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Voya Retirement Insurance and Annuity Co. v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 27, 2017

VOYA RETIREMENT INSURANCE AND ANNUITY COMPANY
v.
MARY BETH JOHNSON ET AL.

          Session November 1, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 151297III Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor

         A plan administrator filed an interpleader action asking the court to determine the proper beneficiary of death benefits in a retirement plan. After the plan participant died, both his former wife and his estate demanded payment from the plan administrator. Although the former wife was listed as the designated beneficiary in the plan, the estate claimed that the beneficiary designation had been revoked in the couple's marital dissolution agreement. The former wife filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and a counterclaim alleging breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the administration of the plan. The trial court denied the former wife's motion, awarded the disputed proceeds to the estate, and dismissed the counterclaim. The former wife appealed. Upon review, we conclude that the marital dissolution agreement did not revoke the previous beneficiary designation. We also conclude that the trial court erred in dismissing the counterclaim. Thus, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed in part; Vacated in part; and Case Remanded

          David M. Rich, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mary Beth Johnson.

          Chadwick W. Stanfill, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Estate of Stephen Vincent Leary.

          Lauren Paxton Roberts and J. Anne Tipps, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Voya Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy J. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         On August 6, 2001, Stephen Leary enrolled in the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Employees Deferred Compensation Plan (the "MetroMax Plan"). He designated his wife, Mary Beth Leary, as the beneficiary.

         The Learys divorced on April 18, 2002. As part of their divorce, Mr. and Mrs. Leary executed a marital dissolution agreement ("MDA"), which was approved by the court and incorporated as part of the final divorce decree. In the MDA, Mr. Leary was awarded all right, title, and interest in "all retirement that he may have through his employment with the Metro Government." Mr. Leary died on January 24, 2014, leaving his former wife, now Mary Beth Johnson, as his designated beneficiary.

         Both Ms. Johnson and Mr. Leary's estate (the "Estate") demanded payment of the death benefits in the MetroMax Plan. On October 28, 2015, the plan administrator, Voya Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company, filed this interpleader action in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, seeking to join both claimants as defendants and to deposit the disputed funds with the court. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 22.

         Ms. Johnson filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and a counterclaim. In her counterclaim, Ms. Johnson alleged that the plan administrator had breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The plan administrator responded with a motion to dismiss ...


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