United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 24, 2005.
SHEENA KING, a minor, by and through her sister and guardian ad litem, TIFFANY KING; and TIFFANY KING, Individually, Plaintiffs,
FEDERAL EMPLOYEES' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE; METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY; JONE DOE 1-X; and JANE ROE 1-X, said names being fictitious, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment as to the entirety of
Plaintiffs' Complaint. There was no oral argument. Fed.R. Civ.
P. 78. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.
Accordingly, the Complaint is DISMISSED. BACKGROUND
Plaintiffs Sheena King and Tiffany King, daughters of a
deceased federal postal employee, bring this two-count action
against Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (referred to
herein as "MetLife") to recover proceeds under a life insurance
policy obtained for their deceased father by the U.S. Postal
Service pursuant to the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance
Act ("FEGLIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 8701 et seq.*fn1 Resolution of
the parties' cross-motions turns solely on the validity of a
designation made by the deceased in February 2003. The following
material facts are not in dispute.
In January 1991, the deceased executed and filed a "Designation
of Beneficiary" form naming as beneficiaries his two daughters
(the Plaintiffs) and his two sons (non-parties to this action)
80% to go to the girls and 20% to the boys. Under the
designation, a third party, Lenda McNear, was to collect 80% of
the proceeds if the children were under 18 years of age. There is
no dispute as to the validity of this form. Subsequently, in
February 2003, the deceased executed and filed another
designation removing Lenda McNear as a designated beneficiary but
again naming as beneficiaries the deceased's two daughters and
his two sons again 80% to the girls and 20% to the boys.
However, the February 2003 designation was also witnessed by the
deceased's two daughters/Plaintiffs, who signed the designation
form as witnesses even though the form states just above the
witness signature line in bold print: "A witness is not eligible
to receive a payment as a beneficiary." Thus, following the death
of the insured and consistent with federal regulations
prohibiting witnesses from being beneficiaries on the same
policy, see 5 C.F.R. § 870.802(d), Met Life paid all proceeds due under the
deceased's policy to Plaintiffs' two brothers, the only remaining
permissible beneficiaries under the most recent (February 2003)
Based on these facts, the parties now cross-move for summary
I. Standard of Review
A court should grant summary judgment "if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c). Once the moving party has made a properly supported motion
for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to
"set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). No issue for trial exists
unless the nonmoving party can demonstrate sufficient evidence
favoring it such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in
that party's favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
II. MetLife Is Entitled to Summary Judgment Because Plaintiffs
Are Not Eligible Beneficiaries Under the Deceased's Policy
Plaintiffs, acknowledging that their witness status precludes
them from recovering policy proceeds paid pursuant to the
February 2003 designation, ask the Court to rule that the
otherwise valid February 2003 designation is invalid as a matter
of law because: (1) one witnesses (Plaintiff Sheena King) was
under 18 at the time she witnessed the designation; and/or (2)
both witnesses were named as beneficiaries in the designation.
(See generally Br. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. and in Supp. of Pls.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J.) There is
no authority, however, for concluding that these witness
characteristics render an otherwise valid designation invalid
It is undisputed that neither FEGLIA nor its corresponding
federal regulations impose the witness requirements proposed by
Plaintiffs. Congress enacted FEGLIA in 1954 to provide low-cost
group life insurance to Federal Employees. Metro. Life Ins. Co.
v. Christ, 979 F.2d 575, 576 (7th Cir. 1992). FEGLIA, as amended
in 1966, establishes an order of precedence for purposes of
payment of policy proceeds pursuant to which proceeds are paid
first "to the beneficiary or beneficiaries designated by the
employee in a signed and witnessed writing received before
death in the employing office. . . . [A] designation, change or
cancellation of beneficiary . . . not so executed and filed has
no force or effect." 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) (emphasis added).
Corresponding federal regulations elaborate on the
signing/witnessing requirements: "A designation of beneficiary
must be in writing, signed by the insured individual, and
witnessed and signed by 2 people." 5 C.F.R. § 870.802(b). In
passing on adherence to these requirements, this Court may not
entertain equitable considerations or extrinsic evidence of the
insured's intent. Hightower v. Kirksey, 157 F.3d 528, 531 (7th
Cir. 1998) (noting that purpose of FEGLIA's strict requirements
for valid designation is "to establish, for reasons of
administrative convenience, an inflexible rule that a beneficiary
must be named strictly in accordance with the statute,
irrespective of the equities in a particular case").
The Court disagrees with Plaintiffs' assertion that a
reasonable construction of FEGLIA would impose the witness
qualifications proposed by Plaintiffs. First, although neither
the statute nor the regulations set forth who may properly
witness a designation, the Court is unaware of any federal or New Jersey state law prohibiting otherwise
competent minors from serving as witnesses. Cf. N.J.S.A.
9:17B-1 (defining and limiting minors' legal powers and
obligations but making no reference to minors' ability to serve
as witness). In this case, although Plaintiffs point out that
Plaintiff/witness Sheena King was only 15-years-old at the time
she witnessed the February 2003 designation, Plaintiffs have not
claimed that she was otherwise incompetent at the time. Second,
Plaintiffs' proposed witness qualifications do not further the
purposes of the signing/witnessing requirements which purposes
are to establish the intent of the insured and to ensure that
designations are voluntary, accord O'Neal v. Gonzalez,
653 F. Supp. 719, 722 (S.D. Fla. 1987). That is, there is no reason to
believe that the testimony of minors otherwise competent to serve
as witnesses would be legally incapable of establishing either
the intent of an insured or the voluntary nature of a
designation. Moreover, because federal regulations already make
witnesses ineligible to receive payments as beneficiaries, see
5 C.F.R. § 870.802(d), invalidating otherwise valid designations
simply because they are witnessed by beneficiaries would not do
anything more to ensure that designations are voluntary than is
already accomplished by regulation.
* * * * * *
In sum, the Court must decline the invitation to write into
FEGLIA the witness qualifications proposed by Plaintiffs.
Although the Court acknowledges that FEGLIA's signing/witnessing
requirements, reasonably construed, may in other circumstances
impose requirements not expressly set forth in the statute or
regulations (e.g., although neither the statute nor the
regulations so provide, no reasonable construction of FEGLIA, in
the Court's opinion, would permit the witnessing requirement to
be satisfied by the signature of a mentally incompetent person), the additional
requirements/witness-qualifications proposed by Plaintiffs
which would render invalid designations witnessed by 15-year-olds
and/or policy beneficiaries simply do not further the purposes
of FEGLIA's strict requirements for the making of a valid
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.
Accordingly, the Complaint is DISMISSED.