|Opinion:||Ghoussoub v. Yammine, 2022 OK 64|
|Subject matter:||Family Law|
|Date Decided:||June 21, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Tulsa County; Judge Glassco|
|Route to this Court:||Appeal from Final Order in Declaratory Judgment Action; Retained|
|Facts:||Bernard and Yammine were married in 2003. In 2007, ReliaStar issued “Jean J. Bernard” a two million dollar term life insurance policy on his life for which he designated Yammine the sole primary beneficiary and his brother the contingent beneficiary. In 2015 Bernard filed to dissolve their civil marriage in Tulsa County District Court. Yammine filed a counterclaim in the dissolution proceeding, seeking an equitable share of their property and an order requiring Bernard to maintain life insurance to secure his child support obligation during the children’s minority.|
In March 2017 when Bernard learned he was terminally ill, he moved for an order to dissolve the marriage and to bifurcate and reserve final judgment on all issues pursuant to Alexander. The hearing on his motion was set for mid-May 2017. Prior to that hearing, Bernard unilaterally, and without court approval, changed the primary beneficiary on the Policy to “Julien Boudhia 50% & Nisrine Masrouha 50%,” effective March 31, 2017. On or about April 1, 2017, Bernard was found in a coma and hospitalized in critical condition. Two days later, his counsel filed an emergency ex parte motion for divorce alleging Bernard’s death was imminent and seeking an immediate divorce to prevent Yammine from inheriting from Bernard’s estate. At the hearing held the same day, the trial court granted the divorce order over Yammine’s objection, reserving final judgment on property and debt issues.
Bernard was transported to Lebanon in a vegetative state in May 2017, pursuant to a guardianship order of the District Court of Tulsa County. The next month, Yammine applied for injunctive relief alleging Bernard violated the automatic temporary injunction mandated by 43 O.S.2011 § 110(A)(1)(b)(4) when he removed her beneficiary designation from the policy. She alleged indirect contempt was not an option due to Bernard’s medical state and relocation to Lebanon. Bernard’s counsel objected, arguing that the ATI dissolved when the divorce was pronounced and that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue orders during Yammine’s appeal from the Order Granting Divorce. The Court enjoined Bernard’s removal of Yammine as Policy beneficiary, finding his “changes were in violation of the ATI and ordering restoration of the Policy’s original beneficiaries.
Bernard died in Lebanon on December 14, 2018. At the time of his death, Yammine was the primary beneficiary and his brother was the contingent beneficiary of the Policy. Six weeks later, his brother filed this declaratory judgment action against Yammine and ReliaStar in Tulsa County District Court. ReliaStar’s motion to interplead the Policy’s death benefit proceeds in the declaratory judgment action was granted. The trial court declared the brother was entitled to the Policy proceeds finding the Order Granting Divorce was final before Bernard’s death and that Yammine was precluded by operation of 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) from receiving the proceeds of the death benefit of the Policy. Yammine timely appealed the judgment. On this Court’s own motion, the matter was retained for disposition.
|Standard of Review:||The declaratory action and relief sought here involves opposing claims of named beneficiaries to the proceeds of a life insurance policy. This requires statutory interpretation and application to facts arising from a marriage dissolution proceeding between the policy-owner and the primary beneficiary. Legal questions “involving statutory interpretation [are] reviewed de novo, i.e., by a non-deferential, plenary and independent examination of the trial court’s legal ruling.” Cole v. Josie, 2019 OK 39, ¶ 3, 457 P.3d 1007, 1009.|
|Analysis:||The ATI mandated by § 110–and the temporary order entered by the trial court at Yammine’s request–govern the life insurance policy at issue. While Ghoussoub claims the Policy’s beneficiary was revoked by § 178(A), his position fails to consider § 178(A)’s conflict with § 110(C), which was enacted fifteen years after § 178(A). Read alone, § 178(A)’s application to a divorce order with pending property division issues, including a life insurance policy, is unclear. In contrast, § 110(C) very clearly maintains the trial court’s control of beneficiary changes to a life insurance policy owned by the parties until final judgment on all issues is rendered. “[W]here a matter is addressed by two statutes–one specific and the other general–the specific statute, which clearly includes the matter in controversy and prescribes a different rule, governs over the general statute.” Rogers v. Quiktrip Corp., 2010 OK 3, ¶ 13, 230 P.3d 853, 860. In addition, “[m]ore recently-enacted legislation controls over earlier provisions.” Id. Accordingly, we find the specific language in § 110(C) controls over § 178(A) in this cause.|
|Outcome:||Trial Court’s Judgment Reversed; Remanded for Further Proceedings|
|Vote:||5-3. Darby, C.J., Kauger, Edmondson, Gurich and Rowe, JJ. (author), concur. |
Kane, V.C.J. (by separate writing), Winchester and Combs, J.J. (by separate writing), dissent.
Kuehn, J., not participating.
|Other:||V.C.J. Kane’s written dissent states: “After Dr. Bernard attempted to change his insurance provisions the wrong way (ex parte violation of the ATI), he thereafter accomplished the change the correct way–by seeking leave of the trial court. The trial court granted the contested request for early grant of divorce under our teachings in Alexander v. Alexander, 2015 OK 52, 357 P.3d 481. The divorce was granted to Dr. Bernard for the precise reason that he knew that he was dying, and he did not wish for his estranged spouse to be afforded the status of surviving spouse. This was the stated reason for the relief, and was well known to the trial court granting the divorce. The trial court did not violate the ATI or any other temporary order by granting the relief–the court merely modified the legal status of the parties, which had the effect of modifying the ATI prior to final decree, as provided in the statute.”|