Miller v. Bruenger, No. 19-5763 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), manages the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA), 5 U.S.C. 8705(a). Absent a valid beneficiary selection, FEGLIA provides an order of precedence for the proceeds, starting with the policyholder's surviving spouse, followed by the policyholder's descendants. FEGLIA will not follow that order if a “court decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation, or . . . any court order or court-approved property settlement agreement” “expressly provides” for payment to someone else. The decree, order, or agreement must be “received” by the policyholder’s “employing agency” or OPM before the policyholder’s death. At the time of his death, Miller worked at Tinker Air Force Base and maintained a MetLife policy. Coleman's 27-year marriage to Donna ended in divorce in 2011. Their property settlement agreement states that “[Donna] shall remain the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.” The court ordered Coleman to assign his FEGLI benefits to Donna.
Upon Coleman’s death, his only child, Courtenay, was appointed administratrix of his estate. The Air Force informed Courtenay that the court order had not been filed with Coleman’s employing office. Courtenay was paid $172,000 in proceeds and sought a declaration that she is the rightful owner. Citing lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court dismissed the suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the lack of a substantial federal question. FEGLIA does not contain an express cause of action for Donna. There is no federal agency involved.