United States District Court, S.D. Florida
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE
DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge
Adriana Ifergane accuses Defendants Pascal Fratellini and
Scott Holland of interfering with her expectancy that she
would receive benefits under a life-insurance policy
maintained by her former husband, Charles Schreiner. (Am.
Compl., ECF No. 9.) In particular, she says the Defendants
forged her former husband's signature on a
beneficiary-change form or, alternatively, wrongfully
convinced him to change the policy beneficiary to Fratellini.
In her complaint she seeks relief through two counts: one for
declaratory relief; and the other for tortious interference
with an expectancy. Fratellini and Holland have, separately,
moved for summary judgment (Defs.' Mots. for Summ. J.,
ECF Nos. 32, 33.) They submit Ifergane has failed to come
forward with evidence sufficient to establish a genuine issue
of material fact with respect to her claims. Ifergane, of
course, opposes both motions, arguing she has indeed
presented genuine issues of material fact and that she is
therefore entitled to a trial on the merits of her claims.
(Pl.'s Resps., ECF No. 35, 36.) Having considered the
parties' briefing, the record, and the relevant legal
authorities, the Court is persuaded, for the following
reasons, that Fratellini's motion is to be
granted (ECF No. 32) and
Holland's motion is to be granted in part and
denied in part (ECF No. 33).
and Schreiner married in 1999. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.
Holland's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 36-1, 2.)
Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Company issued a $250,
000 life-insurance policy to Schreiner, insuring his own
life, in November 2002. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Although
there appears to be some disagreement as to when, at some
point, whether at the policy's initial issuance or
sometime later, Schreiner designated Ifergane as the sole
beneficiary under the policy. (Id. at ¶ 4.)
Thereafter, Ifergane filed for divorce in 2007 and then
remarried some four years later in California. (Id.
at ¶¶ 5-6.) Despite their divorce and
Ifergane's remarriage, she and Schreiner remained close
friends. (Id. at ¶ 64.) Indeed, Schreiner
continued to designate Ifergane as the sole beneficiary under
the policy well beyond the end of their marriage, going so
far as to update his policy, in December 2017, to reflect
Ifergane's new married name and marital address, in
California. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.)
August 2017, Schreiner was diagnosed with stage-four lung
cancer. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Two months earlier,
Schreiner had asked Holland, Schreiner's longtime friend,
to move into Schreiner's apartment, in Miami Beach.
(Id. at ¶ 8.) Thereafter, Holland helped care
for Schreiner following his diagnosis. (Id. at
¶ 8.) During this time, on February 14, 2018, Holland
says he witnessed Schreiner sign a form, changing the
beneficiary of his insurance policy from Ifergane to
Fratellini, a long-time friend of both Holland and
Schreiner's. (Holland Dep. 29:25-30:5; 48:6-8; ECF No.
36-2). Ifergane acknowledges telling Schreiner, prior to
this, in November 2017, that her estranged father had died
and she expected to inherit a substantial sum as a result.
(Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Holland's Stmt. of Facts ¶
died on March 10, 2018. The day before his death, Fidelity
received the change-of-beneficiary-request form and a
change-of-name or mailing-address form, both of which
appeared to be signed by Schreiner and dated February 14,
2018. (Fidelity Docs., ECF No. 30-1, 9-16.) On the
change-of-beneficiary form, Holland is listed as, and signed
as, a disinterested third-party witness to Schreiner's
signature. (Id. at 10.) Further, Holland testified
that he watched Schreiner sign the forms. (Holland Dep. at
30:2-5.) However, Ifergane has presented the opinion of a
purported handwriting expect who opines that it is
“highly probable” that the February 14 signature
is a forgery. (Hoeltzel Aff., ECF No. 30-7, 4-5.)
Additionally, Ifergane says that on March 6, 2018, just four
days before his death, as well as on the day before he died,
Schreiner reminded her about the insurance policy, telling
her not to forget to call the insurance company.
(E.g., Ifergane Dep. 4:13-18; 10:22-23 (“Mr.
Schreiner told me 24 hours before passing away
“don't forget to call the
event, upon being notified of Schreiner's death, Fidelity
reviewed its file and paid the policy death benefits to
Fratellini, or his attorney, in May 2018. (Pl.'s Resp. to
Def. Holland's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 22.) After learning
that she had been removed as the beneficiary of the policy
and replaced by Fratellini, Ifergane concluded that either
the change of beneficiary form had been forged (Ifergane Dep.
7:25-8:3, 13:1-13; ECF No. 36-2, 90, 91) or that Holland and
Fratellini had, in some way, tricked or unduly influenced
Schreiner into making the change (id. at 15:15-18).
judgment is proper if following discovery, the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits and
admissions on file show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
“An issue of fact is ‘material' if, under the
applicable substantive law, it might affect the outcome of
the case.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co.,
357 F.3d 1256, 1259-60 (11th Cir.2004). “An issue of
fact is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole
could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving
party.” Id. at 1260. All the evidence and
factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157
(1970); Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d
1250, 1280 (11th Cir. 2004).
party properly makes a summary judgment motion by
demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact, whether or not accompanied by affidavits, the nonmoving
party must go beyond the pleadings through the use of
affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories and
admissions on file, and designate specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477
U.S. at 323-24. The nonmovant's evidence must be
significantly probative to support the claims. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The
Court will not weigh the evidence or make findings of fact.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Morrison v. Amway
Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 924 (11th Cir. 2003). Rather, the
Court's role is limited to deciding whether there is
sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable juror could find
for the nonmoving party. Id.
Tortious Interference with an expectancy.
order to establish her claim for interference with an
expectancy, Ifergane must set forth evidence supporting
“(1) the existence of an expectancy; (2) intentional
interference with the expectancy through tortious conduct;
(3) causation; and (4) damages.” Mulvey v.
Stephens, 250 So.3d 106, 109 (Fla. 4th Dist. App. 2018).
The parties' dispute, here, centers on the second
element: Ifergane alleges Holland and Fratellini both
tortiously interfered with her expectancy of the
life-insurance proceeds by either (1) forging Schreiner's
signature on the beneficiary-change forms; or (2) unduly
influencing or tricking him into making the change. The
Defendants both submit Ifergane has failed to come forward
with evidence supporting her claims. Instead, they maintain
(1) the unrebutted evidence shows Holland, as a disinterested
party, witnessed Schreiner sign the change form and (2)
Ifergane herself has acknowledged not having any actual
evidence to support her undue influence claim against either
Defendant. Ifergane counters on many fronts. She argues that
Holland was not a disinterested witness to Schreiner's
signature and therefore his testimony should be discounted.
She also says the signature on the beneficiary-change form is
not Schreiner's based on (1) her own evaluation and (2)
her expert witness's conclusion that the signature is
likely a forgery. She also contends the Defendants'
testimony is undercut based on discrepancies in their
recollections of whether and when Schreiner communicated the
beneficiary change to Fratellini. She further insists there
are issues of material fact because what Holland says
Schreiner told him about changing the beneficiary is
inconsistent with other evidence and what she says Schreiner
told her about the policy. After review, the Court readily
agrees with Fratellini that there are no genuine issues of
material fact ripe for determination at trial regarding
Ifergane's claims against him. The Court also agrees with
Holland that there are no genuine issues of material fact
regarding Ifergane's claims of undue influence or
trickery against him. Conversely, after a careful assessment
of the record, the Court finds there are indeed genuine
issues of material fact regarding whether Holland forged
Ifergane has not set forth any genuine issues of material
fact with respect to her tortious ...