Federal court strikes down motion in limine in life insurance case's beneficiary determination

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jun 28, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge denied a man’s motion to preclude a witness from providing testimony in a trial to determine the rightful beneficiary of life insurance, which commenced this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge denied a man’s motion to preclude a witness from providing testimony in a trial to determine the rightful beneficiary of life insurance, which commenced this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter ruled Louis Mostak’s motion in limine to prevent Barbara Deeley from offering testimony in an action set to evaluate the proper recipient of a life insurance policy on his brother and decedent, Michael Mostak.

“The policy initially named the insured’s son, B.M., a minor, as the beneficiary, and Barbara Deeley, as the successor beneficiary,” Pratter explained. “A change of beneficiary form was subsequently submitted on or about Aug. 12, 2010, changing the primary beneficiary under the policy to Marie Mostak, the insured’s mother, and identifying B.M. as the successor beneficiary. Michael Mostak died on July 19, 2014. Marie Mostak predeceased him on Feb. 15, 2014.”

“Following Michael Mostak’s death, his brother, Louis Mostak, submitted to the insurer, State Farm, a second change of beneficiary form, which Louis Mostak contends Michael Mostak executed on May 8, 2014. This form identifies Louis Mostak as the primary beneficiary under the policy. Ms. Deeley, who is alleged to be B.M.’s guardian, claims that this second change of beneficiary form is fraudulent,” Pratter continued.

According to court records, State Farm filed an interpleader motion in February of last year with regards to the policy, explaining it was ready to pay funds to the proper beneficiary, once it was determined who that person was. State Farm said it could not make that determination without exposing itself to liability, and thus, left the decision with the Court.

Mostak filed his motion in limine on May 1, with Deeley filing an opposition response on June 21.

“Louis Mostak argues that the Pennsylvania Dead Man’s Act bars Ms. Deeley from offering any testimony in this matter, due to the fact that her interest is adverse to that of the deceased, Michael Mostak,” Pratter said.

The Act explains that: “Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, in any civil action or proceeding, where any party to a thing or contract in action is dead…and his right thereto or therein has passed, either by his own act or by the act of the law, to a party on the record who represents his interest in the subject in controversy, neither any surviving or remaining party to such thing or contract, nor any other person whose interest shall be adverse to the said right of such deceased…shall be a competent witness to any matter occurring before the death of said party…”

“In order for the Act to apply, and thereby prevent an interested witness from offering testimony, three conditions must exist. First, the deceased must have had an actual right or interest in the matter at issue. Second, the interest of the challenged witness must be adverse to the interests of the deceased. And finally, a right of the deceased must have passed to a party of record who represents the deceased’s interest,” Pratter said.

Pratter stated Mostak had failed to carry his burden of proof in explaining why Deeley should not be allowed to testify in this litigation.

“While Ms. Deeley certainly has an interest in the distribution of the proceeds of the policy to B.M., for whom she is apparently the guardian, and this interest is certainly adverse to Louis Mostak’s, there is no basis in the record to conclude that Michael Mostak, or his estate, has any relevant interests in the dispute between the two competing defendants named in this litigation,” Pratter said.

“Michael Mostak never had any right to a benefit under the life insurance contract. The benefit in question is either to be paid to B.M., as the successor beneficiary following the death of Marie Mostak, or to Louis Mostak as the primary beneficiary listed on the change of beneficiary form,” Pratter added.

Pratter concluded by denying Mostak’s motion in limine.

“The only other authority offered by Louis Mostak in support of his motion to preclude Ms. Deeley’s testimony is a cursory citation to Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence,” Pratter said. “Mr. Mostak does not identify what specific testimony from Ms. Deeley he purports to challenge under Rule 403. Given this, the Court is unable to weigh the probative value of such testimony against its prejudicial effect. The Court therefore also denies the motion on the basis of Rule 403.”

The plaintiff is represented by Kathleen Patricia Dapper and Louis E. Bricklin of Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Gary Scott Silver of Silver Legal Services, Joseph Q. Mirarchi of the Law Offices of Joseph Q. Mirarchi, plus Richard Costigan and Robert W. Costigan of Costigan & Costigan, all in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-01033

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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