United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Schroeder United States District Judge.
life insurance interpleader action is before the court on
Defendant Athalia Crayton's post-trial motion for relief
from the court's finding that the proper beneficiary of
the death benefit accruing upon the passing of her mother,
Joyce Ferron, is her sister, Defendant Taneeda Ferron. The
motion seeks amended and additional findings of fact under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(b), or alternatively a new
trial under Rule 59. For the reasons set forth below, the
motion will be denied.
court entered findings of fact after the bench trial in this
case pursuant to Rule 52(a)(1). See (Doc. 55 ¶¶
1-23). Summarized, those facts are as follows:
entered into a life insurance contract with Plaintiff New
York Life Insurance Company (“New York Life”) on
or about September 17, 2004. (Id. ¶¶ 1-2.)
She designated Taneeda as the beneficiary. (Id.
¶ 2.) Through the years, Joyce communicated with New
York Life several times in order to make changes to the
policy, provide corrected personal information, and/or make
requests; each time, she did so via written letter.
(Id. ¶¶ 5- 7.) From 2010 through late 2016
- except for roughly six months in mid-2016 - Joyce lived
with Taneeda in Columbia, South Carolina. (Id.
¶ 8.) By late 2016, Joyce suffered from a No. of severe
health conditions, including Stage IV cancer, glaucoma,
osteoarthritis, and hearing loss. (Id. ¶¶
9, 15.) She did not own a computer or subscribe to an
internet service, and her electronic devices were limited to
a “flip phone” and a CapTel
telephone. (Id. ¶ 12.)
December 19, 2016, through New York Life's internet
portal, Taneeda was removed as the beneficiary of Joyce's
life insurance policy and replaced with Athalia.
(Id. ¶ 13.) Several days later, on December 23,
2016, Athalia took Joyce to live with her near High Point,
North Carolina. (Id. ¶ 8.) When Taneeda
received notice of the beneficiary change, she contacted New
York Life to contest it. (Id. ¶ 14.) On January
10, 2017, Joyce passed away from her cancer, and the
insurance policy death benefit became due in the amount of
$25, 278.65. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Athalia and
Taneeda both claimed entitlement to the proceeds, although
they reached agreement that New York Life should remit $9,
852.60 to a funeral home to cover Joyce's funeral
expenses. (Id. ¶ 17.) New York Life did so,
leaving $15, 426.05 in proceeds. (Id. ¶¶
with conflicting claims to the remaining proceeds, New York
Life filed an interpleader action in this court and deposited
the proceeds with the Clerk of Court, after which the insurer
was dismissed from the case. (Doc. 16.) The court conducted a
bench trial on January 10, 2019. Athalia presented her own
testimony, as well as that of her husband, Robert Crayton,
and her brother, Clifford Thompson, and introduced exhibits.
Athalia's evidence included her testimony of observing
Joyce using a smartphone on the day the beneficiary was
changed, and Thompson's testimony that Joyce told him she
changed the beneficiary online. Taneeda then presented her
own testimony, introduced exhibits, and rested. Taneeda's
evidence included her testimony about Joyce's
inexperience with computers and severe health problems, along
with Taneeda's observations of Joyce during the day the
policy beneficiary was changed.
reasons explained in the court's prior opinion, the court
did “not find Athalia Crayton's evidence - that
Joyce Ferron changed the life insurance policy herself via a
smartphone - credible.” (Doc. 55 ¶ 29.) Instead,
the court found “Taneeda Ferron's evidence - that
Joyce Ferron did not make and could not have made the
beneficiary change via a smartphone - credible.”
(Id.) As a result, the court found that Joyce had
not substantially complied with the requirements of North
Carolina law as to changing life insurance beneficiaries.
See Primerica Life Ins. Co. v. James Massengill &
Sons Constr. Co., 712 S.E.2d 670, 678 ( N.C. Ct. App.
2011) (“[A]ny changes made to an insurance policy
affecting the beneficiary designation . . . must be made by
the policy owner. If not, the changes are a legal nullity and
of no force and effect . . . .”); Adams v.
Jefferson-Pilot Life Ins. Co., 558 S.E.2d 504, 509 (
N.C. Ct. App. 2002) (noting that it is enough for a
policyholder to “substantially compl[y]” with the
requirement that “only the owner of a life insurance
policy may change the beneficiary, ” but that
“the policy owner must himself take affirmative steps
to change the beneficiary, substantially fulfill the actions
required on his part to accomplish the change, [and] must
communicate these efforts to an agent of the insurer”).
Therefore, the court found that the insurance proceeds were
due to Taneeda, the original beneficiary, and entered
judgment to that effect on January 15, 2019. (Doc. 56.)
February 12, 2019, Athalia timely filed the instant motion
under Rules 52(b) and 59, purporting to identify a No. of
errors in the court's factfinding and reasoning. (Doc.
57.) Taneeda responded (Doc. 58), and the motion is now ready
Failure to Adhere to Local Rules
Civil Rule 7.3(a) requires that “[a]ll motions, unless
made during a hearing or at trial, shall be in writing and
shall be accompanied by a brief except as provided in section
(j) of this rule. Each motion shall be set out in a separate
pleading.” Section (j) of the rule lists various
motions that may be filed without a separate brief;
Athalia's motion is not one of them. See Local Rule
7.3(j). Notwithstanding this rule, Athalia - who is
represented by counsel - filed her motion without a separate
brief. For this reason alone, her motion will be denied.
See Wolfe Fin. Inc. v. Rodgers, No. 1:17cv896, 2019
WL 203183, at *17 (M.D. N.C. Jan. 15, 2019)
(“[Defendants'] Motion fails to satisfy the
requirements [of Local Rule 7.3(a)]. This failure alone
justifies its denial.” (citation and footnote
omitted)). Nevertheless, because it is readily apparent that
the substance of the motion also lacks merit, the court will
deny it on that ground as well, as explained below.
Standards of Review
to Rule 52(b), upon a timely motion, “the court may
amend its findings - or make additional findings - and may
amend the judgment accordingly.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b).
Rule 52(b) motions “are not intended merely to
relitigate old matters nor are such motions intended to allow
the parties to present the case under new theories.”
Goodwin v. Cockrell, No. 4:13-cv-199-F, 2015 WL
12851581, at *1 (E.D. N.C. Dec. 30, 2015) (quoting Wahler
v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc., No. 1:05CV349, 2006 WL
3327074, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Nov. 15, 2006)). “Instead,