Employer Fumbles Beneficiary Change

A “Fumble” can change liability in a life insurance case. In the case McCurry v. Met Life and Citigroup, Inc. (M.D. Fl. 2016) Ms. Kunselman was working for Citigroup and was a participant in a group life policy insured by Met Life. She named her husband as her beneficiary, but then they divorced. She contacted Citigroup to change her beneficiary to her mother, Ms. McCurry (now the plaintiff). Beneficiary changes regarding other benefits were also reported to Citigroup at the same time. You see where this is going.

Citigroup failed to pass on the beneficiary change information to Met Life. Thus, when Ms. Kunselman died, the insurance proceeds were paid by Met Life to the ex-husband. Other beneficiary changes on other matters transitioned correctly. Only this life plan beneficiary change was neglected.

McCurry filed suit alleging a breach of fiduciary duty against Citigroup. Citigroup defended, claiming that any beneficiary change request had to be made on Met Life forms and approved by Met Life, and Citigroup claimed it was not part of that process. However, the complaint pled Citigroup negligently handled the change of beneficiary request.

Citigroup then also argued that passing on the beneficiary request change was a mere ministerial act, not a fiduciary act. Generally, ministerial acts are not fiduciary acts, but here Citigroup did have a critical obligation to pass on the beneficiary change request. Citigroup then also argued that something more than mere negligence was required for a breach of fiduciary duty, such as fraud, duress or intentional conduct. The court disagreed with that as well, finding no Eleventh Circuit authority supportive for that argument.

Someone at Citigroup “fumbled”. The court held that a proper claim was asserted against Citigroup. Carefully pled ERISA claims saved the day!

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