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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Lincoln Benefit Life Company

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

February 28, 2017

WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Plaintiff,
v.
LINCOLN BENEFIT LIFE COMPANY, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          THOMAS W. THRASH, JR. United States District Judge

         This is an insurance claims dispute. Pursuant to the mandate of the Court of Appeals, the Court conducted a bench trial on February 13, 2017. Based upon the evidence presented, the Court hereby enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. On December 31, 1999, Defendant Lincoln Benefit Life Company issued a “Flexible Premium Adjustable Life Insurance Policy, ” Policy No. 01N1029191 (the “Policy”) to Najah Almalat. (Ex. J-4) The Plaintiff Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is pursuing this civil action in its capacity as the Sub-Custodian and Securities Intermediary of current beneficiary of the Policy.

         2. As there is no dispute regarding standing, for the sake of convenience, the Court shall hereinafter refer to Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., the parties for whom it acts and their respective predecessors in interest collectively as the “Plaintiff.” The Plaintiff is the beneficiary of the Policy and has been at all times relevant to this case.

         3. On the initial application for the Policy, Ms. Almalat stated that she was born in 1939. (Ex. J-3) Lincoln Benefit nevertheless issued the Policy with a birth date in 1936. Specifically, the Policy states that Ms. Almalat was 63 years of age on the date the Policy was issued on December 31, 1999. (Ex. J-4) An amendment to the Policy, dated February 2, 2000, lists Ms. Almalat's date of birth as August 30, 1936. (Ex. J-5)

         4. In 2007, Lincoln Benefit was presented with a copy of Ms. Almalat's Senior Citizen Identification Card issued by the State of California. That document listed Ms. Almalat's date of birth as June 11, 1936. (Ex. J-6) Lincoln Benefit accepted the California ID Card as acceptable proof of age and amended the Policy to reflect Ms. Almalat's date of birth as June 11, 1936. (Ex. J-7) The 2007 amendment did not affect the premiums or benefits under the Policy because Ms. Almalat would still have been 63 years of age on the date the Policy was originally issued - December 31, 1999.

         5. Ms. Almalat died in Syria on February 17, 2010.

         6. On July 23, 2010, and August 25, 2010, Lincoln Benefit sent letters to the Plaintiff regarding the Policy. Those letters included the certain pre-printed Lincoln Benefit forms that Lincoln Benefit required the Plaintiff to complete and submit in order to receive the proceeds of the Policy. (Ex. J-8, J-11)

         7. By letter dated September 17, 2010, the Plaintiff submitted completed Claim Forms to Lincoln Benefit in support of its request for the Policy's death benefits. The Claim Submission included, among other things, a Claimant's Statement of Life Insurance Proceeds, a Foreign Death Questionnaire, a certified Death Statement issued by the Syrian Arab Republic, Ministry of Interior, Civil Affairs, with an English translation. The English translation of the Syrian Death Statement lists Ms. Almalat's date of birth as “01.12.1931.” (Ex. J-9)

         8. Both the Claimant's Statement and the Questionnaire included pre-printed sections requesting identifying information for the insured, including the insured's date of birth. The Plaintiff's representative inserted the “01.12.1931” date of birth recited on the Syrian Death Statement when filling out these documents. (Ex. J-9)

         9. Lincoln Benefit received the Claim Submission on September 20, 2010. (Ex. J-9) Lincoln Benefit immediately realized that the “01.12.1931” date of birth reflected on the Syrian Death Statement, the Claimant's Statement and the Questionnaire did not match the 1936 date of birth on the Policy. Specifically, a September 21, 2010 notation in the Lincoln Benefit claims file notes this discrepancy. (Ex. J-12)

         10. Lincoln Benefit did not bring the date of birth discrepancy to the attention of the Plaintiff. Instead, Lincoln Benefit informed the Plaintiff that, because Ms. Almalat died in a foreign country, Lincoln Benefit would undertake a routine investigation to confirm Ms. Almalat's death. (Ex. J-11) Lincoln Benefit hired an investigative firm, ICS-Merrill, to conduct an investigation regarding Ms. Almalat. (Ex. J-14) The final report that ICS-Merrill issued to Lincoln Benefit listed Ms. Almalat's date of birth as August 30, 1936. (Ex. J-26)

         11. In the course of its investigation, Lincoln Benefit obtained a purported Syrian Birth Certificate from AXA Equitable, another insurance company that issued a life insurance policy to Ms. Almalat. The Syrian Birth Certificate reflected a 1931 birth date, but the email forwarding the Syrian Birth Certificate stated: “This record reflects a date of birth as 1/1[2]/1931 while the electronic record at the Civil ...


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