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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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