United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
OPINION & ORDER
W. Molloy, District Judge.
interpleader action concerns a dispute over who is entitled
to the proceeds of an ERISA-qualified life insurance policy.
The two claimants have filed cross-motions for summary
judgment, each arguing they are entitled to the contested
funds. Because ERISA preempts related state law, Claimant
Alette Jackson's motion for summary judgment is granted,
and Claimant Samantha Parks' motion is denied.
Insurance Company of North America ("North
America"), an insurance company with is principal place
of business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, issued Life
Insurance Policy No. FLX-980313, (the "Policy") to
Applied Materials, Inc. (Doc. 20 at ¶ 1.) Sterling
Stanley Jackson ("Sterling"), an Applied Materials
employee, subsequently enrolled in the Policy. (Id.
at ¶ 5.) The Policy is Employment Retirement Income
Security Act ("ERISA") qualified. (Id. at
¶ 12.) Sterling died on March 11, 2016. (Id. at
¶ 6.) The total death benefit owed pursuant to the
Policy is $124, 123.01, including interest. (Id. at
beneficiary designation under the Policy named Claimant
Alette Jackson ("Jackson"), Sterling's spouse
at the time. Sterling and Jackson divorced March 17, 2015,
roughly a year before Sterling's death. (Id.) On
October 2, 2015, approximately six months after his divorce
and five months before his death, Sterling revised his Last
Will and Testament. (Doc. 29-5.) The will devises "[a]ll
the rest, residue and remainder of [Sterling's] estate
... in equal shares to [his] children, " Scott Jackson
and Samantha Parks. (Doc. 29 at ¶¶ 12-13; Doc.
29-5.) Sterling's will neither refers to nor provides for
Jackson. (Doc. 29. at ¶ 14; Doc. 29-5.)
estate was opened for probate on March 25, 2016, in the
Eleventh District Court of Montana, Flathead County. (Doc. 29
at ¶ 10.) Claimant Samantha Parks ("Parks")
was appointed personal representative of the estate. (Doc. 20
at ¶ 3.) On February 6, 2017, North America filed a
Complaint for Interpleader requesting a judicial
determination of the proper payee or payees for benefits from
the Policy. (Doc. 1.) The Complaint named Alette Jackson and
Samantha Parks, as the personal representative of
Sterling's estate. (Id.) North America deposited
the contested funds with the Court, (Doc. 10), and was
dismissed from the case, (Doc. 23). Claimants Jackson and
Parks remain in the case as cross-defendants. They have now
filed cross-motions for summary judgment, each requesting a
declaratory judgment that they are entitled to the contested
funds. (Docs. 27, 30.)
seeking summary judgment will prevail if it can demonstrate
that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Accordingly, summary judgment
is appropriate where the evidence produced by the parties
permits only one conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). While factual disputes
irrelevant or unnecessary to the outcome of the case are not
considered, in deciding a motion for summary judgment a court
must draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of
the party against whom summary judgment is asserted.
Id. at 248, 255. "[W]hen parties submit
cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be
considered on its own merits." Fair Hous. Council of
Riverside Cnty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132,
1136 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal punctuation
marks omitted). "It is well-settled . . . that the
filing of cross-motions for summary judgment. . . does not
vitiate the court's responsibility to determine whether
disputed issues of material fact are present."
United States v. Fred A. Arnold, Inc., 573 F.2d 605,
606 (9th Cir. 1978).
ERISA and Montana Code Annotated § 72-2-814
argues that the contested funds should be distributed to the
estate because Montana Code Annotated § 72-2-814 revoked
Jackson's interest in those funds when she and Sterling
divorced. Jackson argues that ERISA preempts § 72-2-814,
and that she is the rightful recipient of the contested
funds. Jackson is correct.
passing ERISA, Congress acted "to protect the rights of
workers who earn pension benefits and to encourage plan
participation." Carmona v. Carmona, 603 F.3d
1041, 1053 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). ERISA is
"an intricate, comprehensive statute that governs both
pension and welfare plans." Id. Among its
requirements, ERISA established '"a straightforward
rule of hewing to the directives of the plan documents,
'" creating '"a bright-line requirement to
follow plan documents in distributing benefits."
Id. (citing Kennedy v. Plan Admin, for DuPont
Savings & Inv. Plan, 555 U.S. 285, 300, 302 (2009)).
To that end, "ERISA's pre-emption section, 29 U.S.C.
§ 1144(a), states that ERISA 'shall supersede any
and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter
relate to any employee benefit plan' covered by
ERISA." Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, 532 U.S. 141,
state law relates to an ERISA plan 'if it has a
connection with or reference to such a plan.'"
Id. at 147 (quoting Shaw v. Delta Air Lines,
Inc.,463 U.S. 85, 97 (1983)). To evaluate the
"connection with" prong of ERISA preemption
analysis, courts must "look both to the objectives of
the ERISA statute as a guide to the scope of the state law
that Congress understood would survive, as well as the nature
of the effect of the state law on ERISA plans."