RIVES, Circuit Judge.
This litigation concerns the proper disposition of the proceeds of a $40,000 life insurance policy issued by appellee Penn Mutual on the life of James Edmund Odum. On February 14, 1958, James Odum filed with Penn Mutual an Owner and Beneficiary Designation, naming William Odum (brother of James Odum) as owner and various other Odums as beneficiaries.
In the Spring of 1958, James Odum found himself in perilous financial straits. The quarterly premium on the policy was due on May 17, 1958, and if unpaid by July 3, 1958, the policy would lapse. Because James Odum had attempted suicide in May, 1958, and thus his chances for obtaining new insurance were nil, it was very important that the policy not be permitted to lapse. In addition to the imminent expiration of the policy, one of James Odum's creditors was pressing him for security on an outstanding loan. On June 11, 1958, his insurance agent informed James Odum by letter that the policy in issue "is owned by you and can be assigned with no trouble * * *." On June 14, 1958, James Odum attempted to assign the policy to his creditor, Steiner Brothers Bank. This assignment was returned by Penn Mutual's Birmingham Agency to the insured because it was not executed by his brother, William Odum, who was the "owner" of the policy. In this same letter James Odum was advised that in order for the policy not to lapse, "it will be necessary for him [William Odum] to sign the lien note to charge the balance of the May 17th, 1958, quarterly premium to the policy."
On the other hand, William Odum testified:
Subsequent to this conversation, there was executed a document entitled "Absolute Assignment," which purported to transfer the ownership of the policy to James Odum. At the same time, James Odum signed a lien note as owner charging the amount owed on the premium against the policy. The Absolute Assignment bore the signature of William Odum, which signature was written by James Odum supposedly acting under authority granted to him by his brother in the telephone conversation. The district judge believed the resolution of the question of whether William Odum authorized the execution of this Absolute Assignment was unnecessary in reaching his decision.
The document entitled "Absolute Assignment" was a form imprinted with the name of Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. The document provided, in part:
One original and one duplicate copy of the Absolute Assignment were transmitted to appellee's general agency in Birmingham, and thence to appellee's home office in Philadelphia. The duplicate was returned to the Birmingham office, from which it was forwarded to the office of the insured. After his death, the duplicate copy of the Absolute Assignment was found in a file in the office of the insured. Stapled to the face of this copy of the Absolute Assignment was a small form, printed in red, reading as follows:
Subsequent to the death of the insured, appellee prepared to make payments of the policy proceeds to the beneficiaries designated in the Owner and Beneficiary Designation of February 14, 1958. See note 1, supra. Before these checks were delivered, Sarah Odum, named administratrix of the estate of the now deceased James Odum, and a Mr. Jones, one of decedent's executors, visited the appellee's general agency in Birmingham and claimed the proceeds of the policy for the estate on authority of the Absolute Assignment and the attached "Notice to Policyowner." The claimants being unable to resolve their differences, appellee insurer filed a bill of interpleader in the court below, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1335.
The insurer named as defendants Sarah Odum, administratrix of the estate of James Odum; the beneficiaries under the Owner and Beneficiary Designation of February 14, 1958; and the Steiner Brothers Bank. Penn Mutual alleged that it was ready, willing and able to pay to the person or persons, legally entitled to receive the same, the proceeds of the policy and that it was a mere stakeholder and had no interest in the controversy. Defendants answered, setting forth the basis of their respective claims, and also contesting plaintiff-insurer's right to interpleader. They alleged generally that the insurer had incurred an independent liability to each or all of them, and that, because of this independent liability, the insurer could not maintain interpleader. The District Court held a hearing on the issue of independent liability, and decided that the insurer had not incurred such independent liability as would bar its maintaining the interpleader action. The District Court ordered the plaintiff-insurer discharged from all liability on the policy, it having paid the proceeds into court, and permanently enjoined the defendants from pursuing any legal action against the insurer on the basis of the policy.
In the District Court and here appellee argues that the Federal Interpleader Act of 1936 abolished the requirement that the interpleader plaintiff must establish
The only appellant before us, and thus the only proponent of independent liability here, is Sarah Odum as administratrix of the estate of James Odum. She claims that Penn Mutual is independently liable to the estate on theories of contract, tort and estoppel.
The contract claim may be disposed of in short order. Appellant's position is that the effect of the filing of the Absolute Assignment and its acceptance by Penn Mutual, as evidenced by the "Notice to Policyowner" and by Penn Mutual's honoring the lien note signed by James Odum for the May premium, was to revoke the Owner and Beneficiary Designation of February 14, 1958, and change the beneficiary to the estate of James Odum. If, arguendo, that much be taken as true, then Penn Mutual cannot also be liable ex contractu to the February 14, 1958 beneficiaries. Either the beneficiary was changed or it was not. On a claim sounding in contract, either one party or the other must prevail.
As a corollary to her contract claim, appellant argues that if the Absolute Assignment is held to have changed the beneficiary to the estate, Penn Mutual may be independently liable to the beneficiaries named in the February 14, 1958 designation on another theory. Her argument here is that these beneficiaries could not be deprived of that status except by a change of beneficiary executed in accordance with the procedures written in the policy. The difficulty with this argument is that Alabama law clearly provides that "limitations in the policy as to the method of changing the beneficiary
Discussion of the next two theories — tort and estoppel — assumes that the beneficiaries designated on February 14, 1958 were not changed by the Absolute Assignment as a matter of contract law. Thus, appellant maintains that those defendants will be entitled to recover on contract, while the insurer is independently liable to her in tort or because of estoppel.
Appellant argues that, by virtue of its attaching the "Notice to Policyowner" to the duplicate copy of the Absolute Assignment which was returned to the insured, the insurer is estopped to deny that the proceeds of the policy are payable to the "executors or administrators of the insured" as stated in said "Notice to Policyowner." In Alabama, however, the doctrine of estoppel is protective only and is not effective, by itself, to create a new cause of action.
Appellant's claim of independent liability in tort is grounded on the theory of "innocent misrepresentation." Again this claim is based on the statement in the "Notice to Policyowner" that the death benefits under the policy were payable to the "executors or administrators of the insured."
Section 108 of Title 7 of the Alabama Code of 1958 provides:
Appellant claims that the innocent misrepresentation that the policy proceeds were payable to the estate was "acted on" within the meaning of the statute, when the insured failed to make a formal request of Change of Beneficiary to the "executors or administrators of the insured." She argues in her brief that "by direction of the Notice to Policyowner no such request was necessary by the insured unless he desired a payee of the death benefits other than his executors or administrators. His failure to make any such request * * * proves reliance by him on the representation contained in the Notice to Policyowner."
The burden of proving that the insured relied on the misrepresentation to his detriment was on appellant in the District Court.
Since no genuine issue of material fact was presented by the evidence on the asserted grounds for independent liability of the insurer to one or more of the interpleader defendants and the claims failed as a matter of law, the court below properly sustained the right of the insurer to maintain interpleader pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1335.
The judgment of the District Court is
"The Court deems it unnecessary to its decision at the present stage of this action and, therefore, makes no finding, as to whether said `Notice to Policyowner' was attached to said duplicate copy of said Absolute Assignment by an agent of the plaintiff."