State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman

Decision Date12 March 1990
Docket NumberNo. 88-4865,88-4865
PartiesSTATE 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.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

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.

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 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 in granting summary judgment in favor of Diane Gutterman because disputed issues of material fact exist as to whether Diane Gutterman killed her husband. We agree with the co-guardian that we must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bodnar v. Synpol, Inc., 843 F.2d 190, 192, reh'g denied, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 109 S.Ct. 260, 102 L.Ed.2d 248 (1988). But, after Diane filed her motion for summary judgment which was supported by her affidavit unequivocally denying any involvement in her husband's death, the burden shifted to the co-guardian to show that disputed issues of fact remained. As the non-moving party, the co-guardian was required to go beyond the pleadings and, by "affidavits or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there [was] a genuine issue for trial.' " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 ((1986), (citing, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).)

Both the Supreme Court and this circuit have addressed, at length, how much evidence the nonmoving party must present. The Supreme Court explained that the standard for granting summary judgment mirrors the standard for a directed verdict. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment...." Id. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. at 2509-10. Nor is the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" sufficient; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512. This circuit has described the amount of evidence the nonmoving party must bring forward as "significant probative evidence." In re Municipal Bond Reporting Antitrust Litg., 672 F.2d 436, 440 (5th Cir.1982), (quoting Ferguson v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc., 584 F.2d 111, 114 (5th Cir.1978)); Fischbach & Moore, Inc. v. Cajun Elec. Power Co-Op., 799 F.2d 194, 197 (5th Cir.1986). This may be equated with the "substantial evidence" standard used to determine whether a directed verdict is appropriate. Boeing Company v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th Cir.1969).

Although the co-guardian, in his brief, alludes to several "disputed facts" that he argues indicate that Diane Gutterman participated in her husband's death, the co-guardian only offers support for one of his allegations. He relies on Diane Gutterman's testimony during her December 17, 1987 deposition. Diane Gutterman unequivocally stated both in her deposition and in her affidavit in support of her...

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