United States District Court, D. Nevada
before the court is defendant Petra Wilson's motion for
summary judgment. (ECF No. 61). Defendant Faith Lee filed a
response (ECF No. 62), to which Wilson replied (ECF No. 64).
before the court is Lee's motion for summary judgment.
(ECF No. 66). Wilson filed a response (ECF No. 68), to which
Lee replied (ECF No. 70).
instant case arises from competing claims to Rex Wilson's
(“the decedent”) life insurance policy for $125,
000 (“the death benefit”). (ECF No. 1). The
claimants are Faith Lee, the decedent's mother, and Petra
Wilson, the decedent's wife. Id.
The decedent's Veterans Group Life Insurance
Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”) is a
private insurance carrier that provided Group Life insurance
benefits pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 1965 et seq.,
the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance statute
(“the SGLI statute”), to the United States
Department of Veterans Affairs (“the SGLI plan”).
Id. As a member of the United States Marine Corps,
the decedent was eligible for coverage under the SGLI plan,
which later provided him with VGLI coverage. Id.
beneficiary designation or change is subject to the
provisions of 38 U.S.C. §§ 1970 and 1977 as well as
38 C.F.R. § 9.4. Under 38 U.S.C. § 1977(d),
“[a]ny amount of [VGLI] in force on any person on the
date of such person's death shall be paid, upon the
establishment of a valid claim therefor, pursuant to the
provisions of section 1970 of this title.” According to
38 U.S.C. § 1970(a), “[a]ny amount of insurance
under this subchapter in force . . . on the date of the
insured's death shall be paid, upon the establishment of
a valid claim therefor, to the person or persons surviving at
the date of the insured's death, ” starting with
“the beneficiary or beneficiaries as the member or
former member may have designated by a writing received prior
to death . . . in the administrative office.”
statutory language comports with the SGLI statute's
requirement that “any designation of beneficiary or
beneficiaries for [VGLI] to be effective must be a writing
signed by the insured and received prior to death by the
administrative office.” 38 U.S.C. § 1977(d). While
“[a] change of beneficiary may be made at any time and
without the knowledge or consent of the previous beneficiary,
” “[a]ny designation of beneficiary . . . will
remain in effect until properly changed by the member or
canceled automatically.” 38 C.F.R. § 9.4.
about December 29, 2005, the decedent designated Wilson as
the sole primary VGLI beneficiary via the VGLI website
(“the first designation”). Id.
February of 2016, after twenty-eight years of marriage, the
decedent and Wilson separated. (ECF Nos. 61, 62). Wilson
alleges that after their separation, the decedent
“began spiraling out of control.” (ECF No. 68).
She claims that he exhibited “drastic changes and
uncharacteristic behaviors, ” including losing weight
due to an antihistamine addiction; falling asleep during
conversations; speaking with invisible people; telling his
boss and neighbors he had a terminal illness when he did not;
losing his job and living out of his car; using the water
hose in her front yard to shower; ringing her doorbell and
texting or calling her at all hours and leaving incoherent
voicemails; defecating in her driveway and throwing a bag of
feces from his car into the street in front of her house;
stealing and pawning personal and family items; and
“prostituting himself on Craigslist to other men and
transsexuals.” (ECF No. 68 at 5-6). Wilson alleges that
the decedent was addicted to drugs, alcohol, and gambling.
Id. at 6.
the marital separation, Lee supported her son, the decedent,
financially. (ECF No. 62 at Ex. A, Ex. F). Lee alleges that
based on discussions with the decedent, she came to
understand that he would pay her back for the money loaned to
him during this time. (ECF No. 62 at Ex. A). Lee further
alleges that in September of 2017, the decedent contacted her
to verify her social security number so that he could
designate her as a beneficiary under his VGLI coverage.
October 4, 2016, the decedent contacted Prudential via phone
to inquire about adding his mother as a beneficiary under his
VGLI coverage. (ECF No. 66, Ex. B at 14). During this
conversation, the decedent inquired as to whether this change
would be effective immediately. Id. at 16. In
response, the Prudential representative indicated that the
beneficiary change can take up to five days to process and
that Prudential “go[es] by the date that the signature
is on it. So by the date that you sign the document is the
date that [Prudential] go[es] by.” Id. As a
result of this phone conversation, Prudential e-mailed the
decedent a VGLI beneficiary designation/change form
(“the beneficiary change form”). (ECF Nos. 61,
decedent completed the beneficiary change form, allegedly
designating Lee as the primary beneficiary of 50% of the VGLI
coverage and Wilson as the primary beneficiary of the
remaining 50% of the VGLI coverage (“the second
designation”). (ECF Nos. 1 at Ex. A, 61, 62). The
bolded language immediately underneath the signature line
advised that “[t]he signature date must be the date the
Veteran actually signed the form.” (ECF No. 1, Ex. A).
Nonetheless, the decedent post-dated the beneficiary change
form for October 1, 2016. Id. On October 6, 2017,
the decedent mailed the form to Prudential. (ECF Nos. 61,
62). Prudential received the form five days later, on October
11, 2016, and changed the decedent's beneficiaries
accordingly. (ECF Nos. 1 at Ex. A, 61).
decedent became the primary suspect in a series of sixteen
robberies that spanned from October 3, 2016 through October
12, 2016. (ECF No. 61, Ex. 4). On October 8, 2016, the
decedent sent Wilson a text message reading: “Goodbye
[Petra]. You and the kids were the best things that ever
happened to me. I will always love you.” Id.
at 7. Understanding the decedent to be suicidal, Wilson filed
a missing person report. Id.
October 12, 2016, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
officers attempted to make a felony car stop on a stolen
vehicle driven by the decedent. (ECF No. 61, Ex. 4). A high
speed chase ensued. Id. After approximately twenty
minutes, the officers were able to stop the decedent and
position three patrol cars to keep him from fleeing.
Id. As the officers exited their vehicles, the
decedent raised and pointed what appeared to be a firearm at
them. Id. Four officers opened fire. Id.
When they approached the vehicle, the officers observed what
appeared to be a firearm in the decedent's right hand and
the word “sorry” written in blood on the
vehicle's center console. Id. The decedent died
from multiple gunshot wounds at the scene. Id. The
autopsy revealed that he was intoxicated via cocaine at the
time of the incident. Id.
decedent's certificate of death lists his date of death
as October 13, 2016. (ECF No. 1, Ex. B). As a result of his
death, death benefits in the amount of $125, 000 became
payable under the decedent's VGLI coverage. (ECF No. 1).
October 31, 2016, Wilson, through her counsel, sent a letter
to Prudential contesting the second designation and
requesting that Prudential withhold the death benefit.
Id. On December 9, 2016, Lee made a claim to the
death benefit by mailing a claim for death benefits form to
Prudential. Id. On January 23, 2017, Wilson also
made a claim to the death benefit by submitting a claim for
death benefits form via email. Id.
March 30, 2017, Prudential filed its complaint in
interpleader, alleging an inability to resolve the competing
claims to the death benefit. Id.
August 14, 2017, Magistrate Judge Ferenbach filed a report
and recommendation wherein he recommended that (1) Prudential
pay into the court $125, 000 plus interest accrued and less
$6, 000 in attorney fees and costs; (2) defendants be
enjoined from instituting or prosecuting any proceeding in
any state of United States court affecting the death benefit
or relevant insurance plan upon Prudential's payment into
the court; (3) Prudential be discharged from any and all
further liability to defendants relating to the death benefit