Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Minnesota Life Insurance Co. v. Birney

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 11, 2017

MINNESOTA LIFE INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
CORY BIRNEY, et al., Defendants.

          Kemp, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. SMITH, JUDGE

         This is an interpleader action wherein Plaintiff Minnesota Life Insurance Co. seeks a determination as to who is entitled to the life insurance proceeds from decedent, Richard Birney. Richard Birney's surviving spouse, Cory Birney, and his girlfriend Summer Fairman both assert that they are entitled to the life insurance policies at issue in this case and have both moved for summary judgment in their favor. (See Docs. 35 and 40). Also pending is Defendant Birney's Motion to Strike Defendant Fairman's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 44)[1], as well as Plaintiff Minnesota Life Insurance Company's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs (Doc. 52). These motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, Defendant Cory Birney's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART and Defendant Summer Fairman's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         Plaintiff Minnesota Life's unopposed Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs is GRANTED. And Defendant Birney's Motion to Strike is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The decedent, Richard Birney was employed as a plumber with The Ohio State University and had three employer provided life insurance policies through Plaintiff, Minnesota Life. The life insurance policies are:

1. Basic Life Insurance Policy with a death benefit of $117, 260.00.
2. Accidental Death Policy with a death benefit of $117, 260.00.
3. Voluntary Supplemental Life Insurance Policy with a death benefit of $375, 232.00.

         The first two basic life insurance policies were acquired by Richard Birney on December 5, 2011. He did not designate a beneficiary when he first acquired the policies. Richard Birney applied for the supplemental policy on January 3, 2015 and named Summer Fairman as the beneficiary.

         A. Family History

         The decedent Richard Birney and Defendant Cory Birney were married on August 30, 1998. Mr. Birney adopted their oldest child, Thomas Birney (DOB 6/22/97), and then the couple had four more children together: Abigail Birney (DOB 2/28/99); Zachary Birney (DOB 1/18/01); Natalie Birney (DOB 9/2/03); and Phillip Birney (DOB 8/8/04). (Doc. 35-1, Cory Birney Aff. ¶ 7).

         In early 2012, Richard and Corey Birney separated and Richard moved in with his girlfriend, Summer Fairman. Richard and Summer continued to live together until Mr. Birney's death on February 14, 2015. During the separation, Mr. Birney continued to support his family, paying the majority of the mortgage and utility bills on the family home. However, the Birney's encountered financial troubles and Richard and Cory entered into a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in On September 9, 2013, Cory Birney filed for divorce against Richard Birney in the Licking County Domestic Relations Court (see Birney v. Birney, Case No. 13-DR-1010). (Doc. 35-1, Cory Birney Aff. ¶ 7). The same day the Domestic Court issued a Restraining Order that provided in pertinent part:

(C) Plaintiff and Defendant are hereby restrained from damaging, moving, selling, giving away, transferring, withdrawing, disposing of, or encumbering any interest which either party may have in real property, personal property, funds, accounts, business interests, investments, or any other asset, except for existing businesses in the ordinary course of business. The Plaintiff and Defendant are permitted to use a checking account for ordinary living expenses.
(G) Plaintiff and Defendant are hereby restrained from terminating, modifying, or changing the beneficiaries on any policy of life, health, automobile, or other insurance which covers a party or a minor child of the parties.

(Doc. 35-1, Restraining Order at 7).

         In addition to the divorce proceedings, there were numerous custody hearings and Cory Birney continued to care for the children until there was an accusation that Cory slapped her son Zachary. As a result of this, Children's Services suggested that the children be placed with their father, Richard. Before the final adjudication of both the juvenile and divorce proceedings, Richard Birney was killed in a car accident on February 14, 2015. Mr. Birney was hit by a drunk driver who went left of center at a high rate of speed and hit him head on. The other driver's blood alcohol was found to be almost three times the legal limit.

         During her separation from Mr. Birney, Mrs. Birney began a relationship with Keith Nutter and she had a child with him, Michael Nutter (DOB 2/26/13). There are also a number of other statements included in the parties' briefs regarding the care of the children, Summer Fairman's new relationship, the funds Summer Fairman received upon Richard's death and other possessions and assets she retained from his estate. However, the Court has not included those details are they are not relevant to the legal determination as to who is entitled to the life insurance proceeds.

         B. Life Insurance Policies

         The details of each of the life insurance policies at issue in this case are as follows:

(1) A basic Life Insurance policy (“basic life policy”) that provided for a death benefit of $117, 260.00. This policy was obtained by Richard Birney on December 5, 2011. He did not name a specific beneficiary at that time. However, Minnesota Life's policy was that the surviving spouse would be the beneficiary where no beneficiary is designated.
(2) An accidental death policy (“accidental death policy”) with a death benefit of $117, 260.00. This policy was also obtained by Richard Birney on December 5, 2011, and again no beneficiary was designated at that time. There is no dispute that because Richard Birney died as a result of an automobile accident, his death qualifies as an accidental death under this policy.
Although Richard Birney did not initially name a beneficiary to the aforementioned two policies, on November 20, 2014, he named Summer Fairman as the beneficiary of these two policies.
(3) A voluntary supplemental life insurance policy with a death benefit of $375, 232.00, that was taken out by Richard Birney shortly before he died. Birney applied for the supplemental policy on January 3, 2015. He designated Summer Fairman as the primary beneficiary, and designated Thomas Birney and the minor children as contingent beneficiaries. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 21). This policy was not due to begin coverage until a date after Birney's death, but Minnesota Life has determined that it will honor the policy.

         Together, the aforementioned life insurance policies provide for a total death benefit of $609, 752.00.

         C. Procedural History

         This case was initiated on August 5, 2015. Minnesota Life has named all potential interested parties as Defendants in this case. Defendants Cory Birney and Summer Fairman are both seeking the entirety of the life insurance proceeds of Richard Birney and have moved for summary judgment in their favor. Minnesota Life has deposited a sum of $651, 350.64 with the Court, the total of all the life insurance proceeds ($609, 752.00), plus accrued interest from the date Minnesota Life received proof of claim. (See Doc. 51). On August 12, 2016, Plaintiff Minnesota Life was terminated as a party to this case. The Court ordered that the insurance proceeds be deposited in an interest-bearing account. (See Id.).

         In addition to the family members of Richard Birney and his girlfriend, American Funeral Financial, LLC (“AFF”) has been named as a Defendant because they provided the financing for Richard Birney's funeral expenses at the Kauber-Sammons Funeral Home. (See Ex. A attached to Doc. 26, AFF's Answer). Summer Fairman made the funeral and burial arrangements, which cost $20, 793.71. To obtain financing with AFF, Fairman assigned that amount from the purported life insurance proceeds she would receive. Upon Birney's death, AFF made a claim to Minnesota Life for their assigned portion of the life insurance proceeds. AFF has filed cross-claims against all the Defendants. Specifically, AFF filed a breach of contract cross-claim against Defendant Summer Fairman, for $20, 793.71, the cost of the funeral expenses, plus interest. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.