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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Teixeira

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 8, 2017

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
JANET TEIXEIRA, through her legal guardian KAREN SARTO and GABRIELA RAMIREZ Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co ("MetLife"), owes either Karen Sarto or Gabriela Ramirez life insurance benefits payable as a result of the death of John J. Teixeira. Sarto is Teixeira's daughter and co-guardian of Teixeira's spouse, Janet Teixeira.[1] Ramirez was Teixeira's girlfriend. Each has submitted a claim for the benefits-Sarto on behalf of Janet, and Ramirez on her own behalf. MetLife says it can't determine which should receive them; stuck in the middle, MetLife has sought interpleader relief.[2]

         MetLife requests an order (1) restraining Sarto and Ramirez from suing MetLife in any other action for recovery of the Plan benefits plus interest; (2) permitting MetLife to deposit $39, 250 less $4, 572.40 in attorneys' fees and costs with the court with the Clerk of Court; (3) forcing Sarto and Ramirez to litigate or settle their claims to the benefits; and (4) dismissing MetLife from this action "with prejudice and without further liability in connection with the Plan." I will grant (1), (2), and (3), but not (4). Because Sarto or Teixeira may have counterclaims against MetLife, I will not dismiss MetLife from this case. The motion will be granted in all other respects.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Teixeira had an ERISA-regulated life insurance coverage policy (the "Plan"), which was sponsored by his former employer, Public Service Enterprise Group ("PSEG") and issued by MetLife. The Plan provided that, upon Teixera's death, his beneficiaries would be entitled to $39, 250.00 (the "Benefits"). (Knepper Cert. ¶¶ 2, 6-7)

         The Plan provided that Teixeira could choose anyone he wanted as his beneficiary-so long as the decision was in writing:

The "Beneficiary" is the person or persons you choose to receive any benefits payable because of your death.
You must make your choice in writing on a form approved by us. This form must be filed with the records for This Plan.
You may change the Beneficiary at any time by filing a new form with the Employer. You do not need the consent of the Beneficiary to make a change. When the Employer receives a form changing the Beneficiary, the change will take effect as of the date you signed it. The change of Beneficiary will take effect even if you are not alive when it is received.
A change of Beneficiary will not apply to any payment made by us prior to the date the form was received by the Employer.
Your choice of a Beneficiary for a personal policy issued under Right to Obtain a Personal Policy of Life Insurance on Your Life will be effective for This Plan.

(Id. ¶¶ 15, Ex. A pp. 33-34)

         Initially, Teixeira designated Janet Teixeira, his spouse, as the sole beneficiary of the Plan. MetLife's records state that he did this, not in writing, but by telephone on March 21, 2003. (Knepper Cert. ¶ 9 & Ex. D)

         Years later, on July 22, 2015, Teixeira named Ramirez as the sole beneficiary. Again, MetLife's records state that he did this by telephone. (Knepper Cert. ¶ 8 8s Ex. C)

         About nine months later, on April 1, 2016, Teixeira died. [Id. ΒΆ 8, Ex. C) Sarto as guardian claimed the Benefits on Janet's behalf. On May 13, 2016, Sarto submitted to MetLife a copy of a Certificate of Death for Teixera, as well as a copy of a Judgment of Legal Incapacity, dated January ...


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