On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 83-3941)
Before: GARTH, HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judges, McCUNE, District Judge*fn*
A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.
Sun Life Insurance Company of America ("Sun Life") appeals from the district judge's Opinion and Order, finding in favor of plaintiff, Marie Cipriani, and entering judgment against defendant and third-party plaintiff, Sun Life. The district Judge excluded certain evidence offered by Sun Life under the Pennsylvania Dead Man's Act, 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 5930 (1978), and found that the admissible evidence in this case did not show that the insured decedent, Edward Cipriani, had substantially complied with the requirements to change the beneficiary on his insurance policy, No. D764120, from his former wife, Marie Cipriani, to his mother, Margaret Cipriani. We will reverse the district court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
On July 13, 1983, Marie Cipriani filed a complaint in equity and in assumpsit against Sun Life in the Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She alleged that she was the designated beneficiary on her ex-husband's insurance policy. No. D764120, and that Sun Life was therefore obligated to pay her the proceeds from the policy. On the basis of diversity of citizenship, the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Sun Life filed a third-party complaint against Margaret Cipriani, to whom it had paid the policy proceeds, on October 5, 1983, The district judge bifurcated the case for trial and first heard Marie Cipriani's claim against Sun Life. At the non-jury trial, held February 13, 1984, the parties presented the following evidence.
On July 27, 1976, Sun Life issued the life insurance policy, which is in dispute here, to Edward Cipriani. He was the owner of, and insured on, the policy. He named Marie Cipriani, his wife at the time, as the beneficiary. Edward and Marie separated on April 6, 1980, and subsequently received a divorce. This policy was still in effect on the date Mr. Cipriani died, June 19, 1982.
The general provisions of the policy include the following:
CHANGE OF BENEFICIARY While the insured is living and while this Policy continues in force, the Owner may change the beneficiary from time to time by written notice in form satisfactory to the Company; provided, however, that when a beneficiary has been designated irrevocably such designation cannot be changed or revoked without such beneficiary's written consent. No change of beneficiary will take effect unless recorded by the Company at its Home Office. However, upon being so recorded any such change shall take effect as of the date the notice was signed, whether or not the Insured is living when the change is recorded, subject to any payment made or any action taken by the Company before such recording.
After Mr. Cipriani's death, Sun Life employees at its Home Office and its Cornwells Heights district office, which serviced the area where Mr. Cipriani lived, took steps to pay the proceeds of the policy to the beneficiary designated at the time of his death.
Records at the Home Office indicated that Marie Cipriani was the designated beneficiary on the policy. Although she did not file a claim with Sun Life, employees at that office notified her on August 24, September 23, and October 16 and 25, 1982, as to the status of the claim to the policy. they also issued a voucher to Marie Cipriani on January 7, 1983, for $34,589.72.*fn1
Investigations at the Cornwells Heights office, however revealed that Mr. Cipriani had changed the beneficiary on the policy to his mother. After meeting with Mr. Cipriani in January 1982, Elwood Schneider, his insurance agent, filled out a Sun Life change of beneficiary form. The form required Mr. Cipriani's witnessed signature. Mr. ...