United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. CAUTHRON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
filed this action in the District Court for Oklahoma County
asserting claims for breach of contract, violation of
provisions of the Oklahoma Insurance Code, and unjust
enrichment. According to Plaintiff, she was a domestic
partner of Mark Lassiter. Mr. Lassiter was a federal
employee. As a benefit of his employment, Mr. Lassiter was
eligible for life insurance through the Federal Employee
Group Life Insurance Program ("FEGLI"). According
to Plaintiff, in November of 2016, Mr. Lassiter executed a
change of beneficiary form ("2016 Form"). Plaintiff
asserts that the 2016 Form named her as a beneficiary. Mr.
Lassiter died later in 2016. Plaintiff argues that despite
Mr. Lassiter's execution of the 2016 Form, Defendant
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife")
distributed the proceeds of the insurance policy to Mr.
Lassiter's children as dictated by a 2013 Designation of
Beneficiary Form ("2013 Form"). Seeking to recover
the amounts due her, Plaintiff filed the present action.
MetLife filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), asserting that Plaintiff has failed to state a
claim for relief as to any Defendant. Defendant MetLife
argues that the 2016 Form was not properly submitted and
therefore is ineffective. Alternatively, Defendant MetLife
asserts that federal law preempts all of Plaintiff's
does not address Defendant MetLife's assertion of
preemption. Defendant MetLife argues this failure requires
dismissal of Plaintiff's case. However, the preemption is
not as broad as argued by Defendant MetLife. Indeed, there is
ample case law interpreting 5 U.S.C. § 8705 to permit an
action to determine the proper beneficiary under a policy.
After review of the legal and factual arguments offered by
Defendant MetLife, the Court finds that Plaintiff is barred
by preemption from pursuing any claim other than one to
determine which beneficiary designation form is operative.
Thus, Plaintiff's claims against the individual
Defendants and any other claim against Defendant MetLife will
be dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff's request for a determination of the proper
beneficiary, Defendant's request for dismissal pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) requires the Court to examine the
“specific allegations in the complaint to determine
whether they plausibly support a legal claim for
relief.” Alvarado v. KOB-TV, L.L.C., 493 F.3d
1210, 1215 n.2 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007), and
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007)).
MetLife argues that the 2013 Form was the only form properly
submitted and therefore the designations set forth therein
control. In her state court Petition, Plaintiff addresses the
2016 Form stating: “The form was sent to
MetLife.” (Dkt. No. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 11). Defendant
MetLife asserts this submission was ineffective as it failed
to follow the required protocol. The Tenth Circuit has held
that in administering FEGLI benefits, Congress established an
‘“an inflexible rule that the beneficiary
designated in accordance with the statute would receive the
policy proceeds, regardless of other documents or the
equities in a particular case.'” Dean v.
Johnson, 881 F.2d 948, 949 (10th Cir. 1989) (quoting
O'Neal v. Gonzalez, 839 F.2d 1437, 1440 (11th Cir.
1988)). 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) states in pertinent part:
First, to the beneficiary or beneficiaries designated by the
employee in a signed and witnessed writing received before
death in the employing office or, if insured because of
receipt of annuity or of benefits under subchapter I of
chapter 81 of this title as provided by section 8706(b) of
this title, in the Office of Personnel Management. For
this purpose, a designation, change, or cancellation of
beneficiary in a will or other document not so executed and
filed has no force or effect.
added). Thus, to be effective, a beneficiary form must be (1)
signed, (2) witnessed, (3) in writing, and (4) received by
the employing office or OPM before the death of the employee.
“In 1966, Congress amended section 8705 to add the
sentence providing that a document not executed and filed in
accordance with the statute had no force or effect as a
designation of beneficiary.” Metro. Life Ins. Co.
v. Hurford, 983 F.Supp. 1045, 1047 (D. Kan. 1997). As
set forth above, Mr. Lassiter's completion of the 2016
Form did not comply with these requirements. Rather,
Plaintiff clearly states in her state court Petition that the
2016 Form was sent to MetLife. Because the 2016 Form did not
strictly comply with the requirements of the statute, it is
of no effect.
response, Plaintiff does not dispute the legal analysis set
forth above. Rather, she now alleges that: “On
information and belief, Lassiter delivered the 2016 Change of
Beneficiary Form to MetLife, by and through, his employment
agency.” (Dkt. No. 8, ¶ 6). Plaintiff argues that
additional discovery is needed to establish that the 2016
Form was returned to Mr. Lassiter's employer. In an
attempt to bolster her position, Plaintiff avers that in
January of 2016, after Mr. Lassiter's death, she spoke
with an agent of Defendant MetLife who acknowledged receipt
of the 2016 Form prior to Mr. Lassiter's death.
MetLife argues that Plaintiff's attempts at amending her
allegations through her Response to the Motion to Dismiss
should be rejected, and that even if permitted, her claim
would still fail. Defendant MetLife is correct that
Plaintiff's attempt to revise the allegations of the
Petition through her Response cannot defeat the Motion to
Dismiss. However, those allegations do establish that
Plaintiff can potentially plead a valid claim. Thus, while
Defendant MetLife's Motion will be granted, the case will
be dismissed without prejudice and Plaintiff will be granted
leave to amend.
argues that even if Plaintiff's new allegation is
accepted, dismissal is still required. When discussing the
contact with the MetLife agent following Mr. Lassiter's
death, Plaintiff states that she was told the 2016 Form could
not be processed because Mr. Lassiter's name was
misspelled. Defendant MetLife argues this assertion proves
that Mr. Lassiter did not submit a proper change of
beneficiary form before his death. However, Defendant MetLife
offers no authority to demonstrate that a scrivener's
error would render the form invalid. Indeed, the misspelling
of Mr. Lassiter's name does not impact any of the four
required elements set forth above. The court in
Hurford, 983 F.Supp. at 1047, rejected an argument
that an ambiguity in the designation form rendered it
MetLife argues that the copy of the 2016 Form does not
contain evidence that it was received by the employing
agency. Defendant MetLife contrasts that with the 2013 Form,
which shows receipt by the employing agency. According to
Defendant MetLife, this discrepancy is sufficient to
establish Mr. Lassiter did not properly submit the 2016 Form.
This argument improperly requests the Court to weigh the
evidence and make a determination on sufficiency of proof. Of
course, such action is improper at this stage.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 5) is
GRANTED. Plaintiff's request for a determination of the
proper beneficiary is DISMISSED without prejudice. Plaintiffs
state law claims against Defendant MetLife and all claims
against the individual Defendants are DISMISSED with
prejudice. Plaintiffs Motion for Entry of ...