United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE JOHN J. TUCHI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
issue are the following Motions: (1) Defendants Amanda
Thomas, Matthew Thomas, Andrea Thomas-Fuller, and Michelle
Thomas-Landovazo's (collectively, the “Thomas
Children”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc.
79, Thomas Children MSJ), to which Defendant Dawn Begay
(“Begay”) filed a Response (Doc. 83, Resp. to
Thomas Children MSJ), and the Thomas Children filed a Reply
(Doc. 92, Thomas Children Reply); (2) Defendant Beverly
Thomas's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 81, BT MSJ),
to which Defendant Dawn Begay filed a Response (Doc. 84,
Resp. to BT MSJ), and Beverly Thomas filed a Reply (Doc. 93,
BT Reply); and (3) Defendant Dawn Begay's Motion for
Court Settlement Conference (Doc. 88), to which Beverly
Thomas filed a Response (Doc. 94). No party requested oral
argument on any Motion, and thus, the Court resolves the
Motions without such argument. See LRCiv 7.2(f).
Accordingly, the Court grants the Motions for Summary
Judgment and denies the Motion for a Settlement Conference.
early hours of March 14, 2015, a fire ignited in a
residential trailer located at Space #287 in the Kayenta
Mobile Home Park in Kayenta, Arizona. (Doc. 82, Beverly
Thomas Separate Statement of Facts (“BT SSOF”)
Ex. A.) The fire department and other emergency personnel
arrived on the scene shortly thereafter in an effort to
extinguish the blaze. (BT SSOF Ex. A.) Upon arrival, the
first responders found Beverly Thomas who reported that her
husband, LeVon Thomas (“Mr. Thomas”), was still
inside the trailer. The firefighters extinguished the fire
and proceeded inside where they found LeVon Thomas's body
Three days later, the Navajo Department of Criminal
Investigations performed an autopsy, which revealed that Mr.
Thomas died from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation. His
manner of death, however, was undetermined, and the
Department closed the case because they found no evidence of
foul play. (BT SSOF Ex. A.)
to Mr. Thomas's death, Prudential Insurance
(“Prudential”) issued a group life insurance
policy to his employer, Peabody Energy Corporation. (Doc.
1-1, Compl. Ex. A.) The Policy provided for $90, 000 in term
life insurance benefits in the event that Mr. Thomas passed
away prior to retirement. (Compl. Ex. A at 9.) Further, the
policy allowed Mr. Thomas “to choose a Beneficiary for
each Coverage under this Prudential Group Contract.”
(Compl. Ex. A at 19.) In the event that Mr. Thomas failed to
name a beneficiary, the plan would pay the benefit to
“the first of the following: [his] (a) surviving
spouse; (b) surviving child(ren) in equal shares . . .
.” (Compl. Ex. A at 19.) However, Mr. Thomas named his
wife-Beverly-as the primary beneficiary for both his life
insurance and accidental death and dismemberment policies.
(Doc. 4-1, Compl. Ex. D.) Additionally, Mr. Thomas named as
contingent beneficiaries his “children on record 25%
each.” (Compl. Ex. D.)
29, 2015, Beverly Thomas, as the designated beneficiary,
submitted a claim with Prudential to collect Mr. Thomas's
life insurance benefit. (Doc. 4-2, Compl. Ex. E.) However,
Prudential did not pay out the policy because of the
circumstances surrounding Mr. Thomas's death. Instead,
Prudential filed an Interpleader action in this Court for a
determination to whom the benefit should be paid, naming as
Defendants Beverly Thomas, the Thomas Children, and Begay.
(Doc. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 2-7, 20-27.) In its Complaint,
Prudential alleges that “[i]n the event that Beverly is
not disqualified from receiving the Death Benefit, the Death
Benefit will be payable to Beverly as the designated
beneficiary under the Group Policy's Beneficiary
Rules.” (Compl. ¶ 23.)
Prudential deposited Mr. Thomas's death benefit into the
Court's registry and the Court dismissed Prudential, and
all claims against Prudential, with prejudice. (Doc. 66,
Order.) Both Beverly Thomas and the Thomas Children now move
for partial summary judgment on the Interpleader Complaint,
arguing that Begay is not entitled to any portion of Mr.
Thomas's death benefit.
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is appropriate when: (1) the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact; and (2) after
viewing the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party,
the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986); Eisenberg v. Ins. Co. of N. Am.,
815 F.2d 1285, 1288-89 (9th Cir. 1987). Under this standard,
“[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under governing [substantive] law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A “genuine issue” of material fact arises
only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
regard as true the non-moving party's evidence, if it is
supported by affidavits or other evidentiary material.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Eisenberg, 815
F.2d at 1289. However, the non-moving party may not merely
rest on its pleadings; it must produce some significant
probative evidence tending to contradict the moving
party's allegations, thereby creating a material question
of fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57 (holding that
the plaintiff must present affirmative evidence in order to
defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment);
First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co.,
391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968).
summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by relying solely
on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data.”
Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).
“Summary judgment must be entered ‘against a
party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.'” United States v. Carter, 906 F.2d
1375, 1376 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322).
Motions for Summary Judgment
Prudential alleges in the Interpleader Complaint, if Beverly
Thomas “is not disqualified from receiving the Death
Benefit, ” it shall be paid to her as Mr. Thomas's
designated beneficiary. (Compl. ¶ 23.) No party contests
this allegation. (Doc. 50, Thomas Children Answer ¶ 23;
Doc. 16, Begay Answer ¶ 23; Doc. 31, Beverly Thomas
Answer ¶ 23.) Thus, the predicate question at summary
judgment-which both Beverly Thomas and the Thomas Children
raise-is whether or not Beverly Thomas is disqualified under
Arizona law. Begay insists that she is, ...