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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Bratton

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 24, 2018


          Tiffany M. Shrenk, Esquire of MacElree Harvey Ltd., Centerville, Delaware. Counsel for Defendant Olga A. Bratton.

          Lydia E. York, Esquire of Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C., Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendant Mario T. Glover, Sr.



         Thomas A. Bratton ("Thomas") passed away on February 13, 2016 at the age of 90.[1]Thomas is survived by a wife, two step-sons, and several siblings. The issue in this arbitration dispute is whether the proceeds from the only asset of value in Thomas' estate, a life insurance policy, should go to his widow Olga A. Bratton ("Olga") or one of his brothers, Mario T. Glover ("Mario"). A one-day arbitration hearing was held in this matter on December 4, 2017. The court has original jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because the action arises under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1971, as amended.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Bratton Family

         Thomas had four siblings from his parents' marriage, and a second set of siblings from when his mother remarried. (Hr'g Tr. at 69:8-70:4). Among the second set of siblings is Mario and Clarence. (Id.). Due to a thirty year age difference, Thomas did not grow up with Mario and Clarence. (Id.; Hr'g Tr. at 162:24-163:1).

         Thomas married Olga in 1959. (D.I. 29-1, Tab 2 at 3:21-4:1). During their marriage, there were never any periods of separations or divorce, and they always lived in the same house. (Hr'g Tr. at 70:13-21). Thomas and Olga did not have any biological children. (Id. at 69:5-6). But at the time of her marriage to Thomas, Olga had two children, Wayne Darden ("Wayne") and Kerry Darden ("Kerry"), from a prior marriage, who were nine and thirteen, respectively. (D.I. 29-1, Tab 2 at 4:8-15; Hr'g Tr. at 67:21-23). Thomas never legally adopted Olga's sons, but they grew up with him in a father/son relationship, and he referred to them as his sons. (Hr'g Tr. at 67:8-12, 68:9-69:4).

         Olga has a high-school education and worked in a grocery store for forty-three years until she retired. (Hr'g Tr. at 70:22-24). Thomas had a high-school education and worked as the manager of a liquor store. (Id. at 71:1-6). Then in the late 1960s, Thomas went to a computer school and afterwards was employed at MetLife working with computers. (Id. at 71:6-10). Thomas stayed at MetLife until his retirement in the late 1980s. (Id.). After retirement, Thomas worked doing laundry and cleaning houses for about five years to keep himself busy. (Id. at 71:10-72:1). In 2007, when the Brattons were in their early eighties, they moved from New York to Delaware. (Hr'g Tr. at 67:24-68:2, 72:2-10). The Brattons' children and grandchildren live in New York, while Thomas' brothers, Mario and Clarence, live in Delaware. (Hr'g Tr. at 72:25-73:9).

         B. Mario Manages the Brattons' Finances

         In 2013, the Brattons were having difficulty managing their household finances, so Mario began to assist the Brattons with paying their bills. (Hr'g Tr. at 76:2-9, 113:13-16). Mario was to use the Brattons' money to pay their bills and pay them on time. (Id. at 107:18-24). Notably, Mario had his own financial difficulties around the same time. Mario's employer, Yellow Cab was abruptly sold, leaving him unemployed for a period of time. (Id. at 136:8-137:5). As a result, Mario asked Olga for a loan, which she provided. (Id.). Olga confided in others that she loaned Mario some money and he never paid her back. (Id. at 48:17-20). Thomas also loaned money to Mario when he needed it. (Id. at 28:18-19, 60:21-61:5). In 2013, before Mario began managing the Brattons' finances, he filed for bankruptcy. (Id. at 155:21-156:20).

         Sharon Madison ("Madison") witnessed the Brattons' declining health over the last few years of Thomas' life. Madison is the wife of Thomas' barber, John Fields ("Fields"), and first met the Brattons in October 2014. (Hr'g Tr. at 22:16-22). She regularly visited the Brattons thereafter and described their living conditions upon first meeting them as "not good." (Id. at 23:5-16). Their home was very messy, particularly from bladder accidents that Thomas experienced which left stains on the carpet "in front of where he always sat." (Id. at 23:14-23). Olga had not left the house in two years except to attend doctors' appointments. (Id. at 23:24-24:5). The Brattons' mailbox was overflowing, because it had not been checked. (Id. at 25:13-25).

         In May 2015, both Thomas and Olga were admitted to the hospital and then to Churchman's Village for rehabilitation. (Hr'g Tr. at 27:15-24). Sometime during this period, Mario had a conversation with Thomas about his funeral arrangements. Thomas asked Mario to handle his funeral arrangements and told Mario that he had a life insurance policy with MetLife worth $42, 000 that could cover his funeral expenses. (Id. at 143:8-144:13). Thomas and Mario did not discuss how much they expected the funeral to cost, but the actual funeral expenses were between $10, 000 and $12, 000. (Id. at 143:18-21). Thomas never said that he was gifting the life insurance policy to Mario. (Id. at 157:25-158:4). With Mario's assistance, Thomas called MetLife and asked that a change of beneficiary form be mailed to him. (Id. at 144:24-146:11). Neither Thomas nor Mario discussed the change of beneficiary form with anyone else. (Id. at 157:14-16).

         C. Mario Is Appointed Power of ...

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