Rumpf v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co.

Citation593 S.E.2d 183,357 S.C. 386
Decision Date02 February 2004
Docket NumberNo. 3738.,3738.
PartiesRobert E. RUMPF, Alice Rumpf Easton, and Theresa Horton as Personal Representative for the Estate of Marvin G. Rumpf, individually and as shareholders in the former Rumpf Truck Line, Inc., a Michigan corporation; Diane Rumpf Ketring, John Rumpf, Philip Rumpf and Keye Rumpf Hennessey as heirs to and beneficiaries of the Estate of Marvin G. Rumpf, Appellants, v. MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE CO., The Palmetto Bank, Phillip Betette, individually and as agent for The Palmetto Bank, and DOES 1-5, inclusive, Defendants, of whom Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., The Palmetto Bank, and Phillip Betette, are Respondents.
CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina

Marjorie T. Simmons, of Bellingham, Washington; and Rodney F. Pillsbury, of Greenville, for Appellants.

Grady L. Patterson, III, of Columbia, for Respondent Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

James Theodore Gentry, of Greenville, for Respondents The Palmetto Bank and Phillip Betette.


Appellants brought this action against Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company ("Mass Mutual") and The Palmetto Bank ("Palmetto Bank") asserting causes of action for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty relating to the payment of dividends that accrued under an annuity contract with Mass Mutual. The trial court found these claims failed on their merits and were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. We affirm.


This case has its origins with a company that no longer exists, Rumpf Truck Line, Inc. ("RTL"). RTL was a familyowned business with three shareholders: siblings Marvin G. Rumpf, Robert E. Rumpf, and Alice Rumpf Easton. Marvin Rumpf served as president of the company.

In 1966, RTL and Mass Mutual entered into a contract containing a pension plan for the non-union employees of RTL. The contract gave retirement benefits to RTL employees in the form of annuities having defined benefit schedules. Marvin Rumpf served as the pension plan administrator.

In 1975, RTL merged with Duff Truck Line, Inc. Duff decided to discontinue the pension plan. The contract with Mass Mutual was amended so that all of the RTL employees who had participated in the pension plan—including Marvin Rumpf—were given paid-up annuities in the value of their pension plan balances.

It was anticipated, however, that the investment returns Mass Mutual received under the contract would sometimes exceed the amount needed to pay the benefits under the individual annuity contracts. When those circumstances arose, the amended contract provided that any dividends declared by Mass Mutual after the commencement of the paid-up term would be "paid in cash to the Contractholder or such person, persons, firm or corporation as the Contractholder may designate."

On August 7, 1979, Denise A. Wilson, with Mass Mutual's Group Pension Consulting Department, wrote to Marvin Rumpf as plan administrator informing him that dividends had accrued under the contract that Mass Mutual wished to pay. The letter noted that Mass Mutual did not know to whom it should send the dividends—advising Rumpf that it could not determine whether the contractholder was RTL or Duff. Mass Mutual wrote Duff notifying it of the same information.

Marvin Rumpf replied by letter, dated August 25, 1979, that all dividends should be sent to him and that he would ensure they were distributed among the three stockholders. Duff responded to Mass Mutual claiming it was the proper contractholder. Mass Mutual replied to both Marvin Rumpf and Duff informing them of the dispute.

On September 16, 1980, Marvin Rumpf again inquired with Mass Mutual regarding the status of the dividend payment. Mass Mutual advised Marvin Rumpf and Duff by letter dated November 3, 1980 that it could not pay dividends until the parties determined which was the contractholder.

Marvin Rumpf took no further action to claim or ascertain his entitlement to any dividends. He died in South Carolina in 1989, survived by his four children who were the beneficiaries of his estate.

As directed in his will, Palmetto Bank was appointed personal representative of Rumpf's estate. Phillip Betette, a senior trust officer for Palmetto Bank, carried out much of the bank's work on the estate, but was not himself named personal representative. The estate was closed after a hearing before the probate court.

In 1993, Duff Truck Lines dissolved. Mass Mutual later escheated the accumulated dividends for the period 1979 through 1989 to the State of South Carolina. Throughout the balance of the 1990's, dividends continued to accrue under the contract and were held by Mass Mutual.

No one inquired regarding the status or ownership of these funds until "late April, 1999." That year, one of Marvin Rumpf's surviving daughters discovered the escheated dividend payments "while browsing the Internet." The surviving shareholders and other beneficiaries of Marvin Rumpf confronted Palmetto Bank and Mass Mutual as to why they had not been informed of the accumulated dividends at the time of the distribution of Marvin Rumpfs estate a decade earlier.

Upon demand from the beneficiaries, Mass Mutual, on October 6, 1999, paid them accumulated dividends, in the amount of $169,873.45, for the period 1990 through 1999. The shareholders and heirs obtained the escheated funds from the State in the sum of $186,394.04 by check dated December 13, 1999. Accordingly, all dividends under the contract have been paid.

This Action

Though all of the accrued dividends were ultimately paid, the beneficiaries believed Mass Mutual and Palmetto Bank acted wrongfully by failing to discover or actively concealing their entitlement to the dividend funds. Thus, they brought the present action. Against Mass Mutual, they asserted multiple claims for breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, insurance bad-faith, conversion, and unfair trade practices. They alleged breach of fiduciary duty and fraud against Palmetto Bank.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants on all of the causes of action. Though the court addressed the merits of the individual claims, it found the entire case against Mass Mutual was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Likewise, in a separate order addressing the claims against Palmetto Bank, the trial court held that action was barred because the statute of limitations had expired. The court further ruled the action was barred because the probate court overseeing the administration of Marvin Rumpf's estate had discharged Palmetto Bank from all liability as personal representative, and the beneficiaries of Marvin Rumpfs estate had signed a full release in favor of Palmetto Bank upon distribution of property from the estate.


When reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, the appellate court applies the same standard which governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP: Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Laurens Emergency Med. Specialists v. M.S. Bailey & Sons Bankers, 355 S.C. 104, 584 S.E.2d 375 (2003); Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 567 S.E.2d 857 (2002); Regions Bank v. Schmauch, 354 S.C. 648, 582 S.E.2d 432 (Ct.App.2003); Redwend Ltd. P'ship v. Edwards, 354 S.C. 459, 581 S.E.2d 496 (Ct.App.2003). In determining whether any triable issue of fact exists, the evidence and all inferences which can reasonably be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sauner v. Public Serv. Auth., 354 S.C. 397, 581 S.E.2d 161 (2003); Hendricks v. Clemson Univ., 353 S.C. 449, 578 S.E.2d 711 (2003); McNair v. Rainsford, 330 S.C. 332, 499 S.E.2d 488 (Ct.App.1998); see also Laurens Emergency Med. Specialists, 355 S.C. at 108,

584 S.E.2d at 377 (stating that in reviewing summary judgment motion, facts and circumstances must be viewed in light most favorable to non-moving party). If triable issues exist, those issues must go to the jury. Baril v. Aiken Reg'l Med. Ctrs., 352 S.C. 271, 573 S.E.2d 830 (Ct.App.2002); Young v. South Carolina Dep't of Corrections, 333 S.C. 714, 511 S.E.2d 413 (Ct.App.1999).

Summary judgment is appropriate where 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 judgment as a matter of law. Russell v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 353 S.C. 208, 578 S.E.2d 329 (2003); Regions Bank, 354 S.C. at 659,582 S.E.2d at 438; Hedgepath v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 348 S.C. 340, 559 S.E.2d 327 (Ct.App.2001); Rule 56(c), SCRCP. All ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences arising from the evidence must be construed most strongly against the moving party. Schmidt v. Courtney, 357 S.C. 310, 592 S.E.2d 326 (2003); Bayle v. South Carolina Dep't of Transp., 344 S.C. 115, 542 S.E.2d 736 (Ct.App.2001); see also Ferguson v. Charleston Lincoln Mercury, Inc., 349 S.C. 558, 563, 564 S.E.2d 94, 96 (2002)

("On appeal from an order granting summary judgment, the appellate court will review all ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences arising in and from the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party below.").

Summary judgment is not appropriate where further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Brockbank v. Best Capital Corp., 341 S.C. 372, 534 S.E.2d 688 (2000); Bayle, 344 S.C. at 120, 542 S.E.2d at 738. Summary judgment should not be granted even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary facts if there is disagreement concerning the conclusion to be drawn from those facts. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 (2000). However, when plain, palpable, and indisputable facts exist on which reasonable...

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