United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Aaron Polster United States District Judge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 ¶ 26. ...