Justices rule for first time on FEGLIA preemption issue

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In a dispute between two ex-wives over the life insurance policy of their deceased husband, the Indiana Supreme Court has ordered the trial court determine how much money each woman is entitled to.

Carlos Hardy was married to Phyllis Hardy when he held a life insurance policy issued as part of a federal employee benefit plan. When they divorced in 1998, the divorce decree and property settlement required Carlos Hardy to maintain the life insurance policy and designated Phyllis Hardy and their two grandchildren as equal beneficiaries. Carlos Hardy later married Mary Jo Hardy and changed his beneficiary to her and increased his coverage. They divorced after several years of marriage.

When Carlos Hardy died, a dispute arose over who was entitled to the life insurance proceeds. The trial court determined that the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act preempted Phyllis Hardy’s equitable state law claims and the proceeds belonged to Mary Jo Hardy. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

The high court had never addressed whether FEGLIA preempts equitable state law claims; other jurisdictions have split over the decision. But the Indiana justices decided that FEGLIA doesn’t preempt equitable state law claims to recover FEGLIA proceeds that have been paid in accordance with FEGLIA’s provisions and the regulations promulgated under it. A different conclusion would run afoul of the strong presumption against preemption in this traditional area of state regulation, wrote Justice Steven David in Phyllis Hardy, Alax Keith Furnish and Megan Jessica Furnish, by next friend Phyllis Hardy v. Mary Jo Hardy, No. 51S01-1106-PL-366.

“We agree that FEGLIA and the regulations promulgated under it control who holds legal title to the proceeds. But we see nothing in the preemption clause that precludes equitable state law claims. To interpret the preemption clause as preventing the imposition of a constructive trust extends the clause’s scope beyond its plain language,” he wrote.

The justices also decided that Ridgway v. Ridgway, 454 U.S. 46 (1981), did not support the conclusion that FEGLIA precludes a court from imposing a constructive trust on life insurance proceeds, as Mary Jo Hardy argued.

“Ultimately, the lack of an anti-attachment provision within FEGLIA, the divergent purposes underscoring FEGLIA and SGLIA, and the 1998 amendment to section 8705 of FEGLIA compel us to conclude that Ridgway is not controlling here,” David wrote.

The justices held the divorce decree and property settlement agreement undoubtedly entitle Phyllis and the grandchildren to whatever the death benefit under Option A would have been at the date of Carlos’ death, as Carlos had to “maintain” his policy for the benefit of Phyllis and the grandchildren. Mary Jo Hardy argued that she should be entitled to whatever amount accrued once she married Carlos Hardy. They remanded the issue to the trial court.



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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.