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Akpele v. Pacific Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 18, 2015

UZOAMAKA O. AKPELE
v.
PACIFIC LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for an Order to Reopen This Matter to Confirm the Arbitration Award and Dismiss This Case With Prejudice [70], and Plaintiff's Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award [81].

I. BACKGROUND

On May 17, 2012, Plaintiff Uzoamaka O. Akpele ("Plaintiff") filed this action in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia, against Defendants Pacific Life Insurance Company ("Pacific Life"). Oppenheimer & Company, Inc. ("Oppenheimer"), Jeremy G. Tintle ("Tintle"), Frederick S. Brown ("Brown"), and Ann J. Herrera, in her capacity as Temporary Administrator of the Estate of Ignatius E. Akpele. Plaintiff's claims arise from her discovery, after the death of her husband Ignatius E. Akpele ("Decedent"), that she was not the designated beneficiary of certain financial accounts at Pacific Life and Oppenheimer, which were owned or controlled by Decedent before his death. Plaintiff claims that, before the Decedent died, Defendants unlawfully changed, from Plaintiff to others, the designated beneficiary of various tax deferred retirement investment accounts setup by her husband before his death. These accounts included a variable annuity ("annuity") issued by Pacific Life and two investment accounts at Oppenheimer. Brown and Tintle were brokers at Oppenheimer who handled the Decedent's retirement savings accounts.

Because Plaintiff's Complaint alleged misconduct based on Defendants' performance of their duties as a broker pursuant to a brokerage account relationship requiring arbitration, on March 18, 2013, the Court granted Oppenheimer and Brown's Motion to Compel Arbitration of Plaintiff's claims against them. On April 29, 2013, Plaintiff submitted her claims against Oppenheimer and Brown to an Arbitration Panel ("Panel") sponsored by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"). On July 16, 2013, Plaintiff settled her claims against Pacific Life, and Pacific Life was dismissed from this action. From June 2, 2014 to June 6, 2014, the Panel held a hearing in Atlanta, Georgia, and issued an Award in favor of Oppenheimer and Brown. The Panel concluded that Pacific Life was responsible for paying Plaintiff the amount owed under the annuity. The Panel found that Oppenheimer and Brown were not liable, and denied Plaintiff's claims with prejudice. On July 11, 2014, Oppenheimer and Brown moved to confirm the Award, and requested the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them with prejudice. Plaintiff contends that the Award should be vacated because (1) the Panel refused to consider two documents that Plaintiff failed to timely produce to Oppenheimer and Brown, and (2) the Panel's decision was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the evidence, and exceeded the Panel's powers. Plaintiff objects to the Panel's decision to exclude copies of the Defined Benefit Plan Adoption Agreement ("Adoption Agreement") of a Defined Benefit Plan ("DBP") sponsored by the Decedent's medical practice, and the Basic Plan Trust ("Trust") of the DBP. It is undisputed that the Adoption Agreement and the Trust designate Plaintiff as the primary beneficiary of Decedent's retirement savings accounts. The terms of the Trust provide:

Designation of Beneficiary: Each Participant shall have the right to designate a Beneficiary to receive any death benefits provided by this Plan. A Participant shall have the right at any time to change his designated Beneficiary without the consent of such Beneficiary. However, any Beneficiary designation (or subsequent designation) shall require the consent of the Participant's Spouse pursuant to Section 8.05. Such right shall be exercised only by an instruction signed by the Participant and delivered to the Plan Administrator for its direction to the Trustee.

Basic Plan Document for First Actuarial Corporation Defined Benefit Plan, Art. VI at p. 39.

The Adoption Agreement provides:

II(q) Subsidization: The Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity and Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Annuity shall not be a fully subsidized benefit unless elected otherwise below:
(} (1) The Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity shall be a fully subsidized benefit. (NOTE: If this option is selected, no optional form of benefit may be selected in Item II(k). ).
(X} (2) The Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Annuity shall be a fully subsidized benefit (NOTE: If this option is selected, a Participant (or Spouse) cannot waive the Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Benefit).[1]

Adoption Agreement at p. 14

The Panel excluded the admission of the Trust and Adoption Agreement because Plaintiff failed to produce them twenty (20) days before the hearing. Rule 12514(a) of FINRA's Code of Arbitration Procedures for Customer Disputes ("Code") provides: "[a]t least 20 days before the first scheduled hearing date, all parties must provide all other parties with copies of all documents and other materials in their possession or control that they intend to use at the hearing that have not already been produced." FINRA Rule 12514(a). Under Rule 12514(c) of the Code, ...


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