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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Samuel P. King and Delores Dohnalik married in 1993. In February 2002, King obtained an insurance policy under the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance Act (SGLIA) that listed Dohnalik as the principal beneficiary and his mother Mahamalea Somner (Somner) as the contingent beneficiary. Several months after the policy took effect, a state district court entered its decree finalizing a divorce between King and Dohnalik. The decree provided, in relevant part, that Dohnalik was “divested of all right, title, interest and claim in . . . [a]ll policies of insurance (including cash values) insuring [King's] life.” The decree was signed by both parties on Dec. 19, 2002. Just 15 days after their divorce was finalized, King died on Jan. 3, 2003. King never changed his SGLIA beneficiary designation. Dohnalik was still listed as the primary beneficiary and Somner the contingent beneficiary. After King’s death, both Dohnalik and Somner filed claims for the SGLIA policy proceeds. SGLIA informed both parties that it viewed Dohnalik as the rightful claimant. After failed negotiations, Dohnalik brought this action for a judgment declaring her the beneficiary. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The district court found that Dohnalik was the rightful beneficiary of King’s SGLIA policy. Somner appealed. HOLDING:Affirmed. This court reviewed the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. The question raised, the court stated, is whether the designation of an SGLIA policy beneficiary survives a state divorce decree purporting to divest the designee of any such interests. In Ridgway v. Ridgway, 454 U.S. 46 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the plain terms of the SGLIA law dictate that the named designee receives the policy’s proceeds and that “a state divorce decree . . . must give way to clearly conflicting federal enactments.” It further held that “Congress has insulated the proceeds of SGLIA insurance from attack or seizure by any claimant other than the beneficiary designated by the insured.” But the court found Ridgway distinguishable from the Dohnalik case. In Ridgway, the divorce decree circumscribed the policyholder’s right to freely choose his beneficiary under the SGLIA, requiring him to maintain his three children as beneficiaries of his policy. In the Dohnalik case, the appellant noted that the divorce decree in no way restricted King’s right to choose his designee; it merely acted as a waiver of Dohnalik’s rights under the policy. The appellant argued that a voluntary waiver revoke Dohnalik’s beneficiary status. Ultimately, however, the court was not persuaded. Ridgway took a strong stance that the provisions of the SGLIA govern these disputes and that the party designated as the principal beneficiary prevails, regardless of any contrary state court decrees. The court stated that a change of beneficiary under SGLIA “will take effect only if it is in writing, signed by the insured and received prior to the death of the insured.” King, the court stated, was free at any time to change his designated beneficiary. He chose not to, and the court found no indication in the record that he intended to, so it found that his designation of Dohnalik as the policy’s principal beneficiary was controlling. OPINION:Benavides, J.; Jolly, Davis and Benavides, J.J.

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