448 F.3d 918 (6th Cir. 2006), 05-1662, DaimlerChrysler Corp. Healthcare Benefits Plan v. Durden

Docket Nº:05-1662.
Citation:448 F.3d 918
Party Name:DAIMLERCHRYSLER CORPORATION HEALTHCARE BENEFITS PLAN; DaimlerChrysler Group Insurance Program; DaimlerChrysler Corporation; DaimlerChrysler-UAW Pension Plan, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Ann DURDEN, Defendant-Appellant, Rita Lorraine Marshall-Durden, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:May 26, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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448 F.3d 918 (6th Cir. 2006)

DAIMLERCHRYSLER CORPORATION HEALTHCARE BENEFITS PLAN; DaimlerChrysler Group Insurance Program; DaimlerChrysler Corporation; DaimlerChrysler-UAW Pension Plan, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Ann DURDEN, Defendant-Appellant,

Rita Lorraine Marshall-Durden, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 05-1662.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 26, 2006

Submitted: April 26, 2006

Rehearing Denied Aug. 1, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 04-72189—Bernard A. Friedman, Chief District Judge.

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Alan R. Kirshner, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellant.

Jerry R. Swift, DEAN & FULKERSON, Troy, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: MERRITT, MARTIN, and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges.

McKEAGUE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which MARTIN, J., joined. MERRITT, J. (p. 928 - 929), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

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McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

This appeal involves an interpleader action filed by a pension plan seeking a declaration of which of two claimants is decedent, Douglas Durden's surviving spouse. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Rita Lorraine Marshall-Durden, finding that Rita is Douglas Durden's "surviving spouse" and is entitled to surviving spouse benefits. On appeal, the other claimant, Ann Durden, contends that the district court erred in applying Michigan substantive law to determine which claimant is the surviving spouse. She argues that Ohio law applies and that under Ohio law she is entitled to the benefits as the surviving spouse. For the following reasons, we conclude that Ohio law should have been applied and that under Ohio law Ann is the surviving spouse. Consequently, we reverse the decision of the district court.


On September 16, 1966, Douglas Durden married Ann Linzy in Toledo, Ohio. According to Ann, she and Douglas lived together in Toledo from 1966 to 1982, but because Douglas was abusive, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1982. Douglas and Ann had two children together, Douglas M. Durden, Jr., born February 6, 1967, and Freeman Richard Durden, born April 11, 1968.

In 1972, Rita Lorraine Marshall started a romantic relationship with Douglas. Ann says that she and Douglas were still living together at the time, and that they continued to live together until April of 1982. Douglas and Rita had a son who was born in 1975. OnNovember30, 1985,Douglas and Rita were married in Las Vegas, Nevada. On the marriage certificate, Douglas swore that his previous marriage was legally terminated in 1971 in Memphis, Tennessee. The divorce records from Shelby County, Tennessee (where Memphis is located) do not contain any indication of such a divorce. Moreover, Rita testified that when she began dating Douglas in 1972 she was aware he was still married to Ann. However, Rita also stated that before they were married in 1985 Douglas told Rita that Ann had divorced him. After their wedding in 1985, Rita and Douglas lived together as purported husband and wife in Toledo until Douglas's death in 2003. They adopted a son, Nikita Oliver, in 1988.

Ann avers that she never divorced Douglas, nor was she ever made aware of any divorce proceeding that he initiated. Ann filed for divorce on February 16, 1972, but that case was dismissed on November 2, 1972. Ann's search of the divorce records of the counties in which she or Douglas have lived supports her statement. The following searches failed to turn up any evidence of a divorce between Ann and Douglas: 1) a search of the divorce records from Lucas County, Ohio (where Toledo is located) from 1972 to 2005; and 2) a search of the divorce records from Shelby County, Tennessee (where Memphis is located).

The degree of knowledge that each woman had of the other's marriage to Douglas is not entirely clear. Ann states that she had no knowledge of Douglas's marriage to Rita until after Douglas's death. Rita asserts that Ann did know Rita and Douglas were married because Ann's children visited their father at Rita and Douglas's home in Toledo. The extent of Rita's knowledge of Douglas's marriage to Ann is similarly unclear. Rita states that she believed that Douglas's marriage to Ann had been legally terminated and that she was never informed by Ann, Douglas, or any other person that Ann and Douglas were still married.

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As an employee of DaimlerChrysler, Douglas Durden participated in the DaimlerChrysler Corporation-UAW Pension Plan ("the Plan") subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. The Plan provides, among other benefits, a Widow's/Widower's benefit to his surviving spouse calculated pursuant to the terms of the Plan. In documents pertaining to the Plan, Douglas listed Rita as his dependant spouse. Douglas was also covered by the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Life and Disability Programs, which covered Douglas in the amount of $59,500 of life insurance and provided transition and bridge benefits to his surviving spouse. Douglas did not designate a beneficiary for the life insurance, and when no beneficiary is named, the surviving spouse is first in line of succession to receive the proceeds. The Plan provides a choice of law provision which provides that the Plan "shall be construed, governed and administered in accordance with the laws of the State of Michigan except where otherwise required by Federal law."

Upon Douglas's death in October of 2003, the claim administrator for the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Life and Disability Programs, based upon the documents provided by Douglas, paid Rita $59,500 of life insurance proceeds. From the time of Douglas's death until May 2004, Rita was also provided healthcare benefits as Douglas's surviving spouse. The Widow's/Widower's benefit has not been paid by the Plan following Douglas's death. Because these benefits are being claimed by both Rita and Ann, health care benefits and transition and bridge benefits to Rita were suspended.

On June 14, 2004, DaimlerChrysler filed an interpleader complaint seeking a declaration as to which of the two claimants is Douglas's surviving spouse and, therefore, entitled to receive the health care benefits, transition and bridge benefits, life insurance proceeds, and the Widow's/Widower's benefit. Both Rita and Ann moved for summary judgment, each seeking a declaration that she is Douglas Durden's lawful spouse and therefore entitled to benefits. The district court held that the choice of law provision in the Plan controlled and applied Michigan law. Based on its application of Michigan law, the district court found that Rita was the surviving spouse and granted summary judgment in her favor. Ann timely appealed.


A. Standard of Review

This court reviews an order granting summary judgment de novo. Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir. 2005); Daniels v. Woodside, 396 F.3d 730, 734 (6th Cir. 2005); Valentine-Johnson v. Roche, 386 F.3d 800, 807 (6th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); accord Johnson, 398 F.3d at 873; Daniels, 396 F.3d at 734; Leadbetter v. Gilley, 385 F.3d 683, 689 (6th Cir. 2004). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Johnson, 398 F.3d at 873; Daniels, 396 F.3d at 734; Valentine-Johnson, 386 F.3d at 807. Any direct evidence offered by the plaintiff in response to a summary judgment motion must be accepted as true. Muhammad v. Close, 379 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 2004). Nevertheless, the "mere existence of some

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alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (emphasis in original); accord Leadbetter, 385 F.3d at 689-90; Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003).

B. Preemption

When Ann and Rita argued their cross-motions for summary judgment at the district court level, the dispute centered on the question of which state's law should be applied to determine which woman was Douglas's surviving spouse. On appeal Rita introduced a new issue into this case by arguing that ERISA preempts all state law. Rita points out that the Plan documents named her as Douglas's dependent spouse and argues that such a designation in an ERISA plan preempts any state law which would lead to a contrary conclusion.

A review of Rita's motion for summary judgment and the transcript of the hearing on that motion reveals that the preemption argument was never raised in the district court. In general, this court will not review issues raised for the first time on appeal. Barrier v. Pilkington N. Am., 399 F.3d 745, 749 (6th Cir. 2005); Lepard v. NBD Bank, 384 F.3d 232, 236 (6th Cir. 2004). Our function is to review the case presented to the district court, rather than a better case fashioned after a district court's unfavorable order. Barrier, 399 F.3d at 749. The court will consider an issue not raised below only when the proper resolution is beyond doubt or a plain miscarriage of justice might otherwise result. Lepard, 384 F.3d at 236; United States v. Ninety-Three (93) Firearms, 330 F.3d 414, 424 (6th Cir. 2003). This exception does not apply in this case.1

C. Choice of Law

The primary basis of Ann's appeal is her...

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