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Tran v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

May 25, 2005

HUU NAM TRAN, APPELLANT
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY; KWOK LAM



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 01-cv-00262). District Judge: Honorable Donetta W. Ambrose.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued February 18, 2005

Before: SLOVITER, AMBRO and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges

OPINION

Huu Nam Tran appeals from the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"), in connection with a complaint filed by Tran alleging that he was misled by MetLife's agent as to the number of years he was obligated to pay premiums on a life insurance policy he purchased. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

Tran was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1979. He alleged in his complaint that he does not speak or read English well, and he testified through an interpreter at his deposition in this case. In 1993, Tran met Kwok Lam, a MetLife agent, when Lam came into the Chinese restaurant where Tran worked.*fn1 Lam spoke with Tran about purchasing a life insurance policy. The communications between Lam and Tran took place in Chinese.*fn2

Lam eventually sold Tran what is commonly known as a "vanishing premiums" policy. Tran testified that Lam told him that he would only have to pay premiums on the policy for ten years. Lam, on the other hand, stated that, when explaining the policy to Tran, he told him that, based on the dividend scale at that time, Tran could use his dividends to pay the premiums on the policy. Lam showed Tran a document entitled "Accelerated Payment Plan Illustration Annual Dividends Used to Buy Paid Up Additional Insurance," which Lam used to explain the terms of the policy he was attempting to sell to Tran. The first column of this illustration was labeled "End of Policy Year," and the second column was labeled "Annual Cash Outlay for Year." The illustration shows that the annual cash outlay past year thirteen is "NONE." In addition, on the illustration that Lam showed Tran, a handwritten line was inserted after year thirteen with a nearby notation (also handwritten) that read "paid up."

Lam testified that he drew the line on the illustration to demonstrate that Tran could use his dividends to pay the premiums on his policy "after 14 [fourteen] years if the current*fn3 dividend scale had not been changed" from what it was at the time Tran purchased the policy. After the table illustrating the dividend payment plan, the document states:

The cash outlay illustrated shows the result if the current dividend scale continues without change. Dividends are not guaranteed and may increase or decrease in the future. If the future dividends decrease, it is possible that the cash value of additional insurance may not be sufficient in some future years to pay the full current premium and some cash outlay may be required.

Tran signed an application for a MetLife life insurance policy on September 7, 1993. MetLife issued a whole life policy to him on September 16, 1993. Lam testified at his deposition that he personally delivered the policy to Tran and went over its terms with Tran in Chinese. Lam stated that "[he] just told [Tran] that if he dies, how much money would be payable to his beneficiary, and that he has to pay the premium lifetime, but after a certain number of years, if the current dividend scale is okay, he could start using the dividend to pay for the premium. That's about it." Tran agreed only that he received the policy.

The front page of Tran's policy included a provision titled "10-Day Right to Examine Policy" that stated:

Please read this policy. You may return the policy to Metropolitan or to the sales representative through whom you bought it within 10 days from the date you receive it. If you return it within the 10-day period, the policy will be void from the beginning. We will refund any premium paid.

The front page of the policy also stated that "[p]remiums [were] payable for a stated period." The premium schedule, on the third page of the policy, showed that premiums were payable for fifty-nine years. On the fifth page of the policy, a section titled "Payments During Insured's Lifetime" specified how insureds could use the annual dividends ...


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