. Id. However, the officers did not see either of the people Mr. Barnett described. Id.

         The officers confiscated Mr. Barnett's gun, a black .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol. Dkt. No. 5-13, p. 3 (Pg. ID 180). Later, the police transported Mr. Barnett to the hospital. Dkt. No. 39-2, p. 3 (Pg. ID 358). At that time, medical notes indicated that Mr. Barnett did not have any hearing or visual problems. Id. Additionally, Mr. Barnett denied having any visual hallucinations. The doctors scheduled a series of medications. Id. As best as the Court can tell, all medications seemed to address Mr. Barnett's diabetes and hypertension.

         On July 16, 2015, Detroit Police again reported to Mr. Barnett's residence. Dkt. No. 5-13, p. 4 (Pg. ID 181). According to the police report, Deborah Kelly, Mr. Barnett's girlfriend, visited him. Id. When Ms. Kelly left, Mr. Barnett realized that his wallet and his gun, a black Smith & Wesson .40 caliber pistol, were missing. Id. The police report states that Ms. Kelly took the gun to secure it. Id.

         Mr. Barnett passed away on October 15, 2015 at the age of 71. Dkt. No. 5-9, p.2 (Pg. ID 168). He left behind six children, at least one grandchild, an ex-wife, and a long-term girlfriend. At the time of his death, Mr. Barnett earned life insurance benefits in the amount of $27, 488.00. On October 30, 2015, Shirley Conner-Barnett executed a funeral home assignment in the amount of $12, 534.54 for Mr. Barnett's funeral expenses at O.H. Pye, III Funeral Home. Dkt. No. 5-15, p. 2 (Pg. ID 194).

         Shortly after Mr. Barnett's death, MetLife received competing claims for Mr. Barnett's life insurance benefits. Dkt. No. 5, pp. 5-6 (Pg. ID 120-121). In the years leading up to his death, Mr. Barnett changed the beneficiary to his life insurance several times. The changes are as follows:

Date

Beneficiary's Name

Relationship

Channel

Share

7/17/2008

M-B-M

Grandchild

Web

100%

12/30/2011

Shirley Conner- Barnett

Ex-Spouse

Phone

100%

08/09/2013

Edith Garnett[1]

Child

Phone

100%

06/11/2015

Deborah Kelly

Girlfriend

Phone

100%

07/31/2015

Shirley Conner-Barnett

Ex-Spouse

Phone

100%

Dkt. No. 5-8, p. 3 (Pg. ID 165).

         On November 4, 2015, LaShawn Barnett, Mr. Barnett's daughter, alleged that Mr. Barnett suffered from alcoholic hallucinations at the time he changed the beneficiary from Deborah Kelly to his ex-wife Shirley Conner-Barnett. Id. MetLife brought this action, as an interpleader, to resolve the dispute among the potential beneficiaries. Although five potential beneficiaries are listed in this action, now, only two potential beneficiaries seem to make claims to the benefits: Shirley Conner-Barnett and Edith Garnett. Ms. Conner-Barnett filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 3, 2017. Only Edith Garnett responded to the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The pending motion for summary judgment and its response, raise two issues: (1) where the burden lies in prosecuting a motion for summary judgment; and (2) whether the evidence presented creates an issue of material fact with regard to the alleged undue influence.

         III. Legal Standard for a Motion ...


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