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Harlow v. Golden Rule Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 12, 2018

JUSTIN HARLOW, as personal representative of the estate of SONDRA CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
GOLDEN RULE INSURANCE COMPANY administered by THE STATE OF LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Golden Rule Insurance Company's (“Golden Rule”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 54], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiff responded in opposition [Doc. No. 55], and Golden Rule replied [Doc. No. 56]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2001, Sondra Cunningham and her husband purchased a term life insurance policy on Ms. Cunningham's life through Golden Rule. The policy contained a suicide clause, limiting the proceeds to the amount of premiums paid by the insured if the insured took her own life within two years of the policy date. The suicide clause also addressed what would occur in the event the policy was reinstated.

         In 2009, following the death of her husband, Ms. Cunningham allowed the policy to lapse. After undergoing additional medical underwriting, Ms. Cunningham's policy was reinstated in January 2010. On February 10, 2010, Ms. Cunningham committed suicide.

         Plaintiff, as personal representative of Cunningham's estate, made a claim against the policy. Citing the suicide provision, Golden Rule denied the death benefit and sent the estate a check for premiums paid since the reinstatement of the policy. Golden Rule asserts that the two-year suicide clause re-set after Cunningham reinstated her policy.

         Plaintiff's sole remaining claim is for breach of contract.[1] Golden Rule moves for summary judgment on two grounds. First, Golden Rule asserts there was no breach of contract because the policy limited recovery to the premiums paid after reinstatement since Cunningham committed suicide within two years of reinstating the policy. Golden Rule raises the alternative defense that the policy was void since Ms . Cu nningham made m a t e r i a l misrepresentations on her reinstatement form that caused Golden Rule to reinstate the lapsed policy.[2]

         Plaintiff asserts that reinstatement did not revive the suicide clause. Alternatively, Plaintiff contends the policy language is ambiguous. Plaintiff also argues in the alternative that the original policy and reinstated policy are sufficiently different so as to constitute a new policy based on the reinstatement language.

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary, 858 F.3d 1307, 1315 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)). A dispute is genuine “if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way, ” and it is material “if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Becker v. Bateman, 709 F.3d 1019, 1022 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). At the summary judgment stage, the Court views the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Williams v. FedEx Corporate Services, 849 F.3d 889, 896 (10th Cir. 2017).

         “The movant bears the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-671 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the movant meets that burden, the nonmovant must “go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). To accomplish this, the nonmovant must identify facts by reference to the pleadings, depositions, other discovery materials, exhibits or affidavits. Id. The Court is not limited to the cited materials, but rather may consider other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court's inquiry is whether the facts and evidence of record present “a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). Unsupported conclusory allegations are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Matthiesen v. Banc One Mortgage Corp., 173 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 1999).

         UNDISPUTED AND MATERIAL FACTS

         On July 9, 2001, Ms. Cunningham applied for a term life insurance policy through Golden Rule. Following review of Ms. Cunningham's application, Golden Rule issued a term life insurance policy on Ms. Cunningham's life for $200, 000.00. The effective date of the policy was August 8, 2001.

         The policy[3] contained a suicide clause, which ...


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