The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge
Now before the court is the unopposed motion for summary judgment [doc. 40] filed by defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife").*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and this civil action will be dismissed.
I. Applicable Legal Standards
Summary judgment is warranted when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The movant may discharge its burden by demonstrating that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of that party's case for which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
After the moving party has made its initial showing, the burden shifts to the non-movant to present specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present significantly probative evidence in support of its complaint. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). The non-movant's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that party's favor. Id. at 255. The court determines whether the evidence requires submission to a jury or whether one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52.
Plaintiff married Jerry L. Faris ("Faris") in 1995. Defendants Jill Kirsten Faris, Joy Svea Johnson, and Joni Trinette Faris (collectively, "the Daughters") are Faris's adult children from a previous marriage. Defendant Christi Faris is plaintiff's and Faris's adopted daughter.*fn2
Plaintiff and Faris separated in 2005, and an action for divorce was commenced in June of that year. Pursuant to § 36-4-106 of the Tennessee Code, a temporary injunction went into effect upon the filing of the divorce petition. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-106(d) ("restraining and enjoining both parties from . . . in any way dissipating or disposing, without the consent of the other party or an order of the court, of any marital property" or changing the beneficiary status of any insurance policy that provides coverage to either of the parties or the children).
Faris died on April 5, 2007. He and plaintiff were still married on the date of death, as no final divorce decree had been entered.
Faris was a retired federal employee. Secondary to his employment, he held a Federal Employees Group Life Insurance policy administered by MetLife.*fn3 As of the date of entry of the state court injunction, plaintiff was named as an 80% beneficiary of the policy. On April 25, 2006, Faris designated the Daughters and Christy Faris each as 25% beneficiaries and deleted plaintiff's share. By her first amended complaint, plaintiff contends that the state court injunction rendered that action null and void.
The Supreme Court has consistently held that federal beneficiary designation and anti-assignment provisions preempt conflicting state law property rights. See, e.g., Ridgway v. Ridgway, 454 U.S. 46 (1981) (Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act); Hisquierdo v. Hisquierdo, 439 U.S. 572 (1979) (Railroad Retirement Act); Wissner v. Wissner, 338 U.S. 655 (1950) (National Service Life Insurance Act). "[S]pecifically, a state divorce decree, like other law governing the economic aspects of domestic relations, must give way to clearly conflicting federal enactments. . . . That principle is but the necessary consequence of the Supremacy Clause of our National Constitution." Ridgway, 454 U.S. at 55. "It has been consistently held in regard to FEGLIA that a divorce decree cannot operate as a waiver or restriction of an insured's right to change the beneficiary when federal regulations conflict." Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364, 367 (8th Cir. 1997); accord Dean v. Johnson, 881 F.2d 948, 949 (10th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff's first amended complaint therefore fails to state a cognizable claim as to Faris's FEGLI beneficiary change. See Dean, 881 F.2d at 949 ("The state domestic relations court order ostensibly restricts the federal insured's right to designate a beneficiary and thus cannot be valid under FEGLIA."); Matthews v. Matthews, 926 F. Supp. 650, 653 (N.D. Ohio 1996) ("[F]ederal law, not state law, governs this action and . . . a beneficiary designated in accordance with the procedures prescribed by the FGLIA [sic] should prevail over beneficiaries designated in another document."). Conflicting state law cannot override an employee's ability to designate beneficiaries of a FEGLI policy.
Further, in enacting FEGLIA, Congress generally chose not to require notice to, or approval by, any third person prior to a change of beneficiary. See, e.g., 5 U.S.C. § 8705. Consistent with FEGLIA, the implementing regulations provide that "[a]n insured individual . . . may change his/her beneficiary at any time without the knowledge or consent of the previous beneficiary. This right cannot be waived or restricted." 5 C.F.R. § 870.802(f).
Of direct and controlling relevance to the present case, Congress expressly provided a procedure for spouses to protect their state law interests in FEGLI policies, and plaintiff failed to take advantage of that procedure. Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 8705(e), a state domestic relations court order may in fact trump an insured's attempted beneficiary designation. The order simply must expressly address the FEGLI policy and be filed with the Office of Personnel Management prior to the insured's death. See 5 U.S.C. § 8705(e)(1), (2). Had plaintiff accomplished those two simple steps, Faris would then have been unable to ...