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Estate of Galbraith v. Galbraith

May 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: VIRGINIA A. Phillips United States District Judge

[Motion filed on February 10, 2010]


In December 2006, shortly after his marriage to Teri Galbraith was dissolved legally, William D. Galbraith ("Decedent") committed suicide. At the time of his death, Ms. Galbraith was still named as Decedent's beneficiary under his various benefit plans. Defendants Board of Trustees of the California Ironworkers Field Welfare Plan, California and Vicinity Field Ironworkers Annuity Trust, California Ironworkers Field Pension Trust, and Ironworkers Employees' Benefit Corporation (collectively, the "Ironworker Defendants") paid the benefits to which Decedent was entitled under his respective benefit plans to Ms. Galbraith. Plaintiff Estate of William D. Galbraith ("Plaintiff"), represented by Decedent's father, William P. Galbraith, filed this action against Ms. Galbraith and the Ironworker Defendants alleging that the payment of benefits to Ms. Galbraith was wrongful. The Ironworker Defendants now seek summary judgment of the claims against them. Having reviewed and considered all papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Motion, as well as the arguments advanced by counsel at the hearing on the Motion, the Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment.


A. Uncontroverted Facts

The following material facts are supported adequately by admissible evidence and are uncontroverted. They are "admitted to exist without controversy" for purposes of this Motion. See Local Rule 56-3.

Decedent and Ms. Galbraith apparently were married in 1999.*fn1 They divorced in 2006; a dissolution judgment was entered on September 6, 2006 which stated that the marriage ended on December 13, 2006. (Stmt. of Uncontroverted Facts ("SUF") ¶ 2.)*fn2 Incorporated into the Galbraiths' dissolution judgment was a "Marital Settlement Agreement" ("the Agreement") dated June 10, 2006. (SUF ¶ 3.)*fn3 The Agreement contained conflicting provisions pertaining to Ms. Galbraith's continuing interest in her ex-husband's trust plans benefits in which Ms. Galbraith appeared simultaneously to relinquish and reserve those interests. (See Decl. of Garee T. Gasperian ("Gasperian Decl.") Ex. N § 4.)

Decedent died on December 30, 2006, taking his own life. (SUF ¶ 7.)*fn4 At the time of his death, Decedent was a participant in three retirement plans: the California and Vicinity Field Iron Workers Annuity Fund, the California Ironworkers Field Pension Trust, and the California Ironworkers Field Welfare Plan (the "Plans").*fn5

(Loot Decl. ¶ 6, Exs. K, L, M.) Decedent named Ms. Galbraith as beneficiary of the Plans on February 6, 2000. (Loot Decl. Ex A.)*fn6 There is no evidence that Decedent changed the named beneficiary for any Plan before his death. Each of the Plans provides a procedure for review and appeal of a decision made by the administrator of the plan. (See Loot Decl. Exs. K at § 10, L at § 4, M at 40--43.)

In early January, 2007, Ms. Galbraith notified the Ironworker Defendants of Decedent's death. (SUF ¶ 9; SGI ¶ 9.) On January 10, 2007, the Ironworker Defendants sent a letter to Ms. Galbraith informing her that she was the last named beneficiary of Decedent and eligible to receive benefits from the Plans in the sum of $169,400. (SUF ¶ 10.)*fn7

On January 31, 2007, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to the Ironworker Defendants requesting that the Ironworker Defendants not distribute funds from the Plans to Ms. Galbraith pending a "final order" from the probate court concerning the appropriate beneficiaries under the Plans. (Loot Decl. Ex. D.) The Ironworker Defendants replied to Plaintiff's counsel by letter dated February 2, 2006 informing him that Decedent's named beneficiary - i.e., Ms. Galbraith - was entitled to any funds provided for in the Plans. (Loot Decl. Ex. G.)

On February 4, 2007, the Ironworker Defendants and Plaintiff's counsel had a conversation in which the Ironworker Defendants agreed to delay distribution of the funds to Ms. Galbraith for thirty days.*fn8

On March 8, 2007, the probate court appointed Decedent's father as a representative for the estate. (See Gasperian Decl. Ex. S at 83.) On March 15, 2007, the Ironworker Defendants distributed $15,000.00 in Plan funds to Ms. Galbraith, and on March 29, 2007, the Ironworker Defendants ...

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