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Ross v. Ross

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

January 14, 2020

DAWN ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
GRACE ROSS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH M. HOOD SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Grace Ross's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Dawn Ross's complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [DE 4]. Plaintiff responded [DE 5] and Defendant replied [DE 8], making the motion ripe for review.

         Plaintiff argues that the divorce decree between her and her former husband, who died in 2019, is a qualified domestic relations order exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974's requirements. While this Act and the terms of the decedent's life insurance policy itself usually govern proceeds paid to beneficiaries, qualified domestic relations orders can supersede those designations. Defendant, who was married to Plaintiff's former husband at the time of his death, claims that the mediation agreement and decree are not specific enough to be a qualified domestic relations order.

         For the reasons stated below, all claims against Defendant are hereby dismissed.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Clarence Boyd Ross III was previously married to Plaintiff Dawn Ross. [DE 1-3 at 1]. Mr. Ross was married to the Defendant when he died in January of 2019. [Id. at 2]. The Plaintiff and Mr. Ross mediated their divorce and both parties signed a settlement agreement in December of 2012. [DE 1-3]. The Scott County Circuit Court approved and adopted the settlement agreement within its decree of dissolution of marriage. [DE 1-3 at 9]. Following divorce proceedings in April 2013, Mr. Ross married Defendant Grace Ross. [Id. at 1-2].

         The parties' disagreement in this matter centers on a dispute about the terms of the settlement agreement, and specifically, its provision regarding Mr. Ross's life insurance proceeds. The agreement states:

Life Insurance: [Mr. Ross] shall name [Plaintiff] the beneficiary of an amount sufficient to cover his support obligation of his life insurance policy through his employer Michelin. Further, [Mr. Ross] shall maintain the current private term insurance policy with a designation of [Plaintiff] as trustee of a trust for the children as the beneficiary until said policy expires.

[DE 1-3 at 6]. Further, the settlement agreement addresses exactly what Mr. Ross's support obligation should be:

         Support:

Effective within 7 days of [Plaintiff] vacating the marital residence, and subject to the terms of the maintenance statute, [Mr. Ross] shall begin to pay [Plaintiff] $3500 per month total support and shall continue to do so until [Plaintiff] receives full social security benefits and [Plaintiff] has an obligation to apply for said benefits upon the first date [Plaintiff] is eligible to claim social security benefits. Said payment shall be prorated for the first month. All further payments shall be due in 2 equal installments on the 1st and 15th of each month. For tax purposes only, the parties will consider $1500 of this amount to be child support with the no tax consequence and the other $2000 as maintenance with it being income to [Plaintiff] and deductible to [Mr. Ross]. Counsel for [Plaintiff] shall prepare and execute a wage assignment order and until such time as [Mr. Ross] sees that amount being withheld from his check he shall made said payments directly to [Plaintiff].

[DE 1-3 at 5-6]. From these provisions, Plaintiff concludes that she is entitled to life insurance proceeds in an amount equal to the support she received during Mr. Ross's life.

         Plaintiff pleads that Mr. Ross's policy was initiated through his employer Camso[1] and was administered by the Unum Life Insurance Company of America.[2] [DE 1-3 at 2]. Plaintiff states that proceeds from a life insurance policy were paid to Defendant upon Mr. Ross's death. [Id.]. The parties agree that the dispute and insurance policy or policies in this case are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. [DE 4 at 1]. Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the divorce decree and settlement agreement are collectively a qualified domestic relations order under the Act. [DE 1-3 at 2]. She further argues that she is the proper beneficiary of the proceeds paid to Defendant in an amount equal to the support obligation in the settlement agreement. [Id.]. Plaintiff also alleges a count of “money wrongfully received, ” stating that Defendant is not entitled to the proceeds except for any amount in excess of what is owed to Plaintiff.

         Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, in lieu of an answer. [DE 4]. Plaintiff timely responded [DE 5] and Defendant replied. [DE 8]. Several months after the motion to dismiss was fully briefed, Plaintiff filed a motion for ...


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