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Cochran v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

July 28, 2017

TRACIE LYNN COCHRAN and REBECCA LEIGH CLANTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
JACKSON NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Defendant Jackson National Life Insurance Company's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 3) and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 8). For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 8) is granted-in-part and denied-in-part, and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3) is deemed moot.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On or about February 21, 1991, Phillip Randall Booker purchased life insurance policy number 0017623570 from Defendant (the “Policy”). (Doc. 1-1, p. 6). The insured under the Policy was Larry T. Tuten. (Doc. 8-2, p. 2). Mr. Booker was the beneficiary of the Policy. (Doc. 1-1, p. 7).

         On or about September 23, 2011, Mr. Booker and Mr. Tuten completed and submitted a Jackson National Life Service Request, seeking to change the owner and beneficiary of the Policy. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 7, 18-19). Mr. Tuten was named the new owner of the Policy, and acknowledged ownership by his signature. (Doc. 1-1, p. 19). Plaintiffs Tracie Lynn Cochran and Rebecca Leigh Clanton, as well as Cynthia Kaye Alderdice, were listed as the new beneficiaries on the form.[1] (Doc. 1-1, p. 18). The area for designating the percentage each beneficiary should receive under the Policy was left blank. (Doc. 1-1, p. 18). The instructions on the form as to beneficiary changes state that, “[p]ercentages must equal 100% for each beneficiary type. If left blank, all beneficiaries will receive equal shares.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 18).

         On October 4, 2011, Defendant sent a letter to Mr. Booker, letting him know that his request for an ownership change was completed, and that Mr. Tuten was the new owner of the Policy. (Doc. 1-1, p. 30). Also on October 4, 2011, Defendant sent a letter to Mr. Tuten thanking him for his request for a beneficiary change, and stating that, before processing, it would need “[a]ll designation information . . . including percentage of benefit and definition of primary versus contingent beneficiaries. All benefit percentages must equal 100%.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 39).

         Mr. Tuten passed away on or about October 20, 2013. (Doc. 1-1, p. 7). The proceeds of the Policy in the amount of $150, 000 were disbursed to Mr. Booker. (Doc. 1-1, p. 7). According to Defendant's records, Mr. Booker was the last recorded beneficiary of the Policy. (Doc. 1-1, p. 25). Defendant claims that it did not record Mr. Tuten's request for the change of beneficiary because Mr. Tuten did not provide the additional information requested in the October 4, 2011 letter.

         On April 22, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an eight count Amended Complaint against Defendant relating to the life insurance proceeds. In Counts I and II, Plaintiffs each assert a tortious interference with contractual relations claim, alleging that Defendant wrongfully paid the insurance proceeds to Mr. Booker instead of Mr. Tuten's children. In Counts III and IV, Plaintiffs each assert a damages claim that includes her pro-rata share of the life insurance proceeds plus interest and costs, out of pocket expenses, financial suffering, and mental suffering. In Counts V and VI, Plaintiffs each assert a punitive damages claim. In Counts VII and VIII, Plaintiffs each assert a breach of contract claim, alleging that Defendant breached the terms of the Policy by paying the Policy proceeds to Mr. Booker instead of Mr. Tuten's children. Defendant moves to dismiss all counts of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         “At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'- ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).

         B. Counts I and II - Tortious Interference

         To state a claim for tortious interference with a contract, a plaintiff must prove the following:

(1) improper action or wrongful conduct by the defendant without privilege; (2) the defendant acted purposely and with malice with the intent to injure; (3) the defendant induced a breach of contractual obligations or caused a party or third part[y] to discontinue or fail to enter into an anticipated business relationship with the plaintiff; and (4) ...

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