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Hall v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 8, 2014

Jane Marie Hall, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; Dennis Lynn Hall, II, Defendants - Appellees

Submitted October 24, 2013

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

For Jane Marie Hall, Plaintiff - Appellant: Konstandinos Nicklow, Meshbesher & Spence, Minneapolis, MN.

For Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Defendant - Appellee: William Daniel Hittler I, Nilan & Johnson, Minneapolis, MN; Ian S. Linker, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York, NY.

Dennis Lynn Hall, II, Defendant - Appellee, Pro se, Lovell, WY.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 996

COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

Jane Hall sued Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (" MetLife" ), alleging that MetLife abused its discretion in denying her claim to receive the proceeds of her late husband's life insurance policy under an employee-benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (" ERISA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 1001-1461. The district court[1] granted summary judgment for MetLife, and we affirm.

I.

Dennis Hall began work at Newmont USA Limited in August 1988. Through his employment at Newmont, Dennis obtained a life insurance policy issued by MetLife. In 1991, Dennis designated his son, Dennis Hall II, as the beneficiary of the life insurance policy. Under the terms of the governing employee-benefit plan (" the Plan" ), MetLife is expressly granted " discretionary authority to interpret the terms of the Plan and to determine eligibility for and entitlement to Plan benefits in accordance with the terms of the Plan." The Plan also informs Newmont employees how they may change the beneficiary or beneficiaries of their policy:

You may designate a Beneficiary in Your application or enrollment form. You may change Your Beneficiary at any time. To do so, You must send a Signed and dated, Written request to the Policyholder using a form satisfactory to [MetLife]. Your Written request to change the Beneficiary must be sent to the Policyholder within 30 days of the date You Sign such request.

Jane Hall married Dennis in May 2001. Around March 2010, Jane and Dennis began traveling regularly to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for medical examinations and treatment relating to Dennis's cancer diagnosis. In November 2010, Dennis filled out and signed, but never submitted, a beneficiary-designation form naming Jane Hall as the sole beneficiary of his policy.

On January 25, 2011, Jane and Dennis traveled to Rochester for a routine appointment at the Mayo Clinic scheduled for the next day. In the early hours of January 26, Dennis awoke, partially paralyzed. After he was rushed to the Mayo Clinic, Dennis was informed that he had a very short time to live. On the next day, at the clinic, Dennis executed a will. The will provided, in relevant part, that " the following specific ...


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