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State Farm Life Insurance Co. v. Brockett

August 25, 2010

STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RACHEL BROCKETT, JOSHUA BROCKETT, DANELLE BROCKETT, NICHOLAS BROCKETT, AND KATHRYN BROCKETT DEFENDANTS.



ORDER RE: RACHEL BROCKETT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. History

Plaintiff State Farm Life Insurance Company ("State Farm") insured the life of Matthew Scott Brockett for a number of years. Rachel Botkin and Matthew Brockett married in 2002. Joshua Brockett, Danelle Brockett, Nicholas Brockett, and Kathryn Brockett (collectively the "Brockett Children") are Matthew Brockett's children by previous marriage. On August 7, 2006, the life insurance policy ("Policy") was increased to $500,000, with Rachel Brocket to receive $380,000, and the Brockett Children to receive $30,000 each. Matthew and Rachel Brockett separated in early 2008. On March 11, 2008, Matthew Brockett filed for divorce. Doc. 39, Ex. C. On April 8, 2008, Matthew and Rachel Brockett signed a Marital Settlement Agreement ("MSA"). Doc. 31, Ex. D. The MSA included language concerning life insurance proceeds. On June 24, 2008, the Fresno County Superior Court entered a judgment of dissolution incorporating the MSA and specifying that Matthew and Rachel Brockett would become single persons on September 25, 2008. Doc. 31, Ex. D. Matthew Brockett obtained a change of beneficiary form for the Policy on July 25, 2008. Doc. 31, Ex. M. He filled the form out, naming the Brockett Children as the primary beneficiaries, sharing the $500,000 equally. Doc. 31, Ex. L. Matthew Brockett signed and dated the form on August 30, 2008, with a witness signing and dating the form on August 31, 2008. That change of beneficiary form was never mailed. Matthew Brockett died on September 15, 2008.

Rachel Brockett claims $380,000 of the Policy proceeds. The Brockett Children claim all $500,000 of it. On February 26, 2009, State Farm filed suit against Rachel Brockett and the Brockett Children on an interpleader theory in the Eastern District of California. State Farm deposited the entire life insurance payment of $512,217.70 ($500,000 plus interest) with the Clerk of the Court. The parties were unable to come to an agreement to move the case to state court. On April 16, 2010, State Farm was dismissed from this case and awarded $9,439.70 in attorney's fees and costs. Doc. 55.

Rachel Brockett and the Brockett Children are proceeding in this case without a complaint. The parties have filed answers to State Farm's complaint, but have not directly framed the dispute between them in a pleading. The minutes of a scheduling conference held on July 27, 2009 state, "Legal issue remaining is whether Defendant Brockett (nee Botkin), ex-wife and mother of remaining Defendants, has any legal claim to insurance proceeds." Doc. 20. Rachel Brockett has moved for summary judgment, asking that "this Court grant her summary judgment directing that her share of the benefits of the subject Policy be paid to her." Doc. 28, Memo, at 10:3-5. The Brockett Children oppose the motion. The matter was taken under submission without oral argument.

II. Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 2004). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying the portions of the declarations (if any), pleadings, and discovery that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); Thrifty Oil Co. v. Bank of America Nat'l Trust & Savings Assn, 322 F.3d 1039, 1046 (9th Cir. 2002). A dispute is "genuine" as to a material fact if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006).

Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the movant. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). Where the non-moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant may prevail by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or by merely pointing out that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. See James River Ins. Co. v. Schenk, P.C., 519 F.3d 917, 925 (9th Cir. 2008). If a moving party fails to carry its burden of production, then "the non-moving party has no obligation to produce anything, even if the non-moving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Companies, 210 F.3d 1099, 1102-03 (9th Cir. 2000). If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The opposing party cannot "'rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading' but must instead produce evidence that 'sets forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Estate of Tucker v. Interscope Records, 515 F.3d 1019, 1030 (9th Cir. 2008).

The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Stegall v. Citadel Broad, Inc., 350 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Juell v. Forest Pharms., Inc., 456 F.Supp.2d 1141, 1149 (E.D. Cal. 2006); UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Sinnott, 300 F.Supp.2d 993, 997 (E.D. Cal. 2004). "A genuine issue of material fact does not spring into being simply because a litigant claims that one exists or promises to produce admissible evidence at trial." Del Carmen Guadalupe v. Agosto, 299 F.3d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 2002); see Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007); Bryant v. Adventist Health System/West, 289 F.3d 1162, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002). Further, a "motion for summary judgment may not be defeated ...by evidence that is 'merely colorable' or 'is not significantly probative.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); Hardage v. CBS Broad. Inc., 427 F.3d 1177, 1183 (9th Cir. 2006). Additionally, the court has the discretion in appropriate circumstances to consider materials that are not properly brought to its attention, but the court is not required to examine the entire file for evidence establishing a genuine issue of material fact where the evidence is not set forth in the opposing papers with adequate references. See Southern Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003). If the non-moving party fails to produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. See Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Companies, 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000).

III. Statements of Facts

A. Rachel Brockett's Statement of Undisputed Facts*fn1

1. In 1987 the deceased Matthew Scott Brockett, purchased a life insurance policy from State Farm with initial basic death benefits of $100,000 (hereafter "the Policy").

2. He named his then-wife, Glynna Brockett, as the primary beneficiary and his two children as successor beneficiaries.

3. The Policy provided that the deceased could make changes to the beneficiary designation by "sending [the insurer] a request."

4. In October 1989, the deceased made such a change by submitting documents to name his parents as the primary beneficiaries and a friend the sole successor beneficiary.

5. Subsequently, in October 1993, the deceased made another beneficiary change, this time naming his new wife, Donna Brockett, as the primary beneficiary and his parents as the successor beneficiaries.

6. Eight years later, in October 2001, the deceased submitted documents to State Farm increasing the Policy's death benefits to $250,000.00 and, concurrently, changing the beneficiary designation to name his fiancee, Rachel Brockett (then "Rachel Botkin"), and his four children, co-defendants herein, as equal primary beneficiaries; no successor beneficiary was designated.

7. In July 2002, the deceased change the beneficiary designation to reflect his marriage to his fiancee and her married name, Rachel Brockett.

8. In December 2002, the deceased submitted documents to State Farm increasing the Policy death benefits to $400,000.00 and, concurrently, modifying the Policy to provide that Rachel Brockett receive five-eighths (5/8ths) of the Policy benefits and that his children share equally in the remaining benefits.

9. About four (4) years later, in August 2006, the deceased submitted documents to State Farm increasing the Policy death benefits to $500,000.00 and changing the Policy to provide that Rachel Brockett was to receive $380,000.00 and his four children were each to receive $30,000.00.

10. On April 8, 2008, the deceased and Rachel Brockett entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement ("MSA") in connection with their divorce proceeding.

11. The MSA, which was incorporated into the Dissolution Judgment entered on June 24, 2008, provides in pertinent part: This waiver includes the right to receive assets in or proceeds from any type of life insurance, annuity, retirement plan or financial account with a death beneficiary provision, unless otherwise contained in this Agreement; or, unless the party seeking benefits is retained as a beneficiary of record on such policy, plan or account following the execution of this Agreement.

Disputed.

12. Notwithstanding the Dissolution Judgment, the deceased and Rachel Brockett continued to maintain a close relationship and communicated regularly with each other.

Disputed.

13. In connection with efforts to reconcile with Rachel Brockett, the deceased sought and obtained Rachel Brockett's ...


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