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Friday, May 6, 2011


SLAYER!!! Rock 'n' roll! Heavy Metal! Woo hoo!

And . . . ERISA?!?!?

What's the connection?

The connection is that there is a fairly wild line of authority relating to the question of whether state "slayer" statutes survive ERISA preemption. A slayer statute is generally a statute under which the murderer of an individual may not take as the beneficiary of the murder victim. (If you wanted to update the reference for more current sensibilities, I guess you could go with The Killers, as such statutes are also referred to as "killer" statutes.) Sounds utterly reasonable - but is it preempted? And, in addition, in the case of a tax-qualified plan, is it consistent with the requirements of Section 401(a) of the Internal Revenue Code?

Understandably, courts seem anxious to conclude that ERISA does not preempt state slayer statutes. See generally Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Sabol, No. 09-CV-45 (E.D. Wis. Feb. 9, 2010) (surveying case law regarding the point). Similarly, the IRS does not seem anxious to disqualify tax-qualified plans for proceeding in accordance with state slayer statutes. See PLR 8322076 (Mar. 3, 1983); PLR 8905058 (Nov. 10, 1988), PLR 8908063 (Nov. 30, 1988); PLR 9008079 (Nov. 30, 1989); see also PLR 201008049 (Dec. 12, 2009) (IRA ruling).

All of this brings me to a case that doesn't technically involve ERISA and that doesn't precisely involve a slayer statute. It does involve life insurance and attempted murder, however, and is therefore close enough for me. To quote (or paraphrase (I'm not sure)) Mark Twain: "The only difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to be credible." I think that any member of the Law & Order franchise would be embarassed to rip the following from the headlines.

So, to get to the case, Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Cain,* No. 10-10907 (11th Cir. Feb 23, 2011) (marked as "do not publish" (ha ha))** involves a woman who (i) had an agreement with her estranged husband that she would be the beneficiary of his life insurance for so long as he owed child support, (ii) conspired to kill him in order to collect his life insurance and (iii) lost her rights to child support. Her rights to child support were revoked, and, eventually, he died. From prison, she claimed that, since he owed child support to someone, even if not to her, she should continue to be the beneficiary of the life insurance for which she conspired to kill him. Here are the facts of the case, as reported in state court and then in turn repeated by the federal court (bracketed text and brackets as in the federal case):

Over a four-month period, [the boyfriend], Mary Jean Cain, and her sons, Brandon and [Benjiman] Cain, conspired to murder Dean Cain, Sr., the ex-husband of Mary Jean and father of Brandon and [Benjiman]. The plot to murder Mr. Cain originated with Mary Jean, the motive being to collect a $460,000 life insurance policy upon the victim’s death. Various attempts to murder the victim proved unsuccessful. The conspirators first attempted to boil tobacco down to its poisonous form and place it in the victim’s tea. Because the tea was undrinkable, this attempt failed. Next, the conspirators purchased a gun with the intent to shoot out the victim’s tires and cause a fatal wreck; however, this attempt also failed. The group then decided to push the victim out of his fishing boat, knowing that he could not swim. This effort was abandoned after ten days because too many people were present. Finally, the conspirators decided to murder the victim in his home and later dump his body in the river. In furtherance of the conspiracy, an aluminum baseball bat, mask and gloves were purchased. Again, this plan went awry. After Brandon brutally beat his father with the bat, he left the house and announced to [Benjiman] that the victim was dead. Upon their return to dispose of the body, they found the elder Cain still breathing. The two men dragged the victim outside where he was left lying in a parking lot because they were unable to get him into the truck. The next day, the victim’s virtually naked and bleeding body was discovered. Although Mr. Cain survived, he suffers from serious, permanent, and disabling injuries.

You just can't make this stuff up.

* Its' too bad they couldn't somehow get the name "Abel" into the Cain case.

** What the heck is the Hartford, with both of the cases cited herein, doing wrong?!?

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