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Horn v. Securian Life Ins. Co.

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

July 25, 2019

MAKAYLA VAN HORN, Plaintiff,
v.
SECURIAN LIFE INS. CO., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Dan Aaron Polster United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Makayla Van Horn brings this action to collect life insurance proceeds following the death of her father, Rosston Van Horn, who failed to identify a beneficiary for those proceeds. Months after Rosston's death, Makayla learned that Defendant Sherri Ann Thomas, Rosston's mother and Makayla's grandmother, represented that she was Rosston's next of kin when applying for, and receiving, his life insurance proceeds. This case arises from Makayla's claim for her father's death benefits as the rightful next of kin.

         This case is before the Court on Calhoun's Motion to Dismiss. Doc #: 4. Calhoun contends that Plaintiff Makayla Van Horn's negligence claim is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). For the reasons that follow, Calhoun's Motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Rosston Van Horn was enrolled in a life insurance plan, Defendant Charter Communications, Inc. Welfare Benefit Plan (“Charter Plan”), under ERISA with Securian and through his employer Defendant Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”). Id. at ¶¶ 4, 6. Before his death, Rosston failed to list any beneficiaries under this plan. Id. at ¶ 9. Absent a listed beneficiary, the life insurance application states that any benefits will be paid to the next of kin. Id. at ¶ 10. Here, the next of kin is Rosston's daughter, Makayla. Id. at ¶ 6.

         After Rosston's death, Makayla's mother made several calls to Charter Communications and Securian regarding possible death benefits due to Makayla, but never heard back. Id. at ¶ 11. At the same time, Makayla joined her grandmother, Thomas, in making arrangements for her father's funeral services with Defendant Calhoun. Id. at ¶ 13-15. Calhoun assisted in the recovery of Rosston's death benefits because the funeral expenses due to Calhoun were to be paid directly out of the life insurance proceeds. Id. at ¶ 19. Despite arranging the services with both Makayla and Thomas, representatives of Calhoun went on to coordinate with only Thomas in contacting Securian regarding death benefits. Id. at ¶ 17.

         Thomas subsequently submitted a claim form to Securian. Id. at ¶ 18. The claim form gives the signee five options to identify themselves or another proper beneficiary when there is none listed in the plan:

(1) “I am the lawful spouse of the insured.”
(2) “I am a child, biologically or legally adopted, of the insured. The insured is not survived by any of the heirs in the levels outlined above. The surviving biological and/ or legally adopted children of the insured are myself and those listed below. Each child must complete a Preference Beneficiary Statement. List all biological and/or legally adopted children of the insured. If any deceased, please provide their date of death.”
(3) “I am a parent of the insured. The insured was not survived by any of the heirs in the levels outlined above. Both parents must complete a Preference Beneficiary Statement. If one parent is deceased, please give deceased's name and date of death.”
(4) “I am a sibling of the insured. The insured left no surviving heirs in the levels outlined above. The surviving siblings are myself and those listed below. All siblings must complete a Preference Beneficiary Statement. List all siblings of the insured. If any are deceased, please give their date of death.”
(5) “The insured was not survived by any heirs in the levels outlined above. Benefits are payable to the Estate of the Insured.”

Id., Ex. C. Thomas checked option three on the claim form, indicating that Rosston had no children and that she was the next of kin as his mother. Id. at ¶ 19. Thomas and Calhoun never mentioned Makayla in their communications with Securian. Id. However, Calhoun was well aware of Makayla's relationship to Rosston and even listed Makayla as Rosston's daughter in his death notice. Id. at ¶ 16.

         In 2017, Securian disbursed the life insurance benefits, paying Thomas approximately $50, 600 in death benefits and Calhoun $8, 390.20 for funeral costs. Id., Ex. D; Doc #: 12 at 2. In 2018, Makayla discovered that the life insurance benefits had been paid to Thomas. Id. at ¶ 24. Makayla sent a letter to Securian, making a claim for the life insurance. Id. at ¶ 25. Securian denied the claim, asserting that the benefits were paid to Thomas in “good faith.” Id. at ΒΆ 26. ...


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