Session November 1, 2016
from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 151297III
Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor
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the beneficiary designation had been revoked in the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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed in part; Vacated in part; and Case
M. Rich, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mary Beth
Chadwick W. Stanfill, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Estate of Stephen Vincent Leary.
Paxton Roberts and J. Anne Tipps, Nashville, Tennessee, for
the appellee, Voya Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy J. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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 ...