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Estate of Brownell v. Lyczak

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 25, 2019

ESTATE OF COLLEEN J. BROWNELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK W. LYCZAK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         1. This matter comes before the Court by way of motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Estate of Colleen J. Brownell (hereinafter, “Plaintiff”). (See Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Item 10].) The present motion is not opposed by Defendant PHH Corporation. (See Notice of Non-Opposition [Docket Item 11].) Defendant Mark W. Lyczak has not filed any papers with regards to the present motion.[1]

         2. The Court has considered the submissions and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 10] will be granted. The Court finds as follows:[2]

         3. Background.

         On December 30, 2017, Ms. Colleen Brownell was killed and on February 1, 2019 Defendant Lyczak pleaded guilty to murdering her. (See Judgment of Conviction and Order for Confinement [Docket Item 10-3].) Prior to her passing, Ms. Brownell was a participant in a 401(k) Employee Savings Plan (hereinafter, “the Plan”) administered by her former employer: Defendant PHH. Pursuant to the Plan, Ms. Brownell designated Defendant Lyczak as the primary beneficiary of the monies in her Plan account, in the event of her passing. The Plan indicates that it “shall be construed, administered and applied in a manner consistent with the laws of the State of Maryland, except to the extent Federal law applies.” (See Plan [Docket Item 10-5], 38.) Plaintiff and Defendant PHH stipulated to a Consent Order, in effect since January 8, 2019, that Defendant PHH will not disburse the funds from Ms. Brownell's Plan account until further order of the Court. (See Consent Order [Docket Item 9].)

         4. Standard of Review.

         At summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to examine the evidence in light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 287 (3d Cir. 2014).

         5. A factual dispute is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non-moving party “need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence proffered by the movant, ” but must present more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         6. Discussion.

         Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on the basis that Defendant Lyczak has pleaded guilty to the murder of Ms. Brownell and that the governing law forbids an individual who does so from being a beneficiary of such decedent's 401(k) account assets. (See Pl.'s Br. [Docket Item 10-1], 3-6.)

         a. Maryland law disqualifies Defendant Lyczak.

         It is undisputed that Maryland law governs the administration of the Plan. Section 11-112 of the Maryland Code Annotated, Estates & Trusts provides in relevant part:

Disqualified person defined
(a) In this section, “disqualified person” means a person who feloniously and intentionally kills, conspires to kill, or ...

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