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The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America v. Stephen M. Jaye and the Estate of Richard W. Woods

December 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pisano, District Judge:

Not for publication


Presently before the Court are a motion for summary judgment by Defendant Stephen M. Jaye ("Jaye"), (Docket Entry no. 28), a motion to stay by Defendant the estate of Richard M. Woods (the "Estate"), (Docket Entry no. 30), and a cross-motion for summary judgment by Plaintiff The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America ("Guardian"), (Docket Entry no. 32). For the reasons that follow, Guardian‟s cross-motion for summary judgment is granted, Guardian is awarded its fees and costs, and Guardian is dismissed from the case and discharged from liability. In addition, the Estate‟s motion to stay is granted and Jaye‟s motion for summary judgment is denied.

I. Background

Jaye and Richard M. Woods ("Decedent") were business partners for approximately 15 years before Decedent died on August 23, 2009. As part of this relationship, they each had agreed to purchase a life insurance policy on the other. On June 26, 2000, Jaye purchased a policy from Guardian on Decedent‟s life in the amount of $150,000 (the "Policy"). In early 2003, Jaye decided to buy out Decedent‟s interest in a sales company they both owned (the"Company"), and executed a promissory note (the "Note") to Decedent, dated February 1, 2003, in the amount of $500,000. The Note set forth a payment plan over ten years, but payment was satisfied in mid-2009 with proceeds from a loan procured by Capital One Bank to refinance real property owned by a separate business venture between Jaye and Decedent (the "Refinancing Loan").

Jaye and Decedent had also agreed, in the shareholder‟s agreement ("Shareholder‟s Agreement") of the Company, that any dispute relating to the Company would be subject to binding arbitration. After Decedent‟s death in August 2009, a dispute arose between his Estate and Jaye regarding the Company and other business ventures between Jaye and Decedent. On April 10, 2010, the Estate initiated arbitration proceedings against Jaye asserting, among other claims, a claim to the proceeds of the Policy (the "Proceeds"). Because of the dispute to the Proceeds, Guardian sought to deposit the Proceeds with the Court, which it did so by check dated January 8, 2010.

Guardian filed its Complaint in Interpleader with this Court on January 14, 2010, seeking a final decision on the Proceeds and dismissal from the case. Jaye then filed his motion for summary judgment on May 24, 2010, seeking payment of the Proceeds. On June 18, 2010, the Estate filed a motion to stay, seeking to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the arbitration. Guardian responded on June 18, 2010 by filing a cross-motion for summary judgment for interpleader relief.

II. Standard of Review

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The district court must determine whether disputed issues of material fact exist, but the court cannot resolve factual disputes in a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and extend all reasonable inferences to that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Stephens v. Kerrigan, 122 F.3d 171, 176-77 (3d Cir. 1997). The moving party always bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, regardless of which party ultimately would have the burden of persuasion at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its opening burden, the non-moving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. Thus, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Id. "[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322.

Once the moving-party has demonstrated to the court the absence of a material fact at issue, the Supreme Court has stated that the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts...." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87 (citations omitted). In other words, "[i]f the evidence [submitted by the non-moving party] is merely colorable ... or is not significantly probative ... summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has specifically recognized that "[o]ne of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupportable claims or defenses, and [ ] that [the rule] should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. Thus, "[w]hen the record is such that it would not support a rational finding that an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or defense exists, summary judgment must be entered for the moving party." Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 341 (3d Cir. 1990).

III. Discussion

A. Guardian‟s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment 28 U.S.C. ...

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