United States District Court, D. Nevada
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT JASON CORNILLES' MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 41)
P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MetLife brings this interpleader action to determine the
correct beneficiary for $86, 000 from a life insurance policy
of decedent Maria Lopez. The contestants are Lopez's
mother, Bonnie Fisher, and friend, Jason
Cornilles. Cornilles was listed as the primary
beneficiary for the 2014 plan year. Lopez changed the primary
beneficiary to Fisher in October 2014, but the change did not
take effect until January 1, 2015. Lopez died in December
2014. Cornilles moves for summary judgment, arguing that he
was the primary beneficiary of record at the time of
Lopez's death and that any further inquiry into
Lopez's possible intent to change beneficiaries
contravenes ERISA and the plan documents.
plan documents do not preclude an inquiry into intent when
there are serious questions as to whether Lopez intended to
make her change to the beneficiary of record effective
immediately. The evidence on the record raises a genuine
issue of material fact on that question. I therefore deny
Cornilles' motion for summary judgment.
2014, Lopez was enrolled in a group life insurance policy
through her employer, Newmont, that was funded by MetLife.
ECF No. 1 at 2. Lopez designated Cornilles as her sole
primary beneficiary for plan year 2014. Fisher was listed as
the sole contingent beneficiary. ECF No. 43 at 2.
October 27, 2014, Lopez used Newmont's online software to
change the beneficiary designation to make Fisher the primary
beneficiary and Cornilles the contingent beneficiary. The
parties agree that the information Lopez entered was applied
to the 2015 benefit year. ECF No. 42 at 2. Newmont reported
to MetLife, however, that it is uncertain whether the
software interface made it clear to Lopez that the change
would not take effect until January 1. See ECF No.
39-1 at 134 ("It may have been [Lopez's] intentions
to update her beneficiary to be effective immediately"
because the software did not "have a notification
clearly posted to notify the employee she would only be
updating the 2015 Basic Life Plan.").
died on December 14, 2014.
judgment shall be granted when "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). The
moving party "has the initial burden of showing the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact."
Pioneer Chlor Alkali Co., Inc. v. Nat'l Union Fire
Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 863 F.Supp. 1237, 1239 (D.
Nev. 1994) (citations omitted). "A material issue of
fact is one that affects the outcome of the litigation and
requires a trial to resolve the differing version of
events." Id. (citations omitted). Once the
moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden shifts
to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.
(citations omitted). The non-moving party "may not rely
on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific
evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery
material, to show that the dispute exists." Bhan v.
NMEHosp., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991).
argues that ERISA requires that plan documents define who the
beneficiary is, and the plan documents here direct that plan
proceeds go to the "beneficiary on record." He also
argues that he was and remained the beneficiary for the 2014
plan year, and Lopez did not "substantially comply"
with the necessary procedures to change the beneficiary for
the 2014 plan year. Fisher agrees that the plan documents
control, but contends that the document defines
"beneficiary" as any "person . . . whom [the
participant] wish[es] to receive the benefits, " which
permits an inquiry into whether that intent was thwarted.
See ECF No. 1-1 at 5.
plan documents suggest that beneficiary changes will take
effect immediately. They say: "You may change your
beneficiary at any time. To do so, You must send a Signed and
dated, Written request to the Policyholder using a form
satisfactory to Us. . . . When We receive the change, it will
take effect as of the date You Signed it." Id.
at 102. If anything, then, Lopez's default expectation
under the plan document would be that her beneficiary change
would take effect immediately. A Newmont representative wrote
to MetLife that the software did not "have a
notification clearly posted to notify the employee she would
only be updating the 2015 Basic Life Plan." See
ECF No. 39-1 at 134. The evidence is unclear as to what Lopez
actually saw on Newmont's software interface when she
made the beneficiary change. This information, along with
circumstantial evidence that both parties offer as to
Lopez's mental state at the time, could be important to
resolve whether Lopez intended the change to be effective
argues that even if Lopez's intent is relevant, she did
not "substantially comply" with the required
procedure for changing the 2014 beneficiary. The
"substantial compliance" doctrine requires a
beneficiary to "(1) evidence his or her intent to make
the change and (2) attempt to effectuate the change by
undertaking positive action which is for all practical
purposes similar to the action required by the change of
beneficiary provisions of the policy." Fortis
Benefits Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 966 F.Supp. 987, 990 (D.
Nev. 1997), affd, 152 F.3d 925 (9th Cir. 1998). The main case
Cornilles offers where the court found the policyholder
failed to substantially comply involved clear omissions from
which a court could reasonably find the policyholder did not
actually intend to follow through on the change. See
Ohran v. Sierra Health and Life Ins. Co., 895 P.2d 1321
(Nev. 1995) (policyholder completed form, but did not date or
send to employer); cf. Fortis, 966 F.Supp. 987
(policyholder substantially complied where he sent letter
requesting change to insurer, even though he failed to return
official form). There remain genuine issues of material fact
as to whether Lopez intended the beneficiary change to take
effect immediately, as well as what a factfinder can infer
from what Lopez saw on the Newmont software interface.
Summary judgment is therefore inappropriate.
THEREFORE ORDERED that Jason Cornilles' motion for