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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Changing Minds: Eighth Circuit Opinion Reveals That Arkansas Courts Admit Insurance-Related Statements Under Rule 803(3)

Like its federal counterpart, Arkansas Rule of Evidence 803(3) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind, emotion, sensation, or physical condition, such as intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, and bodily health, but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the execution, revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will

So, Rule 803(3) does not cover a declarant's statements related to his will, but does it cover a declarant's oral statements related to his insurance policy? According to many courts, the answer is "no." But, as the recent opinion of the Eighth Circuit in Conseco Life Ins. Co. v. Williams, 2010 WL 3447769 (8th Cir. 2010), makes clear, according to Arkansas courts, the answer is "yes."

In Williams,

Conseco Life Insurance Company...issued a life insurance policy...to Niki Williams..., who died following a battle with cancer. Niki's sister, Ellen Buckley, the named beneficiary, and Niki's sons, Eric and Harold Williams (collectively, "appellants"), the prior beneficiaries, both claimed the proceeds of the policy. Conseco interpled the $100,000 insurance proceeds pending the district court's resolution of the dispute. Buckley claimed that she, using a power of attorney, ultimately named herself beneficiary of the policy at Niki's behest. The appellants denied this and claimed that Buckley used undue influence to procure the policy change. Both sides filed cross summary judgment motions. The district court granted Buckley's motion based on witness affidavits, the record, and the holding of Primerica Life Ins. Co. v. Watson, 207 S.W.3d 443 (Ark. 2005). The appellants appeal, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in applying the Primerica hearsay exception to allow certain affidavits to come in as evidence to determine Niki's intent.

Specifically,

According to Buckley, before her death Niki expressed to several people her desire to change the policy beneficiary designation from the appellants to Buckley. In support of her summary judgment motion, Buckley submitted three affidavits-from Robert McGruder, Shelton Pitre, and Thorn-to support Buckley's contention that Niki desired the change in beneficiary.

In most jurisdictions, this evidence would have been inadmissible. As the Eighth Circuit noted,

These three affidavits are undoubtedly parol evidence and therefore hearsay, which is normally excluded under either the Federal Rules of Evidence 801(c) and 802 or the Arkansas Rules of Evidence 801(c) and 802, which match the Federal Rules in substance.

According to the court, though,

this case-decided under Arkansas law-represents an exception to general rule. Some states do require evidence of intent to be in writing if it relates to gifting in contracts, such as the contract in question....Arkansas does not. The Arkansas Supreme Court has interpreted Arkansas Rule of Evidence 803(3) to allow the admission of witness statements that recall hearing a deceased declarant speaking about the deceased's intention to change her insurance policy beneficiary in the future....These statements are an exception to the hearsay rule and the parol evidence is therefore admissible to prove the truth of the matter asserted and can be used to prove the intent of the unavailable, decease declarant.

The case in which the Arkansas Supremes reached this conclusion was the case cited by Buckley: Primerica Life Ins. Co. v. Watson, 207 S.W.3d 443 (Ark. 2005).

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/09/8033-conseco-life-ins-co-v-williams-f3d-2010-wl-3447769ca8-ark2010.html

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