APPEAL FROM: Certified Question, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Cause No. 11-35437
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Beth Baker
Submitted on Briefs: November 7, 2012
Decided: January 22, 2013
Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 We accepted the following certified question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which we have reformulated in accordance with M. R. App. P. 15(4) and our order of July 17, 2012:
¶2 Does § 72-2-814, MCA, apply to a life insurance policy owner's designation of his spouse as the beneficiary, where the parties were later divorced prior to enactment of § 72-2-814, MCA, and the policyholder died after enactment of the statute?
¶3 Our answer is "yes" because § 72-2-814, MCA, operates at the time of the insured's death and applies to any divorce that took place during the insured's lifetime.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶4 We summarize the undisputed facts from the Ninth Circuit's certification order. In August 1990, Brent Anderson (Brent) purchased life insurance from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and named the following beneficiaries: first, his then-wife Lucia, second, his parents, and third, his sister. In June 1993, Brent and Lucia divorced in Arizona. Brent was awarded his life insurance policy in the divorce decree. Later that same year, in October 1993, § 72-2-814, MCA, became effective in Montana.*fn1 The statute provides that a divorce revokes "any revocable disposition or appointment of property made by a divorced individual to the individual's former spouse in a governing instrument[.]" Section 72-2-814(2)(a)(i), MCA.
¶5 Brent died in Montana in August 2010. He had never changed his designation of Lucia as primary beneficiary under his life insurance policy. Thrivent filed an interpleader action to determine the rightful beneficiary under Brent's policy. The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of Lucia, based in part on the fact that § 72-2-814, MCA, became effective after Brent and Lucia's divorce.
¶6 When answering a certified question as permitted by M. R. App. P. 15(3), this Court's review is "purely an interpretation of the law as applied to the [pertinent] facts underlying the action." BNSF Ry. Co. v. Feit, 2012 MT 147, ¶ 6, 365 Mont. 359, 281 P.3d 225 (quoting State Farm Fire & ...