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Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Hoenstine

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

September 13, 2017

METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO., Plaintiff,
v.
PHYLLIS HOENSTINE, MARCUS W. MILLARD and R.S.H. (a minor), Defendants. PHYLLIS HOENSTINE and R.S.H. (a minor), Cross-Plaintiffs/Counter-Defendants,
v.
MARCUS W. MILLARD, Cross-Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          Denise Page Hood Chief, U.S. District Court

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“Metropolitan Life”) filed this interpleader action on April 15, 2014 against Phyllis Hoenstine, the decedent's sister, Marcus W. Millard, a caretaker, and R.S.H., the decedent's minor grandson. All three defendants made claims for the proceeds of the decedent Robert Hynds' life insurance benefits under a group life insurance policy issued by Metropolitan Life through Hynds' employer, General Motors. The life insurance benefit was part of the General Motors Life and Disability Program (the “Plan”), an employee welfare benefit plan regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.

         Hynds died on July 22, 2013. The primary beneficiary of record pursuant to the latest designation form dated December 3, 2011 is Millard. In a prior March 9, 2008 beneficiary designation form, Hoenstine, the decedent's sister, and R.S.H., the decedent's grandson, were named as primary beneficiaries. Metropolitan Life sent letters to Hoenstine, R.S.H. and Millard indicating their claims were adverse to one another and that Metropolitan Life could not resolve the issue without exposing the Plan to the danger of double liability. Metropolitan Life deposited the proceeds of the insurance policy into the Court and was dismissed from this action.

         The case then proceeded on Hoenstine's claim that Millard had falsified the change of beneficiary forms filed by decedent or that Millard had unduly influenced decedent to change the insurance policy beneficiary. Pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         II. JURISDICTION

         The jurisdiction of the Court is not in dispute.

         III. FINDINGS OF FACTS

         Decedent and policyholder Hynds lived alone and was blind. He was in need of physical care and help with his daily meals and other affairs. For a time, Hoenstine's son, Steve Hoenstine, took care of Hynds. When her son took care of Hynds, Hoenstine and R.S.H. would visit her brother and Hynds would play with R.S.H. R.S.H.'s mother, Hynds' daughter, died when R.S.H. was two years old. R.S.H. lived with Hynds until R.S.H. was four years old. R.S.H. was ten years old when Hynds died.

         Hoenstine claims that Hynds told her that the insurance money should go to R.H.S. Hoenstine was familiar with Hynds' signature, but she did not recognize the signature on the Metropolitan Life forms shown to her at trial.

         In July 2011, Millard came to help Hynds and lived with Hynds for about six months until January 2012. Millard was a friend of Steve, Hynds' nephew and previous caregiver. Millard's fiancée and children also stayed at Hynds' home some of this time, although Millard claims his children never lived at the home. Hynds paid Millard and his fiancée approximately $900 per month for caring for him. Millard would read Hynds' mail to him, which were mostly bills. Hynds saved his records in folders. Millard, his fiancée, his mother, Katherine Millard, and some of Hynds' friends would drive Hynds to do his errands. Millard would take Hynds to the bank when Hynds got paid, which was twice a month. Millard paid his bills in cash. Millard's mother would drive Hynds and Millard around town to pay Hynds' bills and buy cigarettes. Millard cleaned and cooked Hynds' meals. Millard was able to shower himself. Millard claims he was not interested in Hynds' money.

         Millard did not see Hynds fill out the two beneficiary forms. Millard was not present when Hynds signed the forms. Millard does not know how Hynds possessed the beneficiary forms. Millard claims that Hynds was capable of signing forms if his hand was placed on the signature line. Hynds had signed forms for nurses who visited him. Millard asserts he does not know what Hynds' signature looks like.

         Hoenstine did not feel comfortable at Hynds' home when Millard, his fiancée and children lived there. She visited her brother a couple of times while Millard lived there, but would not stay for very long. Hoenstine initially had the ability to call her brother, until Millard took the telephone away from her brother.

         Hoenstine claims that Millard fraudulently executed a new beneficiary on Hynds' insurance policy or unduly influenced him to change the policy beneficiary during the time Millard lived with and cared for him. Millard asserts that he was only a “helper” and never assisted him in changing the beneficiary. Millard claims he had no knowledge of the beneficiary designation until ...


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