896 F.2d 116 (5th Cir. 1990), 88-4865, State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman

Docket Nº:88-4865.
Citation:896 F.2d 116
Party Name:STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. Diane D. GUTTERMAN, et al., Defendants-Appellees, v. Regan Daughtry GUTTERMAN and John S. Gutterman, III, Infants, Defendants-Appellants, and H.J. Davidson, Jr., Co-Guardian Ad Litem of the Minor Children, Etc., Appellant.
Case Date:March 12, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 116

896 F.2d 116 (5th Cir. 1990)

STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,

v.

Diane D. GUTTERMAN, et al., Defendants-Appellees,

v.

Regan Daughtry GUTTERMAN and John S. Gutterman, III,

Infants, Defendants-Appellants,

and

H.J. Davidson, Jr., Co-Guardian Ad Litem of the Minor

Children, Etc., Appellant.

No. 88-4865.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 12, 1990

H.J. Davidson, Jr., Columbus, Miss., Co-Guardian Ad Litem for infants.

Henry D.H. Olinde, Jr., Timothy F. Burr, New Orleans, La., for Regan Daughtry Gutterman & John S. Gutterman, III.

Jacob C. Pongetti, Columbus, Miss., Trustee.

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James A. Walters, Charles D. Easley, Walters & Easley, Columbus, Miss., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Before GARZA, WILLIAMS and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

In this dispute over the proceeds of a life insurance policy, the appellant, a co-guardian ad litem for two minor children (the co-guardian), complains of the district court's order terminating his appointment and dismissing the claims of the minors he represents. We affirm.

I.

In May of 1987, plaintiff, State Farm Life Insurance Company (State Farm) instituted an interpleader action seeking a judicial determination of the party entitled to the proceeds of a life insurance policy insuring the life of the deceased, Dr. John S. Gutterman, II. State Farm named as defendants Diane Gutterman, Dr. Gutterman's surviving widow; Jacob C. Pongetti, Trustee-in-Bankruptcy for the Estate of Dr. Gutterman and Diane Gutterman (the trustee); Ruth Segars, the mother of Diane Gutterman; Joel Daughtry, the father of Diane Gutterman; the Estate of Dr. Gutterman of which Diane Gutterman qualified as administrator; and Regan Daughtry Gutterman and John S. Gutterman, III, the minor children of Dr. Gutterman and Diane Gutterman. The court appointed a guardian ad litem for the children. The court later appointed a co-guardian ad litem (the appellant in this appeal).

A brief recitation of the background facts is necessary to understand the dispute that arose over the policy proceeds. In February of 1984, Dr. Gutterman applied for a $700,000 life insurance policy with State Farm. The policy named him as the insured and designated his wife Diane Gutterman as the primary beneficiary and owner of the policy. Ruth Segars was the successor beneficiary and Joel Daughtry was the final beneficiary.

In December 1985, Dr. Gutterman submitted a "Change of Beneficiary Form" to State Farm. The form named Dr. Gutterman as the insured and "Regan Gutterman--age 2--daughter" and "John S. Gutterman, III--age 1--son" as the primary beneficiaries. Diane Gutterman was the successor beneficiary. 1

In September 1986, Dr. Gutterman and Diane Gutterman filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

In January 1987, while in the bedroom of his home, Dr. Gutterman suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head. Although the death was initially considered a suicide, the co-guardian alleges that the injury was not self-inflicted and that Diane Gutterman caused her husband's death. Law enforcement officials investigated the death, but no criminal charges have been filed.

On March 13, 1987, the trustee served notice on State Farm that the proceeds of the policy were the property of Diane Gutterman's bankruptcy estate and should be tendered to the trustee. On March 23, 1987, Diane Gutterman made a claim for the proceeds of the life insurance policy.

After interpleading the above-named parties, State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment seeking permission to withdraw from the interpleader action on grounds that it had paid its policy limit in the court's registry and had no further liability or interest in the litigation. The court granted State Farm's motion and dismissed it from the suit.

Diane Gutterman then filed a motion for summary judgment to obtain the insurance proceeds. The court granted the motion and ordered the proceeds paid to Diane's bankruptcy trustee. The court terminated the guardianship and dismissed the claims of the minor children.

The co-guardian filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that Diane Gutterman

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would not be entitled to the proceeds if she caused the death of Dr. Gutterman. The court held that, even if Diane Gutterman were disqualified as a beneficiary, the minor children were not entitled to the proceeds. That ruling is the subject of this appeal.

II.

The co-guardian contends that disputed issues of material fact are presented with regard to whether Diane Gutterman killed her husband and, therefore, summary judgment was improper. Appellant argues that if the factfinder ultimately finds that Diane murdered her husband, Dr. Gutterman's children are entitled to the insurance proceeds for two reasons. First, he argues that the children, as Dr. Gutterman's heirs, should receive the proceeds in the event all named beneficiaries are disqualified. Second, he maintains that Dr. Gutterman signed a valid change of beneficiary form naming the children as beneficiaries.

We conclude that the co-guardian did not present sufficient evidence to create a material issue of fact as to whether Diane Gutterman killed her husband. Furthermore, we conclude, as a matter of law, that no valid change of beneficiary form was executed naming the children as beneficiaries.

A.

The co-guardian argues that the district court erred...

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