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Yang v. Farmers New World Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 23, 2017

Mary G. Yang, Plaintiff,
v.
Farmers New World Life Insurance Company, Defendant.

          Jason W Whitley, Esq., Novitzke, Gust, Sempf, Whitley & Bergmanis, Amery, WI, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Andrew R. Shedlock, Esq., Kutak Rock LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN D. MONTGOMERY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On January 18, 2017, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Plaintiff Mary G. Yang's (“Yang”) and Defendant Farmers New World Life Insurance Company's (“Farmers”) Motions for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 26, 36]. For the reasons set forth below, Yang's Motion is granted and Farmers' Motion is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2003, Yang's grandmother, May Yang (the “Insured”), signed a $150, 000 20 Year Guarantee Level Term 2000 FNWL Life Insurance Policy (the “Policy”) issued by Farmers. At issue in this case is the birthdate of the Insured. Yang contends that the Insured's birthdate is July 11, 1943, meaning that she was 59 years old when she purchased the Policy. Farmers, on the other hand, argues that the Insured's birthdate is May 27, 1933, meaning that the Insured was 69 years old at the time the Policy was purchased. If Farmers is correct, then the Insured was ineligible to purchase the Policy because her age exceeded the Policy's maximum age at the time of issue.

         A. The Policy

         1. Purchase

         On May 9, 2003, Farmers' independent agent, Daniel Stocker (“Stocker”) met the Insured and several of her relatives at the Insured's residence to apply for the Policy. First Whitley Aff. [Docket No. 44] Ex. A (“Stocker Dep.”) 10:11-14. Stocker completed the application, filling in the answers as he asked the questions to the Insured. During this application process, Yang claims that Stocker was told that the Insured had two birthdates: a May 27, 1933 birthdate that Yang contends was arbitrarily assigned by United States immigration officials, and a July 11, 1943 birthdate documented on the Insured's Laotian birth records. Nao Yang Aff. [Docket No. 49] ¶ 8.

         Nao Yang (“Nao”), the Insured's son-in-law, testified that Stocker was directly asked which birthdate should be placed on the application and Stocker responded that the July 11, 1943 date of birth should be used. Id.; Vang Aff. [Docket No. 50] ¶ 7.

         Stocker does not recall being told that the Insured had two different birthdates. Stocker Dep. at 26:20-25. Stocker also testified that in his fifteen years as a Farmers agent, he could not recall a situation where an insured had two different dates of birth. Id. at 29:23-30:7. Rather, Stocker testified that when he asked for the Insured's birthdate, she stated that her birthdate was July 11, 1943. Id. at 21:12-16. Stocker also recalled receiving supporting documents from Laos that showed a July 11, 1943 date of birth. Id. at 12-16.

         2. Terms and Conditions

         The Policy has a maximum issue age limit of 60 years old, meaning only individuals under age 60 are eligible to purchase the Policy. Consistent with Minnesota law, the Policy includes a misstatement of age or sex provision and an incontestability provision. The Policy's misstatement of age or sex provision provides, “[i]f the insured's age or sex was misstated, the amount payable will be that which the premiums paid would have purchased at the correct age or sex.” Second Whitley Aff. [Docket No. 54] at 7. The incontestability provision states that Farmers “will not contest this policy after it has been in force for two years from the date of issue during the insured's lifetime except for nonpayment of premiums. This provision does not apply to any additional benefits for disability or accidental death.” Id.

         B. The Insured Purchases the Unity Policy

         In 2007, the Insured applied for a whole life insurance policy with Unity Financial Life Insurance Company (“Unity”). Klosowski Decl. [Docket No. 40] Ex. H. The Unity application reflects the Insured's birthdate as May 27, 1933, the date that Yang claims was arbitrarily assigned by United States immigration officials. Id.

         C. The Insured Dies and Beneficiaries Make Claims

         The Insured died in Laos on February 11, 2014. Yang then made a claim to Farmers for death benefits under the Policy that had been purchased in 2003. On July 16, ...


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