United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
V. S. GRANADE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an interpleader action filed by Plaintiff Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company (“MetLife”) for a determination
of the proper payee(s) of life insurance proceeds Plaintiff
is holding as administrator of an ERISA-regulated employee
motions addressed in this Order are:
1) the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Stormey
Burroughs Jackson (“Jackson”) (Docs. 62, 63 &
64), the Response of Defendants Marcia Burrell and Sherita
Burrell (collectively “the Burrells”) (Doc. 68),
and Jackson's Reply (Doc. 71);
2) the Burrells' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
(Docs. 65), Jackson's Response (Doc. 69), and the
Burrells' Reply (Doc. 75).
3) Jackson's Motion to Strike portions
of the affidavits of Marcia Burrell (“M.
Burrell”), Sherita Burrell (“S. Burrell”),
and Shirley Ross Brooks (“Brooks”) (Doc. 72) as
well as those portions of the Burrells' Response to
Jackson's reliance on those affidavits, the Burrells'
Opposition to the Motion to Strike (Doc. 81), and
Jackson's Reply (Doc. 83).
L. Burrell (“Decedent”) was a retiree from Fiat
Chrysler Automobile U.S. and a participant in the
company's Basic Life Insurance Plan (“Plan”),
an Employee Retirement Income Security Act
(“ERISA”) regulated employee benefit plan.
Decedent was the father of the Burrells and the alleged
father of Jackson. MetLife's records show that on October
3, 2003, Jackson was designated the sole primary beneficiary
with a 100% share of Decedent's life insurance benefits.
(Doc. 1, p. 3 ¶ 13). Decedent died on November 8, 2015,
leaving $59, 500 of life insurance benefits payable to the
proper beneficiary designated under the terms of the Plan.
(Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶ 14-15). Jackson paid for decedent's
funeral at Andrews Funeral Home and on November 13, 2015
assigned benefits due from the life insurance benefits to
Andrews Funeral Home in the amount of $6, 879.43. (Doc. 1, p.
4 ¶ 16).
November 16, 2015, Marcia Burrell (“M. Burrell”)
contacted Interpleader Plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company (“MetLife”) Claims Department and
identified herself as a child of Decedent. (Doc. 1, p. 4-5
¶ 18). M. Burrell was informed she was not listed as a
beneficiary on Decedent's Plan. (Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶ 18).
M. Burrell believed Decedent's October 3, 2003
beneficiary designation was fraudulently completed.
Id. On January 12, 2016, MetLife received
Jackson's claim form for the Plan benefits. (Doc. 1, p. 4
February 4, 2016, M. Burrell contacted MetLife Claims
Department to dispute the beneficiary designation. (Doc. 1,
p. 4-5 ¶ 18). MetLife received a letter from M. Burrell
on February 9, 2016 and February 22, 2016 regarding the
beneficiary designation. (Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶ 19). M. Burrell
stated Jackson changed the beneficiary designation without
Decedent's consent. Id. M. Burrell also listed
her sister, S. Burrell, as Decedent's child. Id.
March 29, 2016, MetLife received M. Burrell's claimant
affidavit for the Plan benefits. (Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶ 20). M.
Burrell signed under oath that she and S. Burrell are the
sole children of Decedent. Id. MetLife received
Jackson's claimant affidavit for the Plan benefits on
April 15, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶ 17). MetLife is unable
to determine whether a court would find Decedent's
October 3, 2003 beneficiary designation as valid. (Doc. 1, p.
5 ¶ 21).
August 4, 2016, MetLife filed a Complaint in Interpleader
against Jackson, M. Burrell, S. Burrell, and Andrews in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of
Alabama in the Southern Division (No. 1:16-CV-00411). (Doc.
1). The Complaint asserts MetLife is unable to determine the
proper beneficiary under Decedent's benefits Plan without
exposing MetLife to the danger of double liability. (Doc. 1,
p. 6 ¶ 25). MetLife claims if Decedent's October 3,
2003 beneficiary designation is valid, the Plan benefits
would be payable to Jackson and Andrews pursuant to the
funeral home assignment. (Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶ 22). However,
if the beneficiary designation is invalid, the Plan benefits
would be payable to Decedent's children and potentially
to Andrews, per the funeral home assignment, if Jackson was a
beneficiary with the authority to assign Plan benefits. (Doc.
1, p. 6 ¶ 23).
December 16, 2016, MetLife filed a Motion for Leave to
Interplead Funds. (Doc. 32). MetLife sought to interplead
$59, 500.00 of ERISA regulated benefits under Decedent's
Plan. Id. at p. 1. This Court granted MetLife's
Motion for Leave to Interplead Funds on December 21, 2016.
(Doc. 37). The funds were deposited into the Court Registry
Interest (“CRIS”) fund on December 27, 2016.
27, 2017, Jackson filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and
brief in support thereof on the grounds that there is a valid
beneficiary form naming Jackson as sole primary beneficiary
of the Plan benefits at issue in this action. (Doc. 64; Doc.
62). On July 28, 2017, the Burrells filed their Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment and brief in support thereof as to
Jackson's paternity (Doc. 65). On August 24, 2017, the
Burrells filed their Response to Jackson's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. 68). Along with other documentation,
the Burrells included the affidavits of S. Burrell, M.
Burrell, and Brooks as supporting evidence with their motion.
(Doc. 68-6; Doc. 68-7; Doc. 68-8).
August 25, 2017, Jackson filed her Response in Opposition to
the Burrells' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc.
69). On September 7, 2017, Jackson filed her Reply Brief in
Support of her Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 71).
Jackson also filed a Motion to Strike the Affidavits of M.
Burrell, S. Burrell, and Brooks on September 7, 2017. (Doc.
72). On September 8, 2017, the Burrells filed their Reply to
Jackson's Response to their Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment. (Doc. 75). The Burrells filed their Response in
Opposition to Jackson's Motion to Strike on September 21,
2017 (Doc. 81), and Jackson filed her Reply thereto on
September 25, 2017. (Doc. 83).
Jackson's Motion to Strike the Affidavits of Marcia
Burrell, Sherita Burrell, and Shirley Ross Brooks.
Standard of Review for Affidavits in Support or Opposition of
party presents affidavit(s) to support or oppose a motion for
summary judgment, the affidavit “must be made on
personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in
evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent
to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(4). If the affidavit does not satisfy the requirements
of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), “the court
may: (1) give an opportunity to properly support or address
the fact; (2) consider the fact undisputed for purposes of
the motion; (3) grant summary judgment if the motion and
supporting materials - including the facts considered
undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it; or (4)
issue any other appropriate order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
Court has noted that when affidavits are considered for
summary judgment, they “cannot be conclusory, and must
contain information that can be reduced to admissible form at
trial.” Marable v. Marion Military Institute,
906 F.Supp.2d 1237, 1249 (S.D. Ala. 2012); See, e.g.,
Corwin v. Walt Disney Co., 475 F.3d 1239, 1249 (11th
Cir.2007) (“Even on summary judgment, a court is not
obligated to take as true testimony that is not based upon
personal knowledge.”) (citation omitted); Leigh v.
Warner Bros., Inc., 212 F.3d 1210 (11th Cir.2000)
(“This court has consistently held that conclusory
allegations without specific supporting facts have no
probative value.”) (citation omitted); Rowell v.
BellSouth Corp., 433 F.3d 794, 800 (11th Cir.2005)
(“On motions for summary judgment, we may consider only
that evidence which can be reduced to an admissible
form.”). Statements based only upon belief rather than
personal knowledge must be disregarded. See Marable,
906 F.Supp.2d at 1250. Affidavits may not be “so
riddled-through with irrelevant statements, conclusory
assertions with no probative value, [and] inadmissible
an affidavit submitted in support of, or opposition to, a
motion for summary judgment contains inadmissible evidence,
the court may strike the inadmissible portions of the
affidavit and consider the rest.” Id.; See
Lee v. National Life Assur. Co., 632 F.2d 524, 529 (5th
moves to strike portions of the affidavits of M. Burrell, S.
Burrell, and Brooks because they contain conclusory
allegations, speculation, and conjecture that lack any
evidentiary foundation; they are immaterial or irrelevant; or
they are hearsay. The Court examines each affidavit in turn.
Affidavit of Marcia Burrell (Doc. 68-7)
contends that portions of M. Burrell's affidavit should
be stricken because they contain conclusory allegations,
speculation, and conjecture that lack any evidentiary
foundation; they are immaterial or irrelevant; and they are
Jackson contends a portion of M. Burrell's affidavit is
immaterial or irrelevant. M. Burrell asserts the following in
paragraph 2 of her affidavit:
I maintained a close relationship with my father until his
death in 2015. On Father's Day in 2000, when I was only
18 years old, I rescued my father from a drug house. I was
held at gunpoint and begged for my father's life. My
father was forever grateful and called me every year on
Father's Day to thank me for saving him. (Doc. 68-7
Rule of Evidence 401 states, “Evidence is relevant if:
(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable
than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of
consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid.
401. However, this Court must not determine “the
probative value of any evidence presented to it, for this
would be an unwarranted extension of the summary judgment
device.” Allen-Sherrod v. Henry Cty. Sch.
Dist., 248 Fed.Appx. 145, 147 (11th Cir. 2007)
primary issue surrounding this litigation is the validity of
Decedent's beneficiary designation. (Doc. 62; Doc. 68).
Jackson argues this portion of M. Burrell's affidavit is
irrelevant because “an event between Decedent and
Marcia Burrell over 17 years ago and Decedent's alleged
gratefulness to Marcia Burrell has no bearing on the issue at
hand.” (Doc. 72, p. 3-4). In response, the Burrells
argue “[t]he fact that the Decedent felt indebted to
Marcia Burrell for saving his life makes it less probable
that he would effectuate a change stripping her of her
beneficiary rights.” (Doc. 81, p. 1-2).
Court will stop short of assessing the probative value of M.
Burrell's assertion at this stage of the litigation. In
doing so, this Court finds that M. Burrell's assertions
in paragraph 2 of her affidavit have some tendency to make it
more probable that Decedent would leave the policy to the
Burrells. Though Jackson takes issue with the alleged event
occurring “over 17 years ago, ” the beneficiary
designation at the center of this litigation took place
fourteen years ago. (Doc. 1, p. 3 ¶ 13). The relevant
time frame is not the time between the onset of this
litigation and M. Burrell's alleged event, but rather,
the timing between the October 2003 beneficiary designation
and the date of the incident M. Burrell discusses. Whether or
not Decedent was grateful or felt indebted to M. Burrell for
three years preceding the beneficiary designation is relevant
to the issue at hand. Accordingly, the Court finds paragraph
2 of M. Burrell's affidavit should not be
Jackson objects to M. Burrell's statement in paragraph 3
that Decedent “did not change the beneficiary of his
Chrysler life insurance policy in 2003 to Stormey D.
Burroughs Jackson” because Decedent assured her
“numerous times, both before 2003 and after 2003”
that she was beneficiary of the policy. (Doc. 68-7 ¶ 3).
Jackson argues that this portion is a conclusory allegation.
Jackson notes M. Burrell's admission that M. Burrell was
never identified as a beneficiary under Decedent's life
insurance policy. (Doc. 72, p. 2).
response, the Burrells contest that Jackson's argument is
deceptive. The Burrells explain they were never listed as a
“named” beneficiary under the policy, but they
are residual beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of
Decedent's Plan. (Doc. 81, p. 2). The Burrells argue they
are residual beneficiaries because Decedent's Plan
specifies that if Decedent did not designate a beneficiary,
his benefits would be distributed to his children if he did
not have a surviving spouse. (Doc. 63-1, p. 2; Doc. 63-1,
p.60). The Burrells argue that Decedent was unmarried at the
time of his death, and the beneficiary designation to Jackson
is invalid so, therefore, the benefits should be awarded to
M. Burrell's assertion (“My father did not change
the beneficiary”) is based on personal knowledge of her
conversations with Decedent (“I know this because my
father assured me numerous times”), the conclusion she
draws regarding Decedent's changing of the beneficiary is
speculative. As such, M. Burrell's statement, “My
father did not change the beneficiary of his Chrysler life
insurance policy in 2003 to Stormey D. Burroughs
Jackson” is conclusory and speculative and is due to be
stricken. (Doc. 68-7, ¶ 3).
addition, Jackson contends paragraph 3 of M. Burrell's
affidavit should be stricken because it contains inadmissible
hearsay. Hearsay is defined as “a statement, other than
one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or
hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter
asserted.” Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). Hearsay is only
admissible if “the statement is not hearsay as provided
by Rule 801(d) or falls into one of the hearsay exceptions
enumerated in Rules 803, 804, and 807.” United
States v. Baker, 432 F.3d 1189, 1203 (11th Cir. 2005).
“The general rule is that inadmissible hearsay cannot
defeat a motion for summary judgment where there is no
indication that it is reducible to a form that would be
admissible at trial.” Riley v. Univ. of Alabama
Health Serv. Found., 990 F.Supp.2d 1177, 1188 (N.D. Ala.
2014); See Pritchard v. Southern Co. Services, 102
F.3d 1118 (11th Cir.1996) (citations omitted). “An
affidavit submitted in connection with a motion for summary
judgment may contain hearsay statements that would be
admissible at the trial under exceptions to the hearsay
rule.” Riley, 990 F.Supp.2d at 1188 (N.D. Ala.
2014) (quoting H. Sand & Co. v. Airtemp Corp.,
934 F.2d 450, 454-55 (2nd Cir.1991).
statements assuring M. Burrell “numerous times, both
before 2003 and after 2003, that [she] was the beneficiary of
the life insurance policy” are out-of-court statements.
(Doc. 68-7, ¶ 3). The gist asserted in the statement -
“that I was a beneficiary of the life insurance
policy” - is being offered for its truth: that M.
Burrell is indeed a beneficiary of the policy. Accordingly,
the statement is hearsay.
Burrells argue the statement is an exception to the hearsay
rule under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(3) (“Rule
803(3)”). Fed.R.Evid. 803(3). Rule 803(3) establishes
an exception to hearsay whenever the declarant's
statement is “a statement of the declarant's
then-existing state of mind (such as motive, intent, or plan)
or emotion, sensory, or physical condition (such as mental
feeling, pain, or bodily health.” Id. The
Burrells assert the statement shows Decedent's
then-existing state of mind conveying his intent to never
designate Jackson as the sole beneficiary. (Doc. 81, p. 2).
The Court finds that the statement properly falls within this
exception to the hearsay rule, and it could be reduced to
admissible form at trial.
Burrells also contend the statements in paragraph 3 qualify
under the residual hearsay exception under Federal Rule of
Evidence 807 (“Rule 807”). In relevant part, Rule
the following circumstances, a hearsay statement is not
excluded by the rule against hearsay even if the statement is
not specifically covered by a hearsay exception in Rule 803
(a) the statement has equivalent circumstantial guarantees of
(b) it is offered as evidence of a material fact;
(c) it is more probative on the point for which it is offered
than any other evidence that the proponent can obtain ...